The 9 Highest Paying Jobs in the Medical Field That Only Require an Associate's Degree

Trish Sammer Updated on November 14, 2019

OK, readers ... we have a pretty fantastic scoop for you in this post. How would you like to graduate college in two years with minimal debt AND have excellent prospects for a high-paying career after graduation?  

Sounds amazing, right? Since college tuition seems to be on a non-stop upward trend and student loan debt is absolutely crushing an entire generation of college grads, finding those jobs that provide a high return on your educational investment is more important than ever. 

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Just ponder this for a moment: Your total cost to attend a state school and live on-campus for four years is going to wind up in the neighborhood of six figures or more in most states. With that kind of money on the line, it's critical to ensure that the math is going to work out in your favor after graduation.

The fact is, majors matter. Carrying student loan debt and then entering a field with few opportunities and disappointing pay may have you second-guessing your life choices. But fear not, we're here to show you some options you may not have been aware of. 

Enter the healthcare field with a 2-year degree

The medical field is absolutely teeming with high-paying, in-demand jobs — and there are many positions that only require an associate's degree and/or state licensing. Even better, most of these degree programs can be completed online, allowing you to save even more money. 

Healthcare is a smart career choice for three reasons:

  1. It's currently one of the fastest-growing fields in the country, and it isn't expected to slow down any time soon. Most of the jobs we're going to talk about below are forecast to see growth potential that far outpaces other job categories, as determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 
  2. Anything in the medical realm is nearly recession-proof, or at least far less-so than other industries.
  3. Patient-facing jobs aren't vulnerable to being outsourced overseas. 

Ready to dig in? The jobs below have:

  • Median salaries ranging from $56,000 to $82,000.  We've listed them in order from lowest to highest.
  • Positive job growth potential within the next 10 years, according to government statistics from the BLS.
  • Credential requirements that will allow you to complete your degree within two years, either online or in-person (although it's important to note that some positions may require additional certification or state licensing to begin work). 
Now, let's talk about your new career in healthcare.

 

1. Cardiovascular Technologist

Degree requirement: Associate’s

Median salary: $56,850

This is a job with heart. (Forgive the terrible pun ... we couldn't resist.) But seriously — in this career, you’ll spend your days examining patients’ hearts to determine cardiovascular health and help diagnose blockages. Tests you may perform include echocardiograms, electrocardiograms, or stress tests.

In hospital settings, you may also be part of the team that helps keep a patient's heart pumping during surgery using specialized imaging equipment.

Considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, this is a job where you will be on the front lines of saving lives every day.

BLS predicts that this job category will grow 14% by 2028.

2. Radiologic Technologist

Degree requirement: Associate’s

Median salary: $59,520

This is a job with a high level of patient interaction. You'll perform  X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and computed tomography (CT) scans. In addition to operating imaging equipment, you'll need to position test subjects for scanning and then review images to ensure that they show the appropriate areas.

Your scans will be evaluated by a radiologist, who will interpret the images to diagnose conditions and determine appropriate treatments.

The BLS estimates job growth of 9% by 2028. 

3. Respiratory Therapist

Degree requirement: Associate’s

Median salary: $60,000

This job is centered around helping people breathe better. That may include working with patients who are suffering from asthma or emphysema, those with lung cancer, or trauma patients who have impaired breathing.

In addition to administering breathing treatments through nebulizers and other equipment, this job will require you to  interview patients, perform chest exams, analyze specimens, and administer treatments. You may also need to do things like manage life support equipment and artificial airways.

Most respiratory therapists work full time, and are often expected to cover evening and weekend shifts in hospital settings. 

The BLS expects job growth of a whopping 21% by 2028. 

4. Mammography Technician

Degree requirement: Associate’s

Median salary: $68,000

This job requires you to get your associate's degree in radiologic technology, and then earn an additional mammography certificate. Many community colleges offer the certificate program, which can generally be completed in under a year.  

You'll find employment at a hospital, outpatient care facility, or private medical facility. Unlike many of the other jobs on this list, this is a position that has relatively predictable hours, although you may still need to cover evening or weekend shifts. 

In addition to knowing how to operate the mammography equipment, you'll also need to learn proper calibration and troubleshooting techniques for common technical issues.

You'll need to be comfortable working with patients and positioning them for imaging. The job can involve physical exertion if a patient has limited mobility. You'll also need to have to have an excellent "bedside manner," as patients may be nervous about the tests and their results. 

5. MRI Technologists

Degree requirement: Associate’s

Median salary: $71,670

This job is yet another option that combines technology and patient care. MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to create diagnostic images. This is a job with a high level of patient contact. You'll not only conduct tests, you'll need to help make the patient comfortable and explain what they can expect during the procedure. 

MRI technologists work in healthcare facilities, and more than half work in hospitals.

BLS predicts job growth of 9% by 2028. 

6. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Degree requirement: Associate’s

Median salary: $72,510

Like many jobs on this list, this position involves a mix of technical know-how and interpersonal communication with patients. 

As a diagnostic medical sonographer, you’ll operate imaging equipment that generates high-frequency waves into a patient's body. These waves then return an image that can be used to diagnose, assess, and determine treatment of various medical conditions. You'll also need to take patient histories, troubleshoot equipment problems, and maintain patient records. 

In this position, you may perform sonograms, ultrasounds, or echocardiograms (also called an ECGs or EKGs). 

7. Dental Hygienist

Degree requirement: Associate’s

Median salary: $74,820 (full-time)

If you've been to the dentist, you're probably pretty familiar with what dental hygienists do. In this job, you’ll clean teeth, give preliminary exams for signs of oral diseases, and take X-rays.

Many dental hygienists work part-time, which can be an excellent perk if you want the option for future flexibility related to childcare or other responsibilities.

BLS forecasts job growth of 11% by 2028. 

8. Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Degree requirement: Associate’s

Median salary: $76,820

Radioactive drugs can help abnormal areas of the body show up on diagnostic images. Working as a nuclear medicine technologist, you will do highly specialized work to prepare and administer those drugs for imaging purposes, as well as for treatment. In some cases, you may also operate the imaging equipment.

Most nuclear medicine technologists work in hospitals. Some work in physicians’ offices, diagnostic laboratories, or imaging clinics. Most nuclear medicine technologists work full time.

BLS predicts job growth of 7% by 2028.

9. Radiation Therapists

Degree requirement: Associate’s

Median salary: $82,330

This job is mainly about fighting cancer, with the goal of shrinking or removing tumors. Your daily activities will include interacting with patients and operating machines that deliver radiation treatment.  You will also participate in creating patient treatment plans by collecting and analyzing data.

Radiation therapists work in hospitals, doctor's office, and outpatient centers. Most radiation therapists work full time.

BLS predicts job growth of 9% by 2028.

What's next?

Whether you go to school in-person or online, earning your college degree is a smart way to help ensure your long-term employment and increase your earning potential. To learn more about the benefits of online education, see 8 Reasons Why Online Education is Better than Traditional.

Published in: Online Colleges

About the Author
Trish Sammer

Trish Sammer is Nitro's managing editor. Her work has appeared in Woman’s Day, Redbook, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Forbes. She has also written for various corporate clients, including the tech giant SAP, The Franklin Institute, and PSE&G. When Trish isn’t busy acting as a writing ninja for other people, you can find her … well, writing about other stuff, like divorce and blended family life. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband, their combined brood, and the world’s laziest dog. Read more by Trish Sammer

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