Are you contemplating a career in the medical field but don't have the time or money to invest in a 2 or 4-year college degree? If so, you have come to the right place.
What is Allied Healthcare?
An allied healthcare professional is a broad term for medical professionals outside of the commonly known direct patient care professionals such as nurses, physician assistants, medical doctors and pharmacists.
Working in an allied healthcare career gives you the opportunity to work peripherally alongside many other healthcare professionals to provide science-based care to patients in many different specialties.
Most allied healthcare professions do not require a college degree. However, there is a certain amount of education and training required. States have their own educational and certification requirements that vary.
Pros of Getting an Entry-level Allied Healthcare Career First Before Going Directly Into the Nursing Profession:
#1. Decide if a career in healthcare is right for you.
Before spending tens of thousands of dollars and several years in nursing school, it may make sense to test the waters in another healthcare field first. Every year there are thousands of nursing students who end up dropping out because they realized too late that they didn't want to become a nurse after all. Becoming a nurse isn't right for everybody, and starting in a field that requires less of your time and money might make a lot of sense.
#2. Network with other medical professionals.
Many allied healthcare professionals have an opportunity to make helpful contacts that can later help them further their careers.
For example, certified nursing assistants (CNA's) work alongside nurses in many different settings: the emergency department, med-surg floors, the ICU, outpatient surgery, in-patient surgery, and labor and delivery. After gaining a year or two of experience, many CNAs go back to nursing school while still working and achieve an ADN or BSN. When they graduate and pass the NCLEX, they already have references for employment and can even go back to the same workplace as an RN.
#3. Gain exposure to other healthcare occupations.
Starting out as an allied healthcare professional gives you a bird’s eye view into other medical careers. For example, if you work in a hospital, you will gain exposure to nurses, doctors, pharmacists, physical therapists, social workers, medical billers, and nutritionists, to name a few.
#4. Start earning a good income quickly.
Most allied healthcare positions offer quicker training programs so you can get to work and start earning money faster.
#5. Better work/life balance while attending school or caring for a family.
Having an income while working in a stable healthcare environment may provide a better work/life balance than other careers outside of the healthcare industry, especially if you have a family or are attending a university in your off-hours.
#6. Tuition assistance from a healthcare employer.
Many allied healthcare employers offer benefits, which might include tuition assistance or reimbursement. You may be able to save money on education while working in the healthcare field.
5 In-Demand Allied Healthcare Careers That Can Be Completed In Less Than 2 Years
#1. Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
A CNA is a healthcare professional who works alongside registered nurses and other healthcare professionals to provide quality of life care to patients. You will find CNA's working in hospitals, assisted living facilities and residential settings.
Some of the duties performed by a CNA include:
- Checking and recording a patient's vital signs
- Assisting patients with activities of daily living such as toileting, bathing, dressing and eating
- Helping patients ambulate
- Turning or repositioning patients in bed
- Documenting patient activities
- Cleaning rooms and changing linens
Certification requirements vary by state; however, CNAs must attend an accredited CNA program to be eligible for certification. Upon completion of the CNA program, students must sit for their state's CNA certification exam. Tests usually include a written portion as well as a skills portion.
- Program length - most CNA programs can be completed in 4 to 12 weeks. But, during the COVID-19 pandemic there are temporary nurse aide training programs that can be completed in as little as 8 hours to work in long term care facilities.
- Program cost - CNA programs usually cost anywhere between $1,300 and $2,000, including books and other school supplies.
- Salary - according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2019 median pay for CNAs was $29,640 per year or $14.25 per hour in 2019.
- Career Outlook - the CNA profession is expected to grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029.
Show Me CNA Programs
For more information, see our career guide on becoming a certified nursing assistant.
#2. Medical Billing and Coding Specialist
A medical billing and coding specialist is a non-clinical office, or remote work-from-home, position that works as a liaison between healthcare providers and insurance companies. This job involves a lot of behind-the-scenes work with many hours working at a computer.
Some of the duties of this position include:
- Creating and submitting invoices and claims for payment
- Coding patient services, procedures, treatments and diagnosis for insurance purposes
- Tracking and following up with payments from insurance companies and patients
You can find medical billers and coders working in nearly every type of healthcare facility, including physician offices, hospitals, outpatient clinics, surgery centers, and other healthcare systems. Many medical billers and coders can also work remotely from home.
- Program length - medical billing and coding programs vary in length from 4 to 15 months, depending on what field specialties you wish to work in as well as how fast you can complete your coursework.
- Program cost - most local trade school programs generally range in price from $1,000-$2,500. You can also consider attending an associate's degree program from a junior college for around $2,000 to $6,000 a year.
- Salary - according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical billers and coders earn an average of $42,630 per year or $20.50 per hour.
- Career outlook - the profession is expected to grow by 8% between 2019 and 2028.
- Requirements and certification - certification is not required at the state or national level to work in this position. However, many employers may prefer a certified candidate over one who is not certified. Therefore, it may be worthwhile to become certified by passing one of the medical billing and coding certification exams from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC):
- Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
- Certified Professional Coder-Hospital (CPC-H)
- Certified Professional Coder-Payer (CPC-P)
Show Me Medical Coding & Billing Programs
For more information, see our career guide on medical billing and coding.
