Top 10 Allied Health Jobs That Only Need an Associate’s Degree
February 6, 2016
Allied health professionals usually provide support to physicians, dentists, and nurses. They deliver a range of care to patients that include many duties, such as: diagnosing, providing therapies, and delivering technical support to medical staff.
Their support ensures the best care for each patient and helps to diagnose and treat patients, rehabilitate, and prevent disease transmission.
Allied health jobs account for as many as 200 health careers— representing 60% of the healthcare workforce. These jobs will likely continue to be a major source of healthcare and hospital jobs into the foreseeable future. In fact, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that millions of new health care jobs will be added through 2024, and many of those openings will be in the allied health field.
Providers work directly and indirectly with patients in their specific field of expertise, which include: pharmacy technicians, dental assistants, nursing assistants, medical billers and coders, x-ray technicians, athletic training, physical therapy, respiratory therapy, health systems management, and more. To simplify it, allied health jobs fall into two main categories: technicians/assistants and therapists/technologists.
So we wanted to find out what the best allied-health jobs were and make a list. We gathered data from the BLS and around the internet to see which jobs had a great future, made good money, and didn’t need a decade of schooling. We added in all these factors on a number scale and compared them to get our results.
Our numbers are not just based on the highest paying jobs, but also how many years you have to go to school to be a top earner, and the job outlook— some of the top paying jobs didn’t have as great of a job outlook as some of the lower earners.
Top 10 Allied Health Jobs:
1. Occupational Therapist Assistant
Occupational therapist assistants (OTA) work with occupational therapists to develop treatment plans for patients with injuries and disabilities. They work to enable patients to return to fully functional lives. Their main functions are to set up therapeutic exercise, transport patients, and to aid the OT in any other tasks they need help with.
Why this job makes it to #1 on our list is because the job has the perfect trifecta of qualities you want in a career. Occupational Therapist Assistants only need an associate degree in an accredited program and a license to get a job. It takes only two years of schooling for OTAs make an average of $56,950 a year; that is great for a job that only requires two years of training.
The third factor that lands this job at the top of our list is that OTAs have a job growth outlook of 40%, which is one of the fastest growing jobs in the medical field. So, if you decide to go this path, you not only will make good money compared to the time it takes you to complete school, but you will also have a great job outlook.
2. Physical Therapist Assistant
Physical therapist assistants work with physical therapists to help physically impaired patients recover. They also work with people who suffer from diseases like cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s Disease. A physical therapist assistant implements treatment plans and works with patients under the supervision of PTs.
The reason they make it so high on our list is because of the same reasons that occupational therapist assistants do, job outlook, salary, and time in school. The only reason why PTAs land at #2, is they make less money than OTAs.
PTAs make great money for the amount of schooling they need. Like OTAs, PTAs only need an Associate degree to get a job in the field. Another great thing is they don’t need advanced degrees to be high-earners in this field.
The Average salary for a PTA is $41,640, which is pretty good for only needing an associate degree. What also pushes this healthcare job above the rest is it’s 40% job growth outlook. The need for PTAs is growing due to aging Baby Boomers, so there will be plenty of jobs for the foreseeable future.
3. Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Nuclear medical technologists take images of various parts of the human body using scanners and other imagining devices. They try to find abnormalities in patients so that physicians can make accurate diagnoses and treatment plans. They can also administer radioactive drugs to their patients that allow the scanners to detect any anomalies in the body.
If you decide to get a job in this field, you will only need a two-year degree. An aAssociate degree is required in every state to get a job, but only half require you to also get a license. This is one of the highest paying allied health jobs you can get with having only an associate degree. Nuclear Medicine Technologists make $72,100 on average, and they can make more depending on the area and years spent at a job.
The job outlook isn’t great for this career, though, as it only has a forecasted job growth of 2% into 2024. That is one of the worst job outlooks for any of these allied health professions, but the great pay and low schooling time still makes it land at #3 on our list.
4. Dental Hygienist
Dental hygienist just landed on our best healthcare jobs list, so it seems that this is shaping up to be one of the best health jobs out there right now. It is a relatively low-stress job with great benefits, great pay, and a low schooling period.
Dental hygienists assist dentists in their daily tasks and provide dental care for patients. They educate people on preventative health and help them maintain healthy gums and teeth. There is a growing need for dental hygienists because there is an increased focus on dental care due to new research; new studies have shown links between dental health and diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s, so it has many people running to the dentist. Their new projected job growth outlook is at 19% between now and 2024.
They also make great money. On average, Dental Hygienists make $71,520 a year and only need an aAssociate degree. It really is a great overall job if you want to do something healthcare oriented and not spend a ton of time in school. And for only needing an associate degree, this is one of the highest paying allied health jobs of its kind.
