Healthcare is one of the broadest professions, offering countless options for fulfilling work that pays well. It's possible to break into many of these fields without a degree or with only two or four years of education. Opportunities in these fields are growing at a rate well above the national average.
Learn more about some of the highest-paying healthcare jobs you can get with minimal education so you can start pursuing your new career. None of the degrees on this list requires more than a bachelor's degree.
|Job||Average Salary||Job growth rate|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographer||$77,790||12%|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||$63,420||32%|
|Licensed Practical/Licensed Vocational Nurse||$50,090||9%|
|Medical Records and Health Information Specialist||$48,270||8%|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Surgical technologists, also called operating room technicians, top our list of the best medical jobs you can get without a full college degree. Surgical techs fulfill a critical role in preparing the operating room for surgery, sterilizing equipment, preparing patients for operation, and more.
Their average salary of over $50,000 per year is among the highest paying jobs in healthcare with no four-year or professional degree requirement. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the field to grow at 7% between 2019 and 2029 — nearly double the national average.
Certificate and associate programs range from as little as $2,300 to more than $20,000, depending on the school. Community colleges and technical schools generally offer less expensive programs.
Textbooks and exam fees generally come to less than $1,000. Certification through an organization like the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) is not required but will open more career options. The NBSTSA exam costs $190 for members and $290 for nonmembers.
Surgical tech programs usually offer access to scholarships, federal aid, and grants. You might also be able to get paid as an apprentice in your area.
Enjoy caring for others and value providing compassionate, intentional care? Then this may be a good career choice for you. LPNs and LVNs provide basic medical care under registered nurses' and doctors' supervision. Responsibilities include:
It's also one of the highest-paying medical jobs without a degree requirement. You can usually attain a certificate or diploma in 12 to 24 months, and salaries average around $50,000 per year. Projected job growth is much higher than average, at 9% from 2019 through 2029.
Tuition to become an LPN or LVN is $10,000 to $15,000 on average but can range from $4,000 to $30,000 or more. You'll also need basic nursing equipment, which you can purchase for less than $500.
Scholarships, grants, and loans may be available, depending on your needs and educational merit. Many programs offer work-study options, as well. Students should fill out the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) and discuss scholarship options with school admissions.
In terms of medical field jobs with a significant bang for your buck, medical records and health information specialist positions are some of the best. Many positions don't require anything more than on-the-job training, while others require minimal postsecondary education.
These information specialists review, complete, organize, and code patient records to ensure everything is up-to-date and accurate. Salaries average over $48,000 per year, and the BLS projects job growth will double the national average by 2029.
If the position you're applying for offers on-the-job training, your costs will be slim to none. If you want to go to a vocational program, expect to pay up to $11,000. Many online programs cost much less.
You also need to consider the cost to get certified every two years, which is less than $200 plus any required continuing education costs.
On-the-job training is the easiest way to pay for your education, and it may be all you need to get certified and set for a career in the field. Vocational programs generally offer opportunities for scholarships and other financial aid, as well.
Massage therapy has exploded in popularity in recent years. With a projected growth rate of 21% from 2019 through 2029, the field is expanding at over five times the national average. Massage therapists use physical touch to heal injuries, relieve pain, increase relaxation, and improve patient well-being. It may suit you if you prefer a direct, hands-on form of treatment and interaction with patients over more clinical methods.
Most states and jurisdictions require some form of certification for you to practice, and you can typically get the training you need in around 500 hours of study. The average salary for a massage therapist is about $47,300 per year.
Completing a massage therapy program typically costs between $5,000 to $15,000. Attending a local program can cut your costs significantly.
If you're starting out or starting your own business, you'll need equipment. Massage tables are the highest equipment cost, ranging from $200 to as high as $3,000. You'll also need to pay for other supplies, such as towels and oils, that you'll use for massages.
Licensing and certification costs vary by state but usually range around $100 to $200. Re-certification is usually required every few years. Many states also require liability insurance for your practice.
Accredited schools offer financial aid, but it may be more limited at schools specifically for massage therapy. Since tuition is typically fairly low, many schools offer payment plans.
Dental assistants help to ensure quality patient care in a dental practice. They work closely with dentists and patients, sterilize instruments, prepare for procedures, update records, and more. They often assist directly during procedures by handing the dentist instruments and holding equipment as needed.
Although some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program, others require no formal schooling. If you have to, you can complete training and certification in about a year. Dental assistants make about $42,000 per year on average.
Programs can cost less than $1,000 at a community college, but technical schools may charge between $5,000 and $10,000. Lab fees to cover equipment, along with books and supplies, typically total around $2,000.
You might also need to be certified, depending on your state. The Certified Dental Exam is required for yearly certification and costs $450.
Accredited programs will usually offer scholarships and other financial aid. In states where no formal education is required, you can train on the job at no cost.
Radiation therapists play a critical role on oncology teams as part of the cancer treatment process. Responsibilities include:
This is a great career for anyone who wants to make a difference in the fight against cancer.
Radiation therapy is also one of the highest-paying medical jobs you can achieve with only an associate or bachelor's degree. Some programs even accept applicants with only a certificate. Radiation therapists make an average salary of over $94,000 per year.
Costs for tuition will vary significantly by the length of the program and the type of school. A one- or two-year program at a clinical or technical college can cost less than $10,000, while a similar program through a private program could cost twice that.
Bachelor's degrees can range from around $30,000 to more than $100,000. You'll also need to cover things like lab costs, textbooks, and uniforms.
Once you graduate, you'll need certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) to get hired. The exam costs $200 for first-time applicants and $175 for subsequent tests. Annual renewal fees cost $30-45.
