7 Hands-on Healthcare Jobs You Can Land Without a Bachelor's Degree
By Brianna Flavin on 08/16/2021
Think of those TV shows with gurneys flying through the hallway while medical personnel fling stethoscopes over their shoulders or calmly maneuver equipment amidst the chaos. While you know mass media depictions of healthcare careers aren’t quite true to form, you can’t help but feel drawn to this important—and at times truly exciting—career field.
Wouldn’t it be wild to have a career where every day your decisions and your work genuinely matter? Despite what many people think, exciting healthcare jobs aren’t just for doctors, surgeons and registered nurses. You can be part of this high-stakes industry without even needing a four-year degree.
In fact, there are quite a few healthcare jobs that can put you right in the thick of the important business of saving and supporting people’s lives and well-being. Are you curious what that might look like? Read on and picture yourself stepping into these important healthcare careers.
7 Hands-on healthcare jobs that don’t require a Bachelor’s degree
1. Surgical technologist
These professionals can be found in the heart of the operating room. Surgical technologists prepare operating rooms, organize equipment and assist doctors during surgeries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1
Surgical technologists (sometimes called surg techs) also help to prepare patients for surgery by washing them and disinfecting incision sites. They hand surgical supplies to the physician during the operation, and they may also even hold internal organs in place during the procedure. Needless to say, this job is not for those who get squeamish at the sight of blood.
It is also not a job for the inaccurate. Surgical techs prepare some of the medications and solutions used in surgery and apply bandages or dressings to the patient’s incision site. The health of your patients depends on careful and precise work. Some surgical assistants (called surgical first assistants) might take an increased role during an operation by suturing wounds or helping to suction a cut.
If that sounds pretty awesome to you, check out our article “6 Enticing Reasons Why Becoming a Surgical Technologist Is Worth It” for more details.
2. Physical therapist assistant
Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) work with patients who need help regaining movement and managing pain, according to the BLS.1 This job is almost entirely patient facing, meaning that most of what you do is face-to-face with patients. They lean on you (sometimes quite literally) to learn exercises and build up their mobility after an illness or injury.
Physical therapist assistants need to be physically strong and able to support the weight of their patients. During patient visits, PTAs guide them through their plan of care, help to treat them with massage or stretching techniques, and are ready at all times to assist them and prevent falls.
The job also involves educating the patient and their family members about the treatment plan as well as reporting to the physical therapist. If you’re more of an extrovert, this job is one of the most people-oriented roles in healthcare. PTAs need to be a motivational support for their patients as well as a physical one. The road to recovery can be very rough, and PTAs have the opportunity to inspire patients to fight through it and gain as much freedom of movement as possible.
Do you think you’re cut out for that kind of thing? See our article “7 Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant” to find out if the signs are in your favor.
3. Medical lab technician
If talking to people all day isn’t your thing, a career as a medical lab technician might be more appealing. If you’ve ever had a doctor’s office visit that hinged on results getting back from “the lab,” these are some of the people you’ll find there. Medical lab technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids and tissue, according to the BLS.1 They bring blood, urine and other samples to the lab, where they operate medical equipment or run computerized instruments and assist in testing the samples.
This job is crucial in the healthcare system since the test results can indicate the presence or absence of everything from diseases to pregnancies. As you can imagine, no one wants to make a mistake with one of these important tests.
Medical labs techs can also specialize in a certain area, depending on where they work. “For example, histotechnicians are a type of medical laboratory technician who cut and stain tissue specimens for pathologists,” the BLS writes.1
If that piques your curiosity, get more on-the-job detail in our article “What Does a Medical Lab Technician Do?”
4. Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) provide patients with basic care to help in their daily living, according to the BLS.1 This daily work consists of assisting in cleaning and bathing, helping with meals, or performing basic medical tasks, such as measuring and charting vitals. CNAs work as part of a medical team under a licensed or registered nurse.
While an estimated 27 percent of CNAs work in hospitals, the majority work in long-term care facilities.1 In the healthcare system, the essential work of a CNA means offering dignity and care to patients who are unable to take care of themselves. The work of a CNA stands out as it is often the most personal care that any patient will receive. Since CNA certification programs usually can be completed in a comparatively short amount of time, many professionals begin their healthcare careers here.
If you want to gauge your interest in healthcare or see how working as a CNA can be a perfect starting point, check out our article “What is a CNA? The Perfect First Step for Aspiring Nurses.”
5. Radiologic technologist
Radiologic technologists (rad techs) perform diagnostic-imaging examinations on patients, according to the BLS.1 They prepare patients for procedures, protect the patient with X-ray shielding and position patients so the machines can image whatever is needed. Rad techs operate the imaging machines and need to be precise to get the specific images physicians need.
Radiologic technologists spend a lot of time working with expensive and potentially hazardous equipment. In this career, maintaining radiation safety both for you and your patients is paramount. Radiologic technologists also have the opportunity to branch into other areas of diagnostic imaging, including computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
For a closer look at what rad techs do, check out our article “What They Don't Tell You in the Radiologic Technologist Job Description.”
6. Medical assistant
Medical assistants (MAs) cover a lot of different bases in the healthcare system. These professionals are often the first face a patient sees after coming into the clinic or hospital. They handle administrative duties, like recording patient history and scheduling appointments, and they also handle medical tasks, like measuring vital signs and administering injections, according to the BLS.1
You could say that medical assistants are the glue that holds a healthcare facility together. They work with physicians, nurses, lab personnel, patients and patients’ family members. They also are increasingly involved in learning, teaching and using electronic health records (EHRs), according to the BLS.
Want a closer look? See our article “What Does a Medical Assistant Do? A Closer Look at This Caring Career” for more details.
7. Pharmacy technician
Pharmacy technicians help dispense prescription medication to customers or healthcare professionals, according to the BLS.1 While working under the supervision of a pharmacist, pharmacy technicians have a wide variety of potential tasks. They help to fill, label and pack prescriptions, and they also accept customer payments, answer phone calls, and arrange meetings with the pharmacist should questions or concerns arise.
The majority of pharmacy technicians work in pharmacies or drug stores, which helps this career path stand out a bit from the others. As a patient-facing role, pharm techs can impact customer experience and are critical to help patients get the medication they need.
If this career sounds appealing to you, you can find out more about the training ahead by checking out our article “Pharmacy Technician Training: A Sneak Peek at the Road Ahead.”
Picture yourself working in healthcare
When these healthcare jobs all come together in a clinic or hospital, it starts to look more like that well-oiled medical machine you see on TV shows. Each role works toward the goal of saving and improving lives. In the end, what could be more important than that?
If you cut away a wall of a hospital to look at everything going on, you’d see more variation in healthcare careers than most people picture. But actually, you don’t have to imagine it. We can show you just what it looks like. Check out our infographic “Who's Who in a Hospital: Your Visual Guide to Medical Jobs” to see for yourself!
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed July, 2021.] 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.