While many assume high-paying jobs require a bachelor's or graduate degree, there are a number of excellent career options available to associate's degree holders. The healthcare field, in particular, offers a number of rewarding careers with good income potential to professionals with associate's degrees.When considering your options for associate's degrees, consider these top five high-paying healthcare careers:
1. Nuclear Medicine Technologist . Nuclear medicine technologists play a vital role in diagnosing and treating diseases. They administer radiopharmaceuticals to patients and use specialized cameras that capture and map the radioactive drug in the patient's body. These diagnostic images are then reviewed and interpreted by a physician.
You can embark on a career in nuclear medicine with a two-year associate's degree in a medical specialty. Courses typically cover the physical sciences, biological effects of radiation exposure, radiation protection and procedures, the use of radiopharmaceuticals, imaging techniques and job-related technology applications.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nuclear medicine technologists earn a median annual salary of $67,910.* When you gain further experience in the field or go on to earn a bachelor's degree, you may have opportunities for advancement as a supervisor, chief technologist, department administrator or director.
2. Medical Sonographer . Diagnostic medical sonographers direct high-frequency sound waves into specific areas of the patient's body to create diagnostic images. Many are familiar with the use of ultrasound to capture images of a baby's development during pregnancy. However, sonography is also used to diagnose and evaluate a variety of medical conditions.
The most common path to a medical sonographer career is a two-year associate's degree program. Students may take such courses as anatomy, physiology, instrumentation, basic physics, patient care and medical ethics.
The BLS reports that the median yearly salary for a medical sonographer is $63,010.* Some sonographers are able to attain higher salaries by mastering one or more specialties. With experience or a bachelor's degree in healthcare, you could be eligible for promotion to a supervisor, manager or administrator position in this field.
3. Dental Hygienist .Everyone needs to have a dental checkup at least twice a year, which makes using your associate's degree to obtain a job as a dental hygienist a high-paying proposition. Dental hygienists clean teeth, teach patients how to practice good oral hygiene and provide a wide range of preventive dental services.
The majority of dental hygiene programs award associate's degrees, although some may grant a certificate or bachelor's degree. These programs generally include laboratory, clinical and classroom instruction in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, nutrition, radiography, periodontology, clinical dental hygiene, and social and behavioral sciences.
BLS surveys show that the median annual salary for dental hygienists is $67,340.* Some hygienists opt to go on to earn a DDS or DMD and become a dentist. Alternately, a bachelor's or master's degree in dental hygiene can lead to positions such as teaching at a dental hygiene program, working in public health or working for a manufacturer of dental care products.
4. Registered Nurse. Registered nurses (RNs) treat patients, educate people about various medical conditions, and provide support and advice to patients' families. They're on the frontline in the healthcare field and play a very important role in helping to keep others healthy.
The first step toward RN status is to enroll in a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree program. An associate's degree in nursing (ADN) generally takes two to three years to complete. Graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination to become a licensed RN.
According to the BLS, registered nurses earn a substantial median salary of $63,750 per year.* Given the high demand for qualified nurses, there are great possibilities for advancement. Those with enough experience or advanced education - like an online RN to BSN program - are eligible for roles such as head nurse, director, chief nursing officer or nurse educator.
5. Radiologic Technician. Radiologic technicians take X-rays and examine the images to identify and diagnose medical conditions. They prepare patients for imaging, operate and maintain equipment, and document their findings.
Radiography programs can lead to a certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree. Most practicing radiologic technicians hold associate's degree. Coursework includes clinical and classroom instruction in patient care procedures, medical terminology, radiation physics, anatomy, radiobiology, physiology, pathology and medical ethics.
If you pursue a career as a radiologic technician, BLS findings suggest you can expect to earn a median salary of $53,240 per year.*Advancement opportunities include becoming a specialist in CT scanning, magnetic resonance imaging, mammography or bone density testing. With years of experience or an advanced degree, a radiologic technician may become a supervisor, chief radiologic technologist, department administrator or director.
As these examples show, associate's degrees can lead to a number of exciting, high-paying careers. Once you land your first job, you may have the opportunity to use your employer's tuition assistance program to continue your education and earn a bachelor's degree. It doesn't have to take four or more years of study to attain a job with a great income - with the right associate's degree, you can launch a great career in just two years.
*Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2009, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.