Scholarships, grants, and other financial aid are typically available for accredited radiation therapy programs. You should discuss options with schools during the application process.
Dental hygienists play an important role in delivering dental treatment during patient visits, including:
A career in dental hygiene is also one of the highest-paying healthcare jobs, with only minimal education required. Most dental hygienists earn an associate degree, though four-year and master's degree programs are also available. They earn around $78,000 per year on average, and job prospects are strong in the field.
The American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADA) reports average costs of $22,692 for an associate degree, $36,382 for a bachelor's degree, and $30,421 for a master's degree.
Accredited dental hygiene programs are usually eligible for financial aid, and you may be able to get scholarships and other assistance, as well. Discuss options with school admissions departments.
A job as a registered nurse (RN) is one of the most patient-focused jobs in medicine, and it's one of the highest-paying jobs in the medical field that you can get with a bachelor's or associate degree. RNs observe patients, apply treatments, develop patient care plans, and collaborate with doctors in administering patient care. Nurses can specialize in many areas of patient care, as well.
You can obtain any of the following:
There are certificate or diploma pathways available, but these are less common. Most programs take two to four years to complete. RNs earn an average of about $80,000 per year.
Associate degree programs cost between $6,000 and $40,000 at public schools, while bachelor's programs range from $40,000 to $200,000 or more, depending on whether you study at a private or public institution.
Textbooks, clinical fees, and miscellaneous supplies vary by program and can add several thousand dollars to your program expenses. RN candidates also must pass the NCLEX exam to attain a license. This costs $200 for U.S. licensure.
A wide variety of scholarships and financial aid options are available for nursing students from federal programs and nursing organizations.
If you already have an RN license through an associate degree program, you can enter an accelerated RN-to-BSN program to complete your bachelor's degree in less time and at a lower cost.
Diagnostic imaging workers operate specialized equipment to provide physicians with images for diagnosing medical conditions. Diagnostic medical sonographers:
Cardiovascular technologists focus on imaging and testing involving the heart and lungs.
Many diagnostic imaging workers get into the field with only an associate degree or postsecondary certificate. Bachelor's programs offer more in-depth training. With a salary of around $77,000, this is one of the best and highest-paying healthcare jobs you can get without extensive training.
Program costs range significantly depending on whether you enroll in a certificate, associate, or bachelor's program. If you want to keep your costs low, you could attend an accelerated program for a few thousand dollars.
Books, uniforms, and other related equipment fees can add several thousand dollars to program costs. However, sonographers and cardiovascular technologists don't need certification to work in many hospitals and clinical settings.
Accredited programs for diagnostic imaging workers typically offer scholarships and financial aid. Some programs offer work-study options, as well. Discuss your options for financial help during the admissions process.
Occupational therapy is one of the most hands-on medical practices, and therapists and their assistants work directly with patients to improve their lives. However, while occupational therapists need a master's degree, OT assistants usually only need an associate degree to get into the field. OT aides usually only need a high school diploma or equivalent.
Once trained, assistants help patients with their therapeutic activities, teach them how to use equipment, and record their progress. OT aides, on the other hand, do more of the behind-the-scenes work in billing, cleaning and preparing therapy areas, and transporting patients when needed.
OT is one of the fastest-growing medical fields, and the BLS projects opportunities for assistants and aides to increase by 32% from 2019 to 2029. That's eight times the national average for all jobs. Occupational therapy assistants and aides make nearly $63,000 per year on average.
Costs for an associate degree as an OT assistant range between $5,000 and $25,000. Aides can typically get into the field with only on-the-job training.
All states require board certification, licensure, or some other form of registration for OT assistants, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). State licensure fees vary, and certification through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NCBOT) costs $515.
Accredited programs for OT assistants will usually offer financial aid and scholarships. Organizations like AOTA may offer scholarships and savings, as well.
Since occupational therapy aides can find work in the field with only a high school diploma or GED and on-the-job training, no additional costs usually apply.
Program Director at Bluegrass Community and Technical College and Vice President of the Association of Surgical Technologists
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Kevin Craycraft: I feel it's a very rewarding job. Part of it is the fact that it's not the same day-to-day routine. Every procedure is different, every patient's different, and so it's rewarding mentally and also rewarding not only to the patient but to those who are in contact with the patient.
KC: Attention-oriented folks that care about others. A lot of times, we have some kind of health background. For instance, my brother was a diabetic when I was a seven-year-old. Well, I grew up watching him do shots and trying to understand the concept of, as we call it in the South, “the sugars” and the diabetic implications. So, watching all that growing up, it just became normal to me.
What I have found from my students and colleagues that I've worked with — we all had some kind of tie to somebody with health needs when we were growing up, and it became an interest of ours to not only help out loved ones but to help others who are experiencing the same things.
KC: I went to a vocational school when I was in high school and got to rotate through a lot of different areas of the healthcare system. That kind of got me through high school and able to get a decent-paying job. Then, I went back and got my certificate in surgical technology.
What has happened since then is that the surgical technologist is, in a sense, trying to get more credibility, and so the education has gotten more involved. A majority of the one-year programs now are about 11 to 12 months full-time with a great deal of clinical hours.
KC: There are a few programs out there that still train on the job. But the problem with that is the training is not credentialed in a manner that the apprentice feels like they could move across town to another hospital. You have to stay with that facility to really benefit from what they taught you.
KC: I would tell them to really look at what it is because it's not nursing and it's not being a doctor, so it's somewhere in between — it's a very comfortable in-between. As much as anything, I think it is something that's going to be growing. There'll always be a job there for you.
What I've found in 34 years as a practitioner and instructor is that we're the last ones to get laid off when an economy is bad and the first ones to come back when an economy's good.
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