Ways to Transition into a Health Care Career


Find out which health care degrees can help you make a swift career change.

By Amanda Hearle

Do you feel stuck in a dead-end job? Want to switch into a new field but worry that it will take too long to return to school to prepare for a new career?

Consider transitioning to health care. As one of the fastest growing industries in the country, health care offers several job opportunities that don't require the four plus years it generally takes to earn a bachelor's degree.

In fact, of the 5.6 million new health care and social assistance sector jobs the U.S. Department of Labor estimates to be created between 2010 and 2020, many are in areas that might only require an associate's degree or certificate.

And since most associate's and certificate programs are designed to take as little as two years (sometimes less) to complete, you could soon find yourself in a new and rewarding career.

Want to make a swift and promising career change? Check out these health care related associate's degree programs to explore your options.

Degree #1 - Medical Assisting
Career Change Option: Medical Assistant

Do you have administrative experience that you don't want to see go to waste? An associate's degree in medical assisting could help you apply your clerical skills in a medical field. And since this type of program could be completed in as little as two years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, you could find yourself preparing for a new career faster than you think.

About the Degree: You can expect to learn the needed administrative and medical duties in an associate's in medical assisting program. Classes in office administration and software applications could get you up to speed on how medical offices stay organized, while courses in medical terminology and diagnostic procedures could help build your medical knowledge, according to the College Board, an organization that administers academic aptitude tests.

Click to Find the Right Medical Assisting Program.

About the Career: After completing an associate's in medical assisting, get ready to use your administrative skills to help keep a doctor's office running smoothly, says the Department of Labor. As a medical assistant, your duties could include everything from scheduling appointments and billing insurance companies to recording patients' medical histories and running lab tests, adds the Department.

Degree #2 - Health Information Technology
Career Change Option: Medical Records and Health Information Technician

Have a solid background in computers and technology? If you are looking for a way to translate your tech skills into a health care career without spending four plus years earning a bachelor's degree, consider getting an associate's degree in health information technology.

About the Degree: With skills like coding, database building, and computer networking being used every day in the health care industry, an associate's in health information technology could help you understand a hospital's or clinic's unique computer needs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Classes like medical coding, medical terminology, and health information systems can help you prepare for this medical field, says the College Board.

Click to Find the Right Health Information Technology Program.

About the Career: In as little as two years, an associate's in health information technology could prepare you to pursue a career as a medical records and health information technician, according to the Department of Labor, where you could play a role in keeping a patient's medical records up-to-date, accurate, and organized in paper and electronic clinical databases.

Degree #3 - Dental Assisting
Career Change Option: Dental Assistant

If you want to switch into a career in dentistry, there are other options besides attending dental school. With an associate's program in dental assisting, you could learn important dental assisting techniques and graduate in as little as two years, says the U.S. Department of Labor. Of course, with all programs, time to graduation will depend on a variety of factors - including if you have the time to fully devote yourself to your studies.

About the Degree: Through an associate's degree program in dental assisting, you could learn more about oral care and the instruments used by dentists during procedures, according to the Department of Labor. Classes like oral anatomy and dental assisting techniques could help prepare you for patient care tasks, while office duties could be taught in courses such as dental office management and dental records, according to the College Board.

Click to Find the Right Dental Assisting Program.

About the Career: After earning your associate's degree in dental assisting, you could be prepared to work as a dental assistant, where your workday might consist of patient care, office, and laboratory responsibilities. Duties might include preparing and sterilizing instruments for dentists, applying anesthetics, processing X-rays, and scheduling patients' appointments, says the Department.

Degree #4 - Nursing
Career Change Option: Registered Nurse

Want to be involved in every aspect of patient care, from assessment to diagnosis and treatment? If you're looking for a hands-on medical career that doesn't require medical school, an associate's program in nursing could be a smart choice.

About the Degree: An associate's degree program in nursing generally combines medical coursework and hands-on clinical experience, says the U.S. Department of Labor. Courses in anatomy and physiology, nutrition, psychology, and pharmacology can help develop your understanding of medical terminology, while clinical experience could provide you with the opportunity to practice examining patients, giving medications, or performing other nursing tasks in a real hospital or clinic, according to the College Board.

Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.

About the Career: After completing an associate's in nursing and passing the nursing licensing exam, you can soon put your skills to the test in a career as a registered nurse. Providing hands-on treatment as well as educating patients, you could get the chance to specialize in a specific field of nursing such as labor and delivery, hospice care, or intensive care units, according to the Department of Labor.

Degree #5 - Physical Therapy Assistance
Career Change Option: Physical Therapy Assistant

Want to work in physical therapy without having to earn a master's degree? For a shorter path to a rewarding career in patient rehabilitation, consider an associate's degree in physical therapy assistance.

About the Degree: In as little as two years, you could learn about the common exercises and techniques used to help patients regain movement and recover from injuries or illnesses, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Get ready to gain knowledge about these treatment options through classes in rehabilitation procedures, therapeutic exercise, and motor development, says the College Board.

Click to Find the Right Physical Therapy Assistance Program.

About the Career: Once you earn an associate's in physical therapy assistance, you could put the rehabilitation techniques into practice by pursuing a career as a physical therapist assistant. Working alongside physical therapists, you can expect to help patients complete strength and coordination exercises, as well as provide patients with different forms of therapy like massage and electrical stimulation to reduce their pain, according to the Department of Labor.

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