No, you do not need to be a medical doctor to have a well-paying career in the health care field.
These careers are booming for two reasons: The population is aging, and people want to live as long as they can in good health, and new health care technologies add considerably to their options and your career opportunities.
Begin by making up for key high school sciences you may have missed or dropped. You will need them to understand the technical side of your work. If you got poor marks, many credit science courses are available as online or continuing education, so you can better your marks, without leaving your current situation, before you apply. Keep track of volunteer work you do that promotes health, because it demonstrates your serious interest in the field.
Most fields allow you to start in an entry level position with a certificate from an accredited institution, but for career advancement, acquire an Associates or Bachelors degree. Make sure that the school you choose is accredited by the specific body responsible for that field. Online programs should usually be supplemented by interaction with patients and training in use laboratories or with medical equipment.
Health care careers in general often require shift work (nursing, for example), but with advancement and seniority, you can choose shifts you find convenient more easily.
But now let’s look at careers and their approximate salaries:
1. Pharmacists – Salary: $106,630
The pharmacist must know the composition, effects, and possible side effects of common prescribed medications and treatments Patients must be counseled how to use medications and what to avoid when using them.
Many people over 50 have one or more chronic illnesses, managed principally by medications and associated lifestyle changes. The pharmacist may look after such patients over decades. The job includes medication knowledge and communicating good advice effectively to the patient.
Educational requirements: A pharmacist is expected to complete two years of undergraduate coursework in sciences, then pass a pharmacy college admission exam, for a four-year pharmacy program resulting in a doctorate in pharmacy (a Pharm.D.).
2. Physician Assistants – Salary: $84,830
Physicians may delegate jobs like conducting complete physicals, providing treatment, counseling patients, or prescribing routine medication to an assistant, while attending to more specialized matters.
The need for physician assistants is expected to grow, especially in rural and inner-city health care, principally due to an aging population.
Educational requirements: Start with a college degree and get some health-related work experience. After you complete an accredited, usually two-year program and pass a national exam, you can get a license. Continuing education is critical in this area, and you must complete 100 hours every two years, learning the latest effective techniques. Recertification is expected every six years.
3. Radiation Therapists – Salary: $77,340
Working with X-rays, you will review the diagnosis and prescription provided to you by a radiologist, which includes preparing the equipment and maintaining accurate records.
This is an excellent career choice for a person who is comfortable as a technical member of a medical team fighting serious illnesses like cancer. Many patients have potentially serious problems, so a reassuring personality is important. If that’s you, employment is expected to grow.
Educational requirements: You will need a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or certificate in radiation therapy, but start by taking science courses. Radiation is physics, and the body is biology and chemistry, so you are working with the physics aspect of the human body.
4. Physical Therapists – Salary: $76,220
When people have suffered a serious illness or injury, rehabilitation programs help them heal. As a physical therapist, you assess their needs, and organize and carry out a program to help them. .
In this career, you must be half teddy bear and half drill sergeant in order to help uncertain people discover that they can really do it, even if “it” is as simple as climbing stairs again.
Educational requirements: Start with a Bachelors degree (science is best) and then you need a degree from an accredited physical therapist program.
When people come back from serious illness or accident, they often need help relearning daily living tasks, especially if they have lost limbs, senses, or functions. In this career, you assess and help them relearn their daily life a well as possible.
You want this career if you enjoy helping people succeed and tend to cheer comeback kids.
Educational requirements: You need a Masters degree and national certification, as well as a license to practice.
6. Nuclear Medicine Technologists – Salary: $68,450
You keep track of dangerous radioactive elements that can provide life-saving information or, save lives. You must know your elements and your equipment, and how they interact. You prepare the solutions and calculate the doses. You may be asked to help with the procedures.
This is a great career for someone who really enjoys helping in, say, the fight against cancer, but has a strong physics side and is most productive when focusing on the technical issues.
Educational requirements: Certificate programs are available from a variety of settings: hospitals, associate degree programs, and bachelor’s degree programs. Some schools offer radiologic training online. A key career asset is the certificate issued after you pass the exam provided by the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board, recognized by state licensing agencies throughout the United States, after which you can use the professional credential, CNMT.
7. Speech-Language Pathologists – Salary: $68,350
In this career, you assess and treat persons with speech, language, voice, and fluency disorders caused by accident, disease, or birth defect. You may teach a sign or symbolic language or help the patient use speech equipment. You may research speech and language problems. A closely related degree is audiology (hearing-related problems).
