Education requirements for the fastest-growing healthcare jobs – Yuri A // Shutterstock

Healthcare professionals are already some of the most sought-after workers in the job market, and their prospects are only increasing. Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates healthcare job opportunities will grow faster in the next decade than in other career fields. Every year, the number of projected openings in healthcare sits at just below 2 million.

Incredible Health identified the most common educational requirements among fast-growing healthcare jobs. Before sighing in disappointment, imagining long years of study and the debt accumulated from medical school, remember that only one of the 20 fastest-growing professions in the healthcare industry requires a medical degree or a doctorate. According to the BLS, most vacancies only require a high school diploma or equivalent.

Across the nation, the Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that at least 17,477 practitioners are needed to serve 101 million people lacking adequate primary medical care. Also, 76 million people require dental services, and 166 million do not have access to professional mental health care.

The demand for healthcare services will only grow as the U.S. population ages. All baby boomers—the second-largest adult generation—will be 65 or older by 2030, according to the Census Bureau.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth grew exponentially for first-time consultations and follow-ups. Long after lockdown and social restrictions ended, telehealth has remained an alternative for outpatient consultations and pre-office evaluations, increasing the demand for digital health or health tech workers.

The following analysis ranks education levels based on the BLS’ projections of how many jobs will be added requiring that level of education. The fastest-growing occupations within each education category are also listed.

Two medical students walking in bright, naturally lit classroom.
Drazen Zigic // Shutterstock

#6. Doctoral or professional degree

– Health care job growth at this education level, 2022-32: +87,500 jobs (+5.2%)
– Fastest-growing healthcare jobs at this education level:
— Physical therapists (Projected job growth: +15.1%)
— Audiologists (+10.6%)
— Chiropractors (+8.8%)

Obtaining a doctorate can mean getting a Doctor of Medicine, a Doctor of Philosophy, or several other doctoral degrees, such as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Audiology, or Chiropractic. These degrees all take several years of research and study. Candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree. Ph.D. candidates typically have one or more master’s degrees.

Some degrees are field-specific, but others can be more generalized. For instance, Ph.D. graduates in the healthcare industry may be highly specialized professionals in medical practices or hold the topmost executive positions in hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. Or they might participate in research in sensitive, complex areas such as neuroscience, oncology, epidemiology, or genetic engineering. They might even design software or other technical or technological tools for medical care.

A medical professional reviewing information on tablet with a patient. – Yuri A // Shutterstock

#5. Associate’s degree

– Health care job growth at this education level, 2022-32: +107,100 jobs (+10.7%)
– Fastest-growing healthcare jobs at this education level:
— Physical therapist assistants (Projected job growth: +26.1%)
— Occupational therapy assistants (+24.0%)
— Health information technologists and medical registrars (+16.5%)

Health care professionals with associate’s degrees working in medical offices may be the intake clerk or the person processing insurance claims. Thousands of people in the health care industry have earned two- or three-year degrees, often at a community or technical college.

The annual income for associate degree holders in the medical field ranges significantly. For example, the median yearly pay for a medical assistant in 2022 was $38,000, while it was around $70,000 for a respiratory therapist.

A medical professional works at a computer in a medical office with a doctor next to a patient in a hospital bed behind her..
Gorodenkoff // Shutterstock

#4. Master’s degree

– Health care job growth at this education level, 2022-32: +221,100 jobs (+24.8%)
– Fastest-growing healthcare jobs at this education level:
— Nurse practitioners (Projected job growth: +44.5%)
— Physician assistants (+26.5%)
— Speech-language pathologists (+19.3%)

A master’s degree in the healthcare industry can make one’s annual income grow to a six-digit number, a salary significantly higher than the $77,000 median wage paid to healthcare practitioners and technical workers.

Most medical specialists, such as advanced practice registered nurses or orthotists, need at least a master’s degree before applying for a license to work with patients. In most cases, mid- and high-level medical professionals must keep their knowledge up-to-date through certifications and courses to periodically renew their licenses.

A medical professional checking oximeter on senior patient.
Ground Picture // Shutterstock

#3. Postsecondary nondegree award

– Health care job growth at this education level, 2022-32: +326,800 jobs (+7.3%)
– Fastest-growing healthcare jobs at this education level:
— Massage therapists (Projected job growth: +18.3%)
— Medical assistants (+13.9%)
— Ophthalmic medical technicians (+12.7%)

An educational institution confers a postsecondary nondegree award, while a certification is issued by a professional organization or certifying body. Some postsecondary programs can take a few weeks of schooling, others up to a year or two.

Healthcare occupations requiring this type of credentials include phlebotomists, specialists who draw blood for testing, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics. The median annual wage for workers in this category has been above $37,000 since 2018.

Therapist listens to a patient in her office.
wavebreakmedia // Shutterstock

#2. Bachelor’s degree

– Health care job growth at this education level, 2022-32: +351,700 jobs (+8.4%)
– Fastest-growing healthcare jobs at this education level:
— Medical and health services managers (Projected job growth: 28.4%)
— Therapists, all other (+12.2%)
— Exercise physiologists (+10.2%)

Countless opportunities in high-paying posts are available for professionals with bachelor’s degrees who do not wish to attend medical school.

Although some occupations at this level are linked to medical practices, others are managerial or commercial positions, such as product managers in health care, who can earn a median $87,000 a year, or pharmaceutical sales representatives, whose median pay is $118,000 a year.

Home health aid checks a patient's blood pressure.
Dmytro Zinkevych // Shutterstock

#1. High school diploma or equivalent

– Health care job growth at this education level, 2022-32: +847,800 jobs (+18.4%)
– Fastest-growing healthcare jobs at this education level:
— Home health and personal care aides (Projected job growth: +21.7%)
— Hearing aid specialists (+14.5%)
— Health care support workers, all other (+5.7%)

More than 4 in 10 healthcare jobs that will be added in the next decade only require a high school diploma, and, according to a U.S. News study, more than 10 of the 25 best jobs for high school graduates are in the healthcare industry.

Skilled practitioners provide home health care to patients in their own homes under the direction of a physician. The vast majority of patients who require home health care are older people or those with chronic conditions that impair their ability to live independently. Even though this occupation doesn’t require a postsecondary degree, workers assisting people with physical or cognitive challenges must possess specific qualities, such as empathy, compassion, reliability, and communication skills.

Training requirements for health and personal care aides differ from state to state.

Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.

This story originally appeared on Incredible Health and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.