As the slow but steady economic recovery continues, holding the right kind of college degree can position you to take advantage of new employment opportunities. And with a growing elderly population and new medical technologies becoming available every year, the right kind of degree is now often a healthcare degree.
But education can be expensive, and you want to get back into the workforce as quickly as possible. That’s why associate's degrees in healthcare are so popular; earning one typically takes just two years, and can be done at a community college where classes are relatively inexpensive.
Here are seven excellent healthcare careers you can enter with an associate’s degree:
1. Nuclear medicine technologist. Nuclear medicine technologists help diagnose and treat ailments using drugs called radiopharmaceuticals and devices such as x-ray machines and gamma scintillation cameras. An associate’s degree in nuclear medicine technology can qualify you for entry-level positions in this field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that nuclear medicine technologists earned a median annual wage of $66,660 in 2008*.
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2. Dental hygienist. Dental hygienists clean patient’s teeth, teach them about good oral hygiene and sometimes assist dentists with more complex procedures. An associate’s degree in dental hygiene, in combination with state licensure, can qualify you for a wide variety of positions in this field. The BLS estimates that dental hygienists earned a median annual wage of $66,570 in 2008*.
3. Registered nurse. Registered nurses (RNs) make up the largest healthcare occupation, filling 2.6 million jobs in 2008. They record patient’s medical histories, provide front-line care and help educate the public about diseases and other conditions. An associate's degree in nursing, combined with national licensure, can qualify you for entry-level RN positions. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for RNs was $62,450 in 2008*.
4. Diagnostic medical sonographer. Diagnostic medical sonographers help diagnose and treat ailments with machines that generate high-frequency sound waves. This technology has many applications, but is most common in the field of obstetrics. An associate’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography can qualify you for a wide variety of positions. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for professionals in this field was $61,980 in 2008*.
5. Radiologic technician. Similar to nuclear medicine technologists, radiologic technicians use devices like x-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to help diagnose ailments. An associate's degree in radiologic technology can qualify you for a wide variety of positions in this field. The BLS estimates that radiologic technicians earned a median annual wage of $52,210 in 2008*.
6. Respiratory therapist. Respiratory therapists diagnose and treat patients with a variety of breathing disorders. They frequently work under the supervision of a physician and oversee respiratory technicians. An associate’s degree in respiratory therapy, combined with state licensure (not required in Alaska and Hawaii), can qualify you for a wide variety of jobs in this field. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $52,200 in 2008*.
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7. Occupational therapist assistant. Occupational therapist assistants work under the supervision of an occupational therapist, helping patients with injuries or disabilities improve their physical capabilities. An associate's degree in occupational therapy assisting, combined with state licensure (required in most states), can qualify you for a wide variety of jobs in this field. The BLS estimates that the median annual wage of occupational therapist assistants was $48,230 in 2008*.
*Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition (accessed September 2010)