This job will suit a science-minded person who enjoys working directly with people. Part of your job may include persuading people to keep trying, because success can be a matter of patience.
Educational requirements: You will usually need a Masters, Doctoral or other recognized graduate degree in biological sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, and the social/behavioral sciences to start, and your further training in speech-language pathology will include a practicum (working under supervision). The certificate to get, following your training, is the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-language Pathology (CCC-SLP) from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
8. Dental Hygienists – Salary: $67,860
As a dental hygienist, you help people keep and enjoy their teeth. That includes cleaning teeth, noticing any signs of disease, and educating patients on oral hygiene.
This is a good job for a person who likes detailed work but also has a flair for teaching and persuading.
Educational requirements: For this career, you need a two-year degree from a dental hygienist school accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. A Bachelors or Masters may be required for lab work.
9. Audiologists – Salary: $66,850
The audiologist usually works with a physician, evaluating hearing, identifying problems, and prescribing and administering increasingly sophisticated hearing devices, mostly aimed at a growing aged population. But school systems offer substantial career opportunities as well. Audiologists also assess noise levels in workplaces and conduct hearing protection programs.
This career can put a music degree to work. Your key task is helping people to adjust to and compensate for hearing loss in constructive ways.
Educational requirements: An audiologist typically has an MA, but there is a trend toward PhDs. You must be licensed in your state in order to practice.
10. Orthotists and Prosthetists – Salary: $66,600
In this career, you serve people who have serious spinal or limb injuries or have lost all or parts of limbs due to accident, battle, or disease, by preparing and fitting orthopedic braces or prostheses.
Prostheses have greatly improved due to batteries, microcomputers, and small sturdy circuit boards, allowing for greater function, with more advances to come. New materials offer lighter, more natural designs, for both children and adults. Coaching skills are important because the prosthetist needs to persuade the depressed patient that the gains from learning to use the prosthesis are worth the investment of time and energy.
Educational requirements: Degree programs in prosthetics and orthotics are generally 4-year bachelor’s degree or 2-year master’s degree programs (typically following a science degree).
11. Registered Nurses – Salary: $66,530
Nursing is such a broad profession that the simplest way to describe it appeared as a subtitle on the cover of a successful 1990 book, Nurse, by Peggy Anderson: Doctors don’t keep you alive. I do. The registered nurse is a highly skilled practitioner who may, for example, be the first person to assess patients in an emergency room (triage nurse), supervise physician-directed treatments, or respond first to hospital emergencies.
Most nurses specialize, and a few examples of specialties are patient education specialists, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and certified registered nurse anesthetists. It is a career into which one can grow in many directions.
Educational requirements: Registered nurses usually require a Bachelor’s degree, an Associates degree, or a diploma from an approved nursing program. More and more hospitals are requiring that new hires have at least a BSN degree. Currently, there is a considerable shortage of nurses in the United States, to the extent that the government encourages nurses to immigrate. Many nursing programs are available online.
12. Occupational Health and Safety Specialists – Salary: $64,200
This career includes analyzing and evaluating the health and safety of work environments and designing programs to address issues. It includes inspections and enforcement personnel as well as environmental protection officers.
The job would suit a person who grasps the industry issues and has a flair for getting people to cooperate to avoid needless risks. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology had accredited 45 programs in health physics, industrial hygiene, and safety by 2007.
Educational requirements: This field offers a variety of degree options, including Associate degree and 1-year certificate programs, aimed at technicians. Depending on their needs, some employers require a bachelor’s degree in occupational health or safety but engineering, biology, or chemistry may be accepted as well. Some ask for a Master’s degree in industrial hygiene or a similar qualification. Online degrees are available.
13. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers – Salary: $63,640
Diagnostic medical sonographers direct sound waves into the body via ultrasound equipment, to produce an image or live video that physicians can use in detecting abnormalities.
The growth of this field can be judged by the number of expecting parents who have an ultrasound of their baby on the fridge door, but ultrasound is routine for illnesses and injuries as well. As a result, the ultrasonographer is a critical member of the health care team, and needs the ability to get the patient to cooperate as well as to interpret the results quickly and accurately.
Educational requirements:Online courses are available at the certificate, Associates degree, and Bachelors degree level. You may be taking your hands-on training at a local hospital.
14. Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists – Salary: $55,620
In this field, the technologist uses increasingly sophisticated laboratory equipment to prepare and conduct tests on human body fluids or cells, to identify disease agents or deficiencies, and then provides the information to physicians.
The field is excellent for the science-minded student who is eager to learn and use the most advanced health sciences technologies, and to upgrade skills as the opportunity arises.
