What Can You Do with a Healthcare Associate's Degree? Examining 3 Career Options
By Brianna Flavin on 06/21/2018
Healthcare, like food and shelter, is a foundational need—and with that comes a massive number of professionals to meet that need. It’s easy to see how healthcare has become the booming industry that it is today. No matter what obstacles people face, health will always be a priority.
Because of its necessity in human life, healthcare has grown huge and complex over the centuries. And careers have grown with it. Some of these healthcare roles require years and years of schooling, while others require only an Associate’s degree. A Healthcare Associate’s degree can often be earned in as few as two years, and it leads to some fantastic career options.
If you’d like to join the ranks of healthcare professionals fighting illness and injury, then check out a few of the amazing careers you can begin with a Healthcare Associate’s degree.
3 Healthcare Associate’s degree jobs that could be yours
Earning an associate's degree in healthcare could be your perfect gateway into the rewarding healthcare field. Learn more about the various career paths you could follow once equipped with this credential.
1. Medical assistant (MA)
Medical assistants handle a combination of administrative and clinical duties according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These professionals are often the first face a patient sees after walking into a clinic, making them a major factor in patient experience.
On the administrative side, MAs can be responsible for recording patient information, scheduling appointments and entering information into the electronic health record (EHR) system.
For clinical duties, you might see a medical assistant measuring vital signs like pulse and blood pressure, administering injections or medications (depending on the state laws) and preparing blood samples for lab tests.
Where do medical assistants work?
“Most MAs will work in an ambulatory setting,” says Denise Pufall, chair of the Medical Assisting program at Rasmussen University. These clinic-based settings used to be your average doctor’s office. But now, Pufall is seeing MAs land in a much wider variety of locations. “They are moving into different types of positions: eye clinics, chiropractic locations, long-term nursing home facilities and, of course, hospital settings, too.”
Medical assistants in some of these different settings can have job duties specific to their location. These days they may even specialize in a certain area, according to the BLS. For example, ophthalmic medical assistants help ophthalmologists provide eye care, showing patients how to use contact lenses.
What skills do medical assistants need?
Above all, medical assistants need to be compassionate, Pufall says. “You might see a patient who just learned they have cancer. You aren’t there just to write things down, but to be a support. You have to show in your face that you are listening.”
“You also need to be versatile, quick on your feet and able to take good direction,” Pufall says. MAs have to make quick decisions within the scope of their practice and know when to bring a nurse or a doctor into a problem.
Active listening is also a very important skill, according to Pufall. MAs are often the ones responsible for patient screening. During this process, MAs ask questions that could raise red flags about domestic violence, bullying, depression, suicidal thoughts and other dangers. “You have to be able to get a feel for the patient, their answers and whether they may not be telling you everything,” Pufall says. “You alert the physician if you notice something.”
What is the medical assistant salary and job outlook?
In 2021, medical assistants earned a median annual salary of $37,190 according to the BLS.*
The job outlook for medical assistants is excellent, with employment of medical assistants projected to grow at a rate of 18 percent from 2020 through 2030, which is much faster than the projected national average for all occupations.
This tremendous growth is because the healthcare industry is starting to realize just how versatile medical assistants are, Pufall says. “It’s one of the fastest-growing careers in healthcare. There’s a high demand,” Pufall says.
“The best part of the job is knowing that you make a difference,” Pufall says. “You really build strong relationships. You see them over and over, you develop trust with them, and they count on you.” Pufall says patients sometimes feel more comfortable with their medical assistant than their physician.
“You have stressful days, but the schedule is much more normal than many healthcare careers—and it’s very rewarding,” Pufall says.
2. Medical administrative assistant
Medical administrative assistants (also called Medical admin assistants or medical secretaries) handle secretarial tasks in a medical environment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Their daily tasks might include directing phone calls, scheduling appointments, billing patients, preparing reports and case histories, greeting visitors, routing lab results to other staff members, keeping inventory and interviewing patients.
“There is some crossover between what an MA does and what a medical administrative assistant does,” Pufall says. “But medical administrative assistants are on the front-office side. They don’t do the medical tasks like taking blood pressure.”
Where do medical administrative assistants work?
Medical admin assistants can be found in most of the same healthcare facilities as MAs—clinics and other ambulatory healthcare locations as well as hospitals. In smaller locations, these professionals might be relied upon for a wider variety of duties.
“If a medical administrative assistant is employed at a smaller, private clinic, they may perform a wide variety of roles including checking in/out patients, billing aspects and even office management responsibilities,” says Dr. Jeremy Barthels, department chair at Rasmussen University.
What skills do medical administrative assistants need?