#3. Medical Assistant (MA)
A medical assistant is a healthcare assistant that provides support to physicians and other healthcare professionals in a clinical setting. You can find medical assistants working in doctors' offices, hospitals, outpatient care centers, clinics, assisted living facilities and diagnostic laboratories.
Some of the duties of this position include,
Medical assistants perform a wide range of clerical jobs such as scheduling appointments, maintaining patient records, answering phones, and performing other administrative tasks. They also perform many clinical duties as well, including obtaining vital signs, documenting medical histories, assisting physicians during patient visits and other clinical tasks.
- Program length - MA programs can be completed in as little as 6 weeks for an accelerated program; however, most MA programs are at least 3 months to 1 year. Additionally, some MA programs can be completed at a junior college where you can also earn an associate’s degree. To become a medical assistant you must, at a minimum, have your high school diploma or GED before applying to a program.
- Program cost - The cost of MA school ranges from $1,200- $4,000 from a training school, to $2,500- $9,500 from a community college.
- Salary - According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, MAs make a median average of $34,800 per year or $16.73 per hour.
- Career outlook - The job outlook from 2019-2029 is very promising, with a projected growth of 19%.
- Certification - Unlike many other healthcare professions, national certification is not necessarily required in many states to become an MA. However, you must research your state's requirements to be able to practice as an MA legally. It is also important to remember that many employers may prefer candidates who have an MA certification, even if the state does not require it. In that case, it may be in your best interest to take the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam. To be eligible to the CMA exam, you must have graduated from an MA program that is accredited by either the:
Show Me Medical Assistant Programs
For more information, see our career guide series on becoming a medical assistant.
#4. MRI Technologist
An MRI technologist works with a diagnostic device called a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner in various healthcare facilities such as hospitals and outpatient diagnostic clinics. Duties of MRI technologists include injecting patients with contrast dyes to visualize organs and other body parts on a scanner. The purpose of these procedures is to produce an image that medical doctors can use to diagnose diseases and other medical conditions.
- Program length - Students should expect their MRI program to take 6 months to 2 years to complete.
- Program cost - 6 to 12 month MRI certificate program usually costs between $2,500 and $9,000, and a two-year associate's degree usually costs anywhere between $4,000 and $10,000 per year depending on the program.
- Salary - according to the US Bureau Of Labor Statistics, in 2019, MRI technologists earned a median income of $62,280 per year or $29.94 per hour.
- Career outlook - according to the the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of MRI technologists is projected to grow by 7% from 2019-2029, this is faster than the average for all other occupations.
- Requirements and certifications - the minimum education to apply for an MRI technologist program is a high school diploma or GED. As with other allied healthcare professionals, educational requirements vary from state to state. However, most MRI technologists enter the profession after earning an associate's degree in MRI technology. Some states also allow students to complete their requirements through an accredited certificate program.
It is important to note that to be eligible to sit for certification by the American Registry of Radiology Technologists (ARRT), MRI students must complete an accredited MRI certificate program from a community college. Certification requirements vary by state, so it is essential to research your state's requirements.
#5. Surgical Technologist
A surgical technologist, also known as an operating room technician or scrub tech, works as a vital part of a surgical team in the operating room.
Some of the duties performed by a surgical technologist include:
- Preparing patients for surgery
- Preparing and maintaining a sterile surgical field to prevent infections
- Having in-depth knowledge of the sutures, tools and other instruments needed to perform surgery
- Providing sterile instruments to a surgeon during a procedure
- Helping the rest of the surgical team with various tasks during surgery
- Counting instruments and surgical supplies at the end of procedures (to make sure they were not accidentally left in a patient)
Surgical technologists work anywhere there is an operating room including hospitals and outpatient surgery centers.
- Program length - depending on what type of surgical tech school you wish to attend (certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree), programs generally take between 1 to 2 years to complete.
- Program costs - range anywhere from $5,000 for a certificate program to $15,000 or more for a public college program. For acceptance into a surgical tech program, candidates must have a minimum of a high school degree or GED.
- Salary - according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a surgical technologist in 2019 is $48,300 per year or $23.22 per hour. Interesting fact, surgical technologists can get paid to travel to work and earn much higher income as a traveling surgical technologist.
- Career outlook - the career is also projected to grow by 7% between 2019 and 2029.
- Requirements and certifications - some states require additional certification to practice as a surgical tech. But as with most allied healthcare careers, even if your state doesn't specifically require certification, many employers will prefer certified candidates. Your surgical technology program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) to be eligible to take the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam after graduation.
Resources To Help Pay For School
StudentLoans.gov was created by the U.S. Department of Education to help students with student loan debt. This site contains several great resources that can help you find ways to pay for your education.
This site has resources to help students who are preparing for college, attending school, or paying off student loan debt. They have a great section dedicated to everything you need to know about repaying student loans.
The Rural Health Information Hub has valuable information regarding scholarships, loans and loan repayment information for health professionals living in rural areas.