Top Healthcare Jobs You Can Get Without a Four-Year Degree

By Martha C. White, Time Business & Money

If you don’t think you have the time or money to invest in a healthcare job, think again. Medical professionals aren’t just doctors and nurses.

The healthcare business is booming. Between an influx of newly insured people and an aging population, it’s a field with lots of potential. Last year, the Brookings Institution found that the industry had a whopping 22.7% growth rate, compared to a measly 2.1% increase for the rest of the labor market.

If you don’t think you have the time or money to invest in a healthcare job, think again. Medical professionals aren’t just doctors and nurses. A full 38 of 100 ranked as the best jobs of 2014 by US News & World Report are in healthcare. And here’s the best part: roughly two dozen of those don’t require a four-year degree.

“The biggest point here is the fact that with some education beyond high school, you can find yourself in a position where you really like what you’re doing,” says David Twitchell, an expert panelist with the Society for Human Resource Management and medical HR professional.

Some of these jobs require an associate’s degree, completion of a certificate program or a state license. The requirements vary by job as well as by state, but whether you just need a dependable job or plan to make a career of it — even if you never got past that embalmed frog in your high school biology class — there’s a top-ranked healthcare job that could work for you.

What if all I have is a high school diploma?

There are entry-level jobs, even in medicine. They don’t pay a lot, but if you’re young or just want to get your foot in the door, you can be a home health aide or personal care aide. ”There are a lot of people who are choosing to be home as opposed to in some kind of an assisted living facility,” which drives demand for aides, says Jada Graves, senior careers editor at US News & World Report.

“A personal care aide is a healthcare position, technically, but it’s much more of a companion than someone who needs to do serious nursing,” Graves says. The job might entail preparing meals, helping a patient with dressing and bathing or taking them to the doctor. A home health aide can be a little more involved in the medical aspect of caring for patients, although they’re still overseen by nurses. Aside from aide jobs, it’s also possible to get an entry-level medical assistant or secretarial position with just a high school degree.

What if I need a job soon?

Aside from the jobs mentioned above, there are other healthcare jobs you can qualify for fairly quickly. Becoming a massage therapist generally takes about 500 hours of training — which can just take a matter of months — and may require getting a state license. Dental assistant is another job with a fairly short on-ramp. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some states don’t even have formal educational requirements.

Another option is becoming an emergency medical technician; training for the basic level generally takes less than six months. You can become a phlebotomist with about a year’s worth of training, Twitchell said — although it goes without saying that you have to be comfortable with blood and needles.

What if I want a job that can be a stepping stone to a better career?

Almost all of the jobs that take two years or less of training could potentially fit the bill if you’re willing to put in the time, money and effort to further your education, but Twitchell points out the path is sometimes long and winding.

For instance, going from a pharmacy technician to a pharmacist requires getting a doctorate degree. The same is true for physical therapy assistants who want to become physical therapists, Twitchell says, and going from an occupational therapy assistant to therapist requires a master’s degree.

“It’s not uncommon for someone to start off as a certified nursing assistant and go back to school to become a registered nurse. It’s like an entry point,” Twitchell says. Or, you could put in roughly a year of training and enter the field as a licensed practical nurse, Graves says. Even experience as a respiratory therapist — which often means successfully working in high-pressure settings like hospital ERs — could dovetail with advancement towards a nursing degree. And if you want to go further than an LPN, you can go back to school for a bachelor’s degree and work towards becoming a registered nurse.

What if I’m not really good at science?

Becoming a medical assistant or medical secretary might be an option, Twitchell says; although you might need to learn the medical jargon, especially if you’ll be transcribing or taking dictation, think of it more as acquiring a new language. This work tends to be more clerical; you’d be doing tasks like managing schedules, confirming appointments, greeting patients and so on.

Although massage therapists need to know about kinesiology (the science of how people move), Graves says the training is a more well-rounded approach than you remember from science class in school. And personal care and home health aides have a fairly low academic bar to entry, there’s not a lot of science in the day-to-day work. “These are fields where compassion is sometimes much more important,” she says.

What if I don’t want to deal with patients?

Would it make a difference if the patients were furry? If so, maybe being a veterinary technician — for which you’d need to earn an associate’s degree — is more your speed, provided you don’t mind getting well-acquainted with a pooper-scooper.

If you’re more mechanically minded, consider becoming a medical equipment repairer, where skills in engineering or technology are more important. Maybe you’d be better off repairing the machines that diagnose illness and injury rather than fixing patients themselves.

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