Educational requirements:As in many growing fields, certificates, Associates or Bachelors degrees all provide entry, at least at the technician level. The critical path includes taking courses certified by a body such as National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) or a similarly respected body, as well as getting certification by a professional association. Note that the field encompasses so many sub-specialties that the student may be dealing with the requirements of different agencies and regulations, depending on the sub-specialty and the state. Online components are offered for many programs, but you need access to a laboratory as well.
15. Respiratory Therapists – Salary: $54,200
In this career you assess and treat breathing disorders. This includes working with the patient, but also maintaining patient records, and operating and maintaining the equipment.
Respiratory therapy is another of the fields that is growing due to an aging population. As of 2006, there was a total of 379 accredited programs in the United States, at colleges, universities, technical schools, and medical schools.
Educational requirements: You can work in respiratory therapy with a 2-year associate’s degree, but a 4-year Bachelors or Masters degree is usually a prerequisite for advancement. It is critical to study only at schools certified by Committees on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). Bear in mind that in a growing field like this, you may be able to get financial or other help to upgrade your training.
16. Radiologic Technologists and Technicians – Salary: $54,180
In radiology, you would diagnose health problems or injuries by taking X-rays and CAT scans, or inserting harmless dyes into patients’ blood streams to track the results, You could also work with computed tomography (CATscan) and magnetic resonance (MRI).
New technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging have greatly expanded the field, leading to much faster than average growth. An eagerness to keep up with advancing technology and the ability to work with anxious patients are key factors for success.
Educational requirements: You could enter the field through a certificate (21-24 months), an Associates degree, or a Bachelors degree, with associate. An associate degree is the most prevalent form of educational attainment among radiologic technologists and technicians. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology accredited 213 programs resulting in a certificate, 397 programs resulting in an associate degree, and 35 resulting in a bachelor’s degree in 2009.
17. Dietitians and Nutritionists – Salary: $53,230
The dietician/nutritionist plans and organizes food services in large institutions and/or counsels individuals on diet and nutrition. Research may be part of the work.
This is a broad field, but it’s worth remembering that, as the population ages, more people will need help managing special diets (low sodium, low, cholesterol, restricted sugar, low- or high-fiber), and they will value expert advice.
Educational requirements: In addition to a Bachelors degree, there are often license, certification, or registration requirements, depending on the state.
18. Occupational Therapist Assistants – Salary: $50,830
In this career, you will help the occupational therapist with treatments and procedures. The essential purpose of occupational therapy is to help patients recovering from injury or disease or dealing with developmental delay live in an environment suited to them. A related career is Occupational Therapy Aide, where you would prepare required materials and equipment and may also perform clerical duties.
In this expected-to-grow field, in 2008 there were about 27,000 OTAs and 8,000 aides. Usually, you will have the advantage of normal working hours because therapy can be scheduled. However, you may need physical strength in order to help patients undergoing rehabilitation.
Educational requirements: An Occupational Therapist Assistant needs an Associate’s degree or certificate and, depending on the state, may be expected to pass a certification examination for licensure. Look for the designation of Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). Occupational Therapy Aides usually receive most of their training on the job, so it is a good way to get into this health service area while aiming at the future. A number of courses are available online.
19. Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians – Salary: $49,730
In this career you would conduct diagnostic tests on heart/lung patients, and you may conduct or assist in electrocardiograms and cardiac catheterizations. The duties and educational requirements of technologists and technicians are similar.
In this rapidly growing career, you may find yourself working with people who have life-threatening illnesses, so it will reward the technically competent person who can connect with others in a time of stress.
Educational requirements: You can work in this field with a two-year accredited degree, but increasingly, four-year programs are offered. You may qualify after only a one-year program if you have an allied health care degree. You may have difficulty finding an accredited program online or through distance learning because you will need hands-on training working directly with the patients and the equipment on the site.
20. Physical Therapist Assistants – Salary: $48,590
In this career, you would assist physical therapists in providing treatments and procedures for the physical rehabilitation of patients. Another position to consider is physical therapist aide, supervised by physical therapists or physical therapist assistants.
There were about 60,000 physical therapist assistants in 2008, and 46,000 physical therapist aides.
Educational requirements: Many states require an accredited physical therapist assistant program, offering an associates degree, as well as certification in CPR and other first aid, as well as clinical experience. Aides require a high school diploma, followed by on-the-job training. Licensing is not usually required, so this is a good career option for getting into the field right away and upgrading later.