For those who wish to get into the healthcare industry but do not have the time to pursue four-year or graduate degrees, allied health occupations might be the answer.

Allied health encompasses workers in the healthcare industry who are not doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists. They are integral to providing quality healthcare to patients. They also work in a broad range of occupations, including assistant and technician roles across many professions.

These allied health jobs can lead to lucrative and rewarding careers. However, some provide a clear stepping stone to bigger careers in healthcare. They include the following examples.

Certified Nursing Assistant

Becoming a nursing assistant can open the door to eventually becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or registered nurse (RN). Sometimes called nurses aides, those who work as nursing assistants provide much of the basic care for patients. That includes:

  • Cleaning and bathing patients
  • Assisting patients in getting dressed
  • Measuring vital signs such as blood pressure
  • Feeding patients who are unable to do so on their own
  • Keeping nurses informed about any medical issues with patients

Becoming a certified nursing assistant requires having at least a high school diploma. They also must complete a state-approved education program and pass an exam to earn certification. The rules vary state by state.

The number of jobs in this occupation are expected to grow 11 percent between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Certified nursing assistants earned a median salary of $26,590 in May 2016.

Pharmacy Tech

Pharmacy technician is one of the fastest growing positions in healthcare. An aging population that is staying more active than previous generations translates into more people using prescription medications. Becoming a pharmacy technician can be the first step to eventually becoming a pharmacist.

Pharmacy techs work under the supervision of pharmacists. Work can vary depending on the pharmacy. However, they typically collection information from patients, help measure doses for prescriptions and properly label medications for patients. They also serve in a “customer facing” role, taking patient’s information and processing payments.

The standards for becoming a pharmacy tech can vary state-by-state. However, many complete a vocational pharmacy tech program that is approved by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

The profession is expected to grow 12 percent by 2026, according to the BLS. The median salary for pharmacy techs in May 2016 was $30,920.

Medical Laboratory Technician

A medical laboratory technician works in a clinical laboratory, typically under the supervision of a medical laboratory technologist. Working as a technician prepares a healthcare worker to eventually become a technologist.

What’s the difference? Technicians typically handle routine tests where much of the process is automated. Technologists handle complex tests that require more “hands on” work, such as manually preparing specimens.

Becoming a technician typically requires completing a two-year degree. Many of these programs are in clinical laboratory science. These programs are offered by universities, community colleges and some vocational schools. Students learn to work with medical laboratory technology as well as detailed information on the process of conducting clinical tests.

Median pay for medical laboratory technicians in May 2016 was $38,950. The BLS projects the profession to grow 12 percent by 2026.

Dental Assistant

Becoming a dental assistant is a frequent first step to becoming a dental hygienist. Dental assistants often work with patients directly. Their tasks can include seating patients and making them comfortable, handing tools to dental hygienists or dentists as they work, scheduling appointments and processing payments.

In some dentist offices, they may also process X-rays under the supervision of a dentist.

This is a profession where the rules for entering the job vary from state to state. In some states, certification is required to work as a dental assistant. Even in states that do not require it, earning certification can make dental assistants a more attractive job candidate.

Most dental assistants complete a one-year training program offered through community colleges or vocational schools. In some cases, they earn a two-year associate’s degree.

The job is in high demand. The BLS expects 19 percent growth in the dental assistant profession by 2026. Median pay in May 2016 was $36,940.

These offer four examples of how getting into an allied health profession can lead to a bigger career in healthcare. For those wishing to enter the workforce as fast as possible, it’s an option well worth considering.

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