5. Radiation Therapist
This is the highest paying job on our list at $80,090 a year on average, but, many times, to be one of the high earners in this field, you need more than an associate degree. Many Radiation Therapists that make a lot of money (as high as $118,000) have at least a bachelor’s degree— some even continue their education at the master’s level. But, mostly that’s not the case, and you can work in the field with just an associate degree.
Radiation therapists work with special equipment to find and treat cancer patients. They use a specialized machine called a linear accelerator to shrink or eliminate cancer. Radiation therapists work with many other people on the oncology team such as physicians, nurses, and dosimetrists. In fact, many radiation therapists that advance their education become dosimetrists, and make big bucks.
The job outlook is pretty good for this field as they are projected to grow 14% between now and 2024. So, if you don’t mind a little bit of higher education and some upper-level math and science, then this job is pretty great and will always be needed.
6. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
This is another great job, but it could also mean some higher education. Even though you can get the job with an associate degree, many upper-level earners go on to get a bachelor’s degree. But it could be worth it because top earners get around $85,000 while the average salary is at $62, 540 a year.
Diagnostic medical sonographers have a pretty cool job, though, because they get to see inside people’s bodies using ultrasound, sonogram and echocardiogram equipment. Their job is super important because it enables doctors to diagnose medical conditions with great accuracy.
This job lands here on the list mainly because of the schooling it could take, but the job outlook is great. The BLS projects a 24% growth into 2024. This is really a great job to have because you can earn a great salary, work fairly normal shifts, and have job security. Not a bad option at all.
7. Cardiovascular Technologists & Technicians
This job is almost identical to a diagnostic medical sonographer except you work only with the heart. Cardiovascular technologists and technicians use imaging technology to assist physicians in the diagnosis of heart and blood vessel diseases.
Everything else is basically the same as a medical sonographer. They need an associate degree, but many people go on to complete bachelor programs to advance in the field and make more money. They make about $55,210 a year on average and top earners can make around $90,000.
The demand for cardiovascular technologists and technicians is great and is expected to grow at least 24% between now and 2024— some people have the estimate more around 30%. These projections are due to the aging Baby Boomer population and influx in patients due to the Affordable Care Act.
8. Clinical Laboratory Technician
This is a cool job if you want to be a scientist and work in a lab. Clinical lab techs collect and test bodily substances for better diagnosis outcomes. They basically test everything from urine to blood to see if any anomalies exist and share their results with doctors and patients to ensure proper treatment plans.
They make a pretty good salary of about $49,310 on average and only need an associate degree to get there. This job isn’t to be confused with a lab technologist who makes more money and needs a bachelor’s degree.
The job outlook is projected to grow 18% by 2024 because of the predicted increase in type 2 diabetes, cancer, and genetic disorders. So, even though that’s not great for people, it’s great for you if you decide to work in this field; you will be very in-demand for the foreseeable future.
9. Respiratory Therapist
Respiratory therapists work with people who have difficulty breathing. They try to diagnose and treat conditions like asthma and emphysema, but, also, work with people who have had a heart attack, stroke, or a near-drowning event.
This is a good allied health job, too. The main factor that lands this job a bit lower on our list is stress. Respiratory therapists sometimes have to provide emergency care to people who are literally dying without their help, so it definitely throws a stressful element into the overall equation.
They make pretty good money for what they do, though. The average yearly salary for respiratory therapists is $56,730 a year, which is great for a job you only need an associate degree for. No advanced education is necessary, although some do go on to get bachelor’s degrees. Respiratory therapists have to be licensed in every state but Alaska, also. Their job is growing by 12%, which is good for any job in this down market we have right now. So, in all, it’s a great option to consider if you are looking for a career change or are trying to decide what you want to do with your life.
10. Medical Records Information Technician
Because technology is great it’s allowed us to shift old paper records to an electronic database. Because of this new technology, there is a growing need for medical records information technicians. They oversee and operate healthcare records systems and keep everything compliant with HIPAA standards and regulations.
This is the last job on our list because it makes the least amount of money and deals with records and databases, which can probably get boring. But for only needing a certification and sometimes an associate degree, it’s not a bad job. For the little amount of education, you can make an average of $35,900 a year. That’s not too shabby considering there are kids coming out of college with a Bachelor of Arts degree that make considerably less.
They also have a pretty good job outlook of 15% because technology is not disappearing and we will need more people to handle our records.
All of these jobs are pretty good, especially for the amount of schooling you need. In this job market, finding a career that pays well and needs little schooling is basically everything a job seeker wants. Take advantage of our list and research them for yourself.
For a list of allied health professions and certification information, see the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) at www.caahep.org. This list includes most, but not all, professions, as some programs, such as dietetics, are accredited by another accrediting body. CAAHEP is the largest accreditation program in the health sciences field.