“Adaptability is an important trait for medical administrative assistants to possess because of the diversity of opportunities and roles they can perform depending on where they are employed,” Barthels says.
An open and communicative personality is also very important for medical administrative assistants, according to Barthels, since they will communicate with patients as well as healthcare practitioners.
“As a medical administrative assistant, your customer service skills can be the determining factor to a patient’s overall office experience,” Barthels explains. “Commonly, it is the medical administrative assistant that will be the first and last person a patient interacts with during their appointment. Being cheerful, respectful and engaging with a patient can really set the tone for the patient’s overall office experience.”
Lastly, a high level of comfort with technology is a must for medical administrative assistants. “Healthcare is intimately integrated with technology,” Barthels says. “Medical administrative assistants will be interacting with, entering and retrieving patient data from healthcare management software programs on a daily basis, so a strong comfortability to learn and use new technology is a must.”
What is the medical administrative assistant salary and job outlook?
In 2021, medical secretaries and administrative assistants earned a median annual wage of $37,450 according to the BLS.*
The job outlook for medical administrative assistants isn’t quite as strong as it is for medical assistants, but it is still on solid ground. The BLS projects employment of medical secretaries and administrative assistants to grow 11 percent from 2020 through 2030—which is also faster than the average projected employment growth for all occupations.
“You get to interact with a wide diversity of patients and have the ability to set the tone and experience for their visit through your customer service skill and body language,” Barthels says. “Also, a very rewarding feature within this profession is medical administrative assistants can work in a wide variety of healthcare environments, from hospitals and clinics to private practices.”
Barthels says medical administrative assistants continually learn and adapt to technological advances, healthcare laws and regulations and the ever-growing patient diversity that is occurring in the healthcare field. “All of this makes the profession exciting.”
3. Pharmacy technician
“Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists dispense prescription medication to customers or health professionals,” according to the BLS. These healthcare professionals might spend their workday collecting customer information to fill prescriptions, measuring medication, organizing inventory, taking payment for medicines, answering phone calls and arranging customer meetings with the pharmacists.
“Pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of pharmacists, who must review prescriptions before they are given to patients,” writes the BLS. “In most states, technicians can compound or mix some medications and call physicians for prescription refill authorizations.”
Pharmacy technicians working in hospitals and other medical facilities prepare a greater variety of medications, such as intravenous medications. They may make rounds in the hospital, giving medications to patients.
Where do pharmacy technicians work?
Pharmacy technicians can work wherever pharmacies are located. Over half of pharmacy technicians work in pharmacies and drugstores. Some find employment in hospitals and others work in pharmacies located in grocery stores or general stores like Target, Walgreens and Costco.
What skills do pharmacy technicians need?
“Attention to detail and accuracy are two vital traits to have working within the healthcare field because even a small mistake can have serious consequences for patients,” Barthels says. “Pharmacy technicians work directly with a patient’s prescription by preparing and filling it. The wrong dosage and/or medication can have serious consequences for patients, so a pharm tech’s ability to be detailed and accurate is a must along with having strong mathematical skills.”
Barthels says a large portion of pharm techs also interact with patients face-to-face and need strong communication and customer service skills. “Finally, an interest and knowledge of prescription medications is required to be successful in this role along with the ability to identify possible mistakes and concerns with a patient’s prescription,” Barthels says.
What is the pharmacy technician salary and job outlook?
In 2021, the median annual salary for pharmacy technicians was $36,740, according to the BLS.*
The job outlook for pharmacy technicians is somewhat weaker, with the BLS projecting employment of pharmacy technicians to grow 4 percent from 2020 through 2030, which is a slower projected growth than the national average for all occupations.*
“The pharmacy technician market is adapting to changes in the federal healthcare laws and to the current opioid crisis within the U.S.,” Barthels adds. “Both are changing the ways pharmacies interact with patients and insurance companies. There is a trend of pharmacies investing in and operating larger pharmaceutical distribution centers that employ a large number of pharmacy technicians for various roles including insurance verification along with medication preparation and filling.”
“Pharmacy technicians have a number of different professional healthcare environments to work within including hospitals, retail pharmacies, clinics and distribution centers that provide different opportunities and flexibility within the profession,” Barthels says. These options are a major perk of the job.
“Though, the fact that pharmacy technicians have a hands-on role with preparing and filling patient prescriptions, which assists in improving their overall health and wellness, is very rewarding.”
Is a Healthcare Associate’s degree in your future?
Were you having a tough time deciding which of these roles would best fit you? The good news is that all of these careers are attainable for professionals with an Associate’s degree. Check out Rasmussen University’s Healthcare Associate's degree page to learn more about your options and how you can get started in this steady and growing field.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed June, 2022] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.