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6 fast-growing health care careers, without going back to college

October 12, 2015, 11:00 AM UTC
General Election - National Health Service
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Nurses in the accident and emergency dept of Selly Oak Hospital work during a busy shift on March 16, 2010 in Birmingham, England. As the UK gears up for one of the most hotly contested general elections in recent history it is expected that that the economy, immigration, industry, the NHS and education are likely to form the basis of many of the debates. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Photograph by Christopher Furlong — Getty Images

Dear Annie: A friend sent me your column about the pros and cons of taking an hourly-wage job in retirement, because I’m in a similar situation: Retired a few years ago, getting antsy with all this free time, and could use a bit more income to add to my pension, investments, and 401(k). At the same time, I have zero desire to go back to my old career, and it would be great to find a new field that would let me move anywhere in the country.

I’ve always been interested in health care — way back in college, I changed my major from pre-med to business because, frankly, business courses were easier — and lately I keep hearing that the health care industry is one of the few fast-growing fields that is also relatively recession-proof. But what kinds of jobs are available without going back to college for a two- or four-year degree? Do you have any suggestions? — Enough Golf Already

Dear E.G.A.: Your timing is terrific. Partly because of the aging of the population, about 26% of all new jobs created between 2008 and 2018 are, or will be, in health care, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A few weeks ago, job site CareerCast came out with its annual list of the 10 toughest jobs to fill in 2016. Several are in data science and engineering, but home health aide, medical services manager, physical therapist, and registered nurse also made the cut.

Jobs in health care might attract anyone who, like you, is looking for a career that is all but immune to economic downturns. But these jobs are “an especially appealing option for semi-retired people looking for meaningful work outside the corporate box,” says Nancy Collamer, a career coach and author of Second Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from your Passions During Semi-Retirement. “It’s an industry where maturity is valued, and flexible schedules are the norm rather than the exception.” Another plus: Demand is everywhere, so you could probably find work anywhere you might decide to move.

Collamer recommends checking out these 6 jobs, none of which requires you to go after a new four-year degree (unless you decide you want to):

  1. Diet and nutrition counselor. The U.S. obesity epidemic is driving demand for professionals who can give advice on diet and exercise to help people control their weight. Nutritionists generally have four-year degrees (or advanced degrees) in the field, but you can be qualified as a coach with a one-year training program from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, run in partnership with the State University of New York.
  1. Physical therapist aide or assistant. As the name suggests, you’d be helping physical therapists provide services to patients in a hospital, nursing home, medical office, or outpatient rehab facility. Part-time jobs and flexible hours are particularly widespread in this field, notes Second Act Careers. Check out the American Physical Therapy Association web site for information on qualifications and training.
  1. Medical assistant. Your business experience would probably come in handy in managing day-to-day operations at a medical practice. The amount of formal training employers expect to see on your resume varies widely. Some don’t require any, but even there, a one-year certificate would give you an edge. The American Association of Medical Assistants has information on those. Many community colleges also offer two-year associate’s degree programs for medical assistants, if you later decide you want to go further.
  1. Phlebotomy technician. Phlebotomists draw and keep track of blood samples, usually in hospitals, so if the sight of the red stuff makes you queasy, forget about this one. After completing 45 hours of classes and an additional 30 hours of hands-on training, aspiring phlebotomists are eligible to take a certification exam offered by the National Health Career Association.
  1. EKG technician. In this job, you’d be running the heart monitoring equipment in a cardiologist’s office, rehabilitation program, or hospital. Training usually consists of about 20 hours of classroom instruction and another 20-plus hours of hands-on practice, leading up to a certification exam by the National Health Career Association (see link above).
  1. Dental assistant. Second Act Careers notes that many dental assistants “learn their skills on the job,” getting their training in taking X-rays, advising patients on oral hygiene, and other tasks from a dentist, or from a coworker. However, “an increasing number are trained in formal dental-assisting programs that take one year or less to complete.” For information on these, see the American Dental Assistants Association web site.

Good luck!

Talkback: If you work in health care, would you recommend your field as a career, or as a second career? Why or why not? Leave a comment below.

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