High-Paying Health Care Careers You Can Do With a Bachelor's Degree
Health care is a lucrative field, containing some of the highest paying occupations in the nation. Surgeons and anesthesiologists have national average salaries nearing $250,000 per year, while family practitioners may earn nearly $190,000, according to 2014 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
While these jobs pay well, medical professionals have to spend long years in school, and the Association of American Medical Schools reports 79 percent of medical students graduate with at least $100,000 in education debt. Fortunately, you don't need a medical or doctoral degree to have a high-paying job in health care. In some cases, you don't even need to have a master's degree.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the BLS, the following 12 health care jobs can be performed with a bachelor's degree, or even an associate degree. While the pay varies, they are all jobs with incomes above the national median of $47,230 per year, as reported by the BLS:
Occupational Health and Safety Technicians
- Median pay (2014): $48,120
- Job growth (2012-2022): 11%
Occupational health and safety technicians are responsible for evaluating workplace safety and investigating accidents and other safety incidents. They may test for toxic materials, educate workers on safety topics and demonstrate the use of safety equipment. The BLS reports nearly one in five technicians worked for state and local governments in 2012, while others held jobs in hospitals, or at management and consulting firms. These workers often learn necessary skills through on-the-job training, although some employers may prefer workers with a postsecondary certificate or associate degree.
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists
- Median pay (2014): $59,430
- Job growth (2012-2022): 14%
Sometimes known as medical laboratory scientists, medical and clinical laboratory technologists are responsible for analyzing blood and tissue samples. They then log data into patient records and report findings to the requesting physician. Although medical and clinical laboratory technologists use highly sophisticated equipment, they don't need an advanced degree. Entry-level jobs typically go to those with a bachelor's degree in medical technology, the BLS reports, and half of technologists are employed by hospitals.
Occupational Therapy Assistants
- Median pay (2014): $56,950
- Job growth (2012-2022): 43%
Occupational therapy assistants may assist patients as they work through stretches or use therapy equipment. Some may work with children who have developmental disabilities and help them learn to do daily living tasks. More than a third of occupational therapy assistants work in therapy offices, but others are employed by nursing homes, hospitals and home care agencies. Health care professionals in this occupation need to have an associate degree from an accredited occupational therapy program, and some states require occupational therapy assistants be licensed, according to the BLS.
Dietitians and Nutritionists
- Median pay (2014): $56,950
- Job growth (2012-2022): 21%
Those who are passionate about promoting good health through proper nutrition may find a career as a dietitian or nutritionist to be rewarding. These health care professionals assess dietary needs and counsel individuals on strategies to achieve proper nutrition. Some dietitians and nutritionists are self-employed and provide private consulting services to individuals and organizations. Others are employed by hospitals, the government or in other health care settings. The typical education for these professionals is a bachelor's degree in dietetics, clinical nutrition, food and nutrition, or a similar course of study.
- Median pay (2014): $56,730
- Job growth (2012-2022): 19%
Respiratory therapists provide specialized services to individuals with asthma, emphysema or other breathing problems. They consult with doctors and perform tests to determine lung capacity before treating an individual with therapies that may include breathing exercises or medication. Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals. The BLS reports that all states except Alaska require therapists be licensed, and an associate degree is the most common level of education for these health care workers.
Radiologic and MRI Technologists
- Median pay for radiologic technologists (2014): $55,870
- Median pay for MRI technologists (2014): $67,090
- Job growth (2012-2022): 21%
As another specialized health care profession, radiologic and MRI technologists work exclusively with imaging technology. Nearly 60 percent work in hospitals where they take x-rays, MRIs and CT scans, but that isn't the only place these professionals are found. According to the BLS, 22 percent of workers were employed in physician offices in 2012. While many radiologic and MRI technologists have an associate degree, some postsecondary certificates and bachelor's degrees are also available in this field.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians
- Median pay for diagnostic medical sonographers (2014): $67,530
- Median pay for cardiovascular technologists and technicians (2014): $54,330
- Job growth (2012-2022): 39%
Despite having different names, these occupations are very similar. They both use imaging equipment to help physicians assess and diagnose patient conditions. Cardiovascular technologists and technicians specialize in imaging and monitoring the heart, while diagnostic medical sonographers may focus on another specialty such as obstetric or abdominal ultrasounds. Hospitals are a major employer of these professionals although they can also be found in physician offices and diagnostic laboratories. Bachelor's degrees in sonography are available, but many in the field have only an associate degree or postsecondary certificate.
- Median pay (2014): $66,640
- Job growth (2012-2022): 19%
Registered nurses are often on the front lines of patient care. They may provide diagnostic services, consult with physicians on treatment plans and educate patients on their care. The majority of nurses - 61 percent, according to the BLS - work in hospitals, but jobs are also available in skilled nursing facilities, physician offices or with home health agencies. The government also employs about 6 percent of the nation's nurses. In the past, a postsecondary diploma or associate degree was the normal education for a registered nurse, but a bachelor's degree in nursing is now becoming the standard.
Occupational Health and Safety Specialists
- Median pay (2014): $69,210
- Job growth (2012-2022): 7%
Like occupational health and safety technicians, these professionals focus on workplace safety. They may inspect worksites, collect potentially hazardous materials for analysis and investigate accidents. Some specialists may create policies and procedures to improve safety, and conduct worker training sessions. About a third of occupational health and safety specialists work for the government, but they can also be found in other settings, such as hospitals and consulting firms. Specialists usually have a bachelor's degree in occupational health, safety or a similar field. They may also need some on-the-job training.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
- Median pay (2014): $72,100
- Job growth (2012-2022): 20%
Nuclear medicine technologists play an important role in the detection of diseases, such as cancer. They prepare radioactive drugs for use in diagnostic procedures. Once the drugs are administered, technologists use specialized equipment to scan the body and look for abnormalities. The BLS found 65 percent of nuclear medicine technologists worked in hospitals in 2012, with another 21 percent being employed in physician offices. Technologists need an associate or bachelor's degree in nuclear medicine technology and, in some states, must be licensed.
- Median pay (2014): $71,520
- Job growth (2012-2022): 33%
Anyone who's been to a dentist's office likely knows what dental hygienists do. They are the workers who clean teeth, take x-rays and educate patients on proper dental care, and these professionals are found almost exclusively in dental offices. The BLS reports that individuals interested in entering the field usually need an associate degree in dental hygiene, and all states require hygienists be licensed.
- Median pay (2014): $80,090
- Job growth (2012-2022): 24%
Of all the health care careers you can do with a bachelor's degree, the highest paying may be that of radiation therapists, according to BLS figures. Radiation therapists are found in hospitals, physician offices and outpatient clinics where they administer radiation treatment to patients with cancer and other diseases. Most states require therapists be licensed. Some employers may hire workers who only have a postsecondary certificate, while others may prefer job candidates who have an associate or bachelor's degree in radiation therapy.
If you are looking for a high-paying job in health care, you may not need to spend years at college and go hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to get it. These 12 jobs prove you can get earn above average incomes while spending four years or less in school.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014
- Association of American Medical Colleges, Medical Student Education: Debt, Costs, and Loan Repayment Fact Card, October 2014