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Health care is a huge and growing field, expected to generate more jobs than any other industry -- 3.2 million between 2008 and 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's also more accessible than many people realize. Though physicians, surgeons and others who diagnose and treat patients spend years getting educated, the majority of health care workers don't need even a four-year degree.
While some health care jobs with low barrier to entry have correspondingly low wages (like home health aide, for example), plenty of others offer better pay. The six jobs profiled below have a national average salary of more than $40,000 per year, according to CBSalary.com.
What they do: Cardiovascular technologists perform tests on the heart and vascular system, and assist physicians in a range of heart-related procedures. They specialize in non-invasive cardiology, in which they use ultrasound or electrocardiograph machines to assess heart health, or invasive cardiology, in which they assist with surgeries such as cardiac catheterizations and balloon angioplasties.
What they need: Most get an associate degree from a community or junior college, though four-year programs are available.
What they earn: $56,589
What they do: Dental hygienists are responsible for removing plaque and tartar from teeth, taking x-rays and examining patients' teeth and gums, among other duties. In some cases they also assist in more complicated procedures such as oral surgeries.
What they need: Hygienists must complete a dental hygiene program, which usually results in an associate degree, though some programs offer certificates or diplomas. Licensure is also required.
What they earn: $73,031
Licensed practical or vocational nurse
What they do: Licensed practical and vocational nurses work under physicians and registered nurses, taking patients' vital signs, giving medications and providing basic care such as bathing and dressing, among other duties.
What they need: They must complete a one-year, state-approved training program and become licensed by the states where they work.
What they earn: $47,493
What they do: Dispensing opticians fit patients with eyeglasses and contact lenses. They need medical expertise to fill prescriptions and use the sensitive equipment that measures patients' eyes. They need fashion sense to choose frames that suit patients' looks and lifestyles.
What they need: Many employers prefer an apprenticeship or an associate degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation. Licensure is also required.
What they earn: $41,520
Physical therapist assistant
What they do: Under the supervision of physical therapists, assistants provide patient care such as massage, ultrasound or gait training.
What they need: It's standard in the field to get an associate degree from a program accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association. Licensure is required in some states.
What they earn: $49,752
What they do: Surgical technologists are also called "scrubs" or "scrub techs," and that reflects the nature of their work -- making sure operating rooms are sterile, setting up surgical equipment and preparing patients for surgical procedures.
What they need: Scrubs need an associate degree, certificate or diploma from a community college, hospital or other post-secondary training program. It typically takes nine to 24 months to complete one of these programs. Many employers prefer certification by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting.
What they earn: $44,558
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