Five Hot, Attainable Medical Degrees

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Looking for a degree that will help you pursue a career in the booming health care industry? Check out these hot, yet surprisingly attainable degrees.

By Terence Loose

If you're thinking of going back to school but want to make sure you have a healthy shot at landing a job with your degree, you might want to consider studying something in the health care field.

Why? Consider the fact the health care and social assistance industry is expected to create 28 percent of all new jobs in the U.S. economy from 2010 to 2020, reports the U.S. Department of Labor. That adds up to 5.7 million new jobs. Makes you wonder if we're an extremely healthy or an extremely sick nation, doesn't it?

Either way, those who go into the right health care field should have a healthy career, says Susan Heathfield, a management consultant with 20 years experience and the writer of the "Human Resources" page at About.com.

"In the health services area, there are going to be jobs in many areas. Things like nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, pharmaceutical, medical technicians, physicians assistants," says Heathfield. "All of these are things you can't really outsource. And with the aging population, they will be needed more than ever."

What's more, these health care degrees are very attainable. And by that we mean many of them are offered at the associate's level and can be earned in as little as two years.

Want to learn how to qualify for one of these booming health care jobs? Keep reading to learn about five attainable medical degrees that are trending now and why Healthfield believes they could be a smart move for your professional future.

Hot Health Care Degree #1: Physical Therapy Assistance

Do you enjoy helping people get back on their feet - literally? An associate's degree in physical therapy assistance might be good therapy for your future.

At least, that's what Heathfield thinks: "With the aging population, I think this degree is going to be booming. There are more elderly people due to the baby boom generation, and they're living longer lives. That means more potential for debilitating health issues, so they'll need health services like these."

Click to Find the Right Physical Therapy Assistance Program.

Degree Details: According to the College Board, a nonprofit organization that promotes higher education, as a physical therapist assistance major, you'll learn the exercises and techniques physical therapists (PTs) use to rehabilitate patients. You'll take courses such as kinesiology, therapeutic exercise, rehabilitation procedures, and motor development.

Potential Career and Outlook: Physical Therapy Assistant*
The U.S. Department of Labor expects this occupation to grow by 46 percent from 2010 to 2020, a numerical increase to the tune of 30,800 new jobs.

Hot Health Care Degree #2: Pharmacy Technology

Were you the mad scientist of your high school chemistry lab? Perhaps you have a calling as a pharmacy technology student, where you can professionalize your interest in the science of pharmacy technology with a certificate or associate's degree.

It would be time well invested, says Heathfield. "We're becoming the most pilled generation in history. Major drug companies keep developing more and more medications, so there will be a need for this degree in the future," she says.

Click to Find the Right Pharmacy Technology Program.

Degree Details: The College Board says as a pharmacy technology student, you would learn how to assist pharmacists in preparing and providing medications, running pharmacies, and helping customers.

Potential Career and Outlook: Pharmacy Technician*
From 2010 to 2020, pharmacy technicians could see their numbers grow by 108,300, according to U.S. Department of Labor projections, resulting in an overall gain of 32 percent.

Hot Health Care Degree #3: Dental Assisting

Smiles everyone, smiles. Why? Because dental assisting credentials are within reach and Heathfield expects the field to be in high demand for years to come.

"I've seen research that shows that there is a relationship between good oral health and good general health," says Heathfield. "That means more people will visit dentists. Also, because dentists are busier, they are relying more on dental assistants and hygienists."

Click to Find the Right Dental Assisting Program.

Degree Details: According to the College Board, dental assisting programs teach you everything from showing patients proper brushing and flossing techniques to taking x-rays and dental impressions. You might take classes in subjects like oral anatomy, dental radiology, and dental records.

Potential Career and Outlook: Dental Assistant*
The U.S. Department of Labor expects the field of dental assisting to grow by 31 percent, or 91,600 jobs, from 2010 to 2020.

Hot Health Care Degree #4: Nursing

Are you at your best when helping others? Good news: You might excel in a nursing program, where you can pursue a diploma, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree in the field.

Heathfield says that a nursing degree will be in demand because the job of registered nurse is one that you can't do from an overseas call center. At least, not yet. "So this degree I see as a very practical one for employment in the future," she says.

Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.

Degree Details: As you'd expect, nursing programs focus on teaching students to examine and treat patients, assist doctors with diagnostic tests, and educate patients about short- and long-term care, says the College Board. Hence, you can expect classes in everything from health assessment and anatomy to nutrition and pharmacology.

Potential Career and Outlook: Registered Nurse*
The Department of Labor expects job openings for registered nurses to grow by 26 percent from 2010 to 2020. In fact, this profession took the number one spot on the Department's 2012 "Occupations with the largest job growth" for 2010 to 2020, with more than 700,000 new openings expected.

Hot Health Care Degree #5: Health Information Technology

Since we do live in the information age, and, as stated earlier, the health care industry is the biggest thing going since sliced bread, it only makes sense that health information technology - the place where these two worlds collide - is a winning degree option. But why exactly should you consider earning a certificate or associate's in the field?

Heathfield explains: "The information-gathering equipment in the health care field is so much more advanced now. Doctors and hospitals are gathering so much data and all of that has to be coded and organized properly, so I see this degree as valuable."

Click to Find the Right Health Information Technology Program.

Degree Details: The College Board reports that in a health information technology program, you'll learn how to prepare and maintain medical records while studying medical terminology and medical records software. Classes range from health care law to fundamentals of medical science.

Potential Career and Outlook: Health Information Technician*
The U.S. Department of Labor expects job opportunities for medical records and health information technicians to grow by 21 percent, which means 37,700 jobs could be added in the field between 2010 and 2020.

* All possible careers listed by the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012 edition. Degrees described here are either common, preferred, required, or one of a number of related degrees acceptable as preparation for the career. In some instances, candidates may also need additional training, experience, certifications, or degrees to pursue the career.

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