Nursing is the largest healthcare profession in the United States, with almost three million Registered Nurses employed throughout the nation. As a result, nurses have one of the most recognizable roles within the healthcare field. These are the people on the frontline of patient care, monitoring patient conditions and treating those in need. While nurses are ever-important, they are not the only essential healthcare career. If you are considering a healthcare career, but nursing isn’t in the cards, rest assured — there are plenty more options for you.
As rewarding as a nursing career can be, it is not for everyone. Some people do not wish to work directly with patients. Others may not want the long-shifts or night-shifts that nurses often have. Some people want to take on a more administrative role within the healthcare system, and become a leader beyond the ER. Others want to pursue a shorter training route, to avoid several years in nursing school. Fortunately, there are many jobs similar to nursing that check off these various boxes. If you are seeking a career similar to nursing, but are thinking more outside the lines, keep reading. Below, we highlight some of the most in-demand healthcare careers beyond the nursing role.
Similar Professions to Nursing
1. Medical Assistant
A medical assistant is a certified healthcare professional that takes on both administrative and clinical tasks in a medical practice. They have an all-encompassing job description. On one hand, medical assistants help out with basic patient care, such as measuring patient vital signs, drawing blood samples, removing stitches, and preparing patients for examination. In addition, they take on many of the clerical roles in the medical office, such as answering phone calls, scheduling appointments, filing patient records, and arranging lab services for patients.
Becoming a medical assistant is one of the fastest entry-points into the healthcare field, making this path very distinct from nursing. Medical assistants simply need some postsecondary education, such as a certificate program or associate degree, to enter the field. Their career differs from nursing in its scope of practice. Nurses are responsible for in-depth patient care, while medical assistants main role is to support nurses and other healthcare staff. This sometimes can involve working directly with patients, but does not involve the chief responsibility of treating illness and injury that nurses have.
- Median Annual Salary: $34,800 per year across the U.S.
- Projected Career Growth: 23% growth from 2018-2028
- Required Education: Any postsecondary Medical Assistant program (certificate or degree)
- Timeline: As few as 12 months
2. Dental Hygienist
Dental Hygienists are the professionals you typically interact with most at the dental office. They are responsible for cleaning patients’ teeth, taking oral x-rays, and examining patients for oral diseases. Dental Hygienists also educate patients about oral hygiene techniques, such as how to brush and floss correctly. You can learn more about the role of a Dental Hygienist here.
You may be wondering, how are nursing and dental hygiene similar? Well, both Dental Hygienists and nurses work directly with patients, providing preventive care and educating them on general wellness and treatment topics. Both nurses and Dental Hygienists interact with patients most during their visits. The difference, of course, is that Dental Hygienists work with teeth and oral conditions, while nurses provide a much broader scope of care. In addition, Dental Hygienists primarily work in private dental practices, meaning they have a much more streamlined work week. Dental Hygienists typically work within a 9-5, Monday-Friday schedule.
- Average Annual Salary: $76,220 per year nationwide
- Projected Career Growth: 11% growth from 2018-2028
- Required Education: Associate degree in Dental Hygiene
- Timeline: 2-3 years
3. Histology Technician
Histology Technicians, commonly referred to as Histotechnicians, are essential members of the medical laboratory team. They study the cellular anatomy of plants and people, as well as biological tissues that will later be used to diagnose and treat patients. Specifically, Histotechnicians prepare biological specimens, test for (and detect) any abnormalities, and help inform doctors and nurses of a proper diagnosis. Their work is also used to inform medical research and new treatment discoveries. You can learn more about the role of a Histology Technician here.
While a key part of healthcare, Histotechnicians have a very unique role from nurses, in that they stay behind-the-scenes or behind-the-microscope. For those seeking a career that helps sick patients—without direct patient involvement—histology is an incredible field to pursue. It is also a relatively fast career path. Histology Technicians typically need a postsecondary award, such as a Histology Certificate, to enter the field, though some employers require an associate degree in Histology. These educational paths take between one to two years to complete.
- Average Annual Salary: $53,120 per year, nationwide
- Projected Career Growth: 11% growth between 2018-2028
- Required Education: Histology degree or postsecondary Histology Certificate
- Timeline: 1-2 years, depending on the level of education
4. Respiratory Therapist
A Respiratory Therapist (RT) works with patients who have trouble breathing—for example, those with asthma or emphysema. Like a nurse, Respiratory Therapists provide direct patient care, and spend their days helping people in need. They can be found administering oxygen, measuring lung function, monitoring ventilators, and even resuscitating patients. Overall, this is a career that offers lucrative pay and substantial job growth. You can learn more about the role of a respiratory therapist here.
Respiratory Therapists are similar to nurses in that they often work in hospitals—however, they can also work in outpatient, in-home, and long-term care settings. Their career is unique from registered nursing in that respiratory therapy does not involve a full continuum of care. Rather, Respiratory Therapists focus on their specialization — the respiratory system — and help patients manage related conditions.
- Average Annual Salary: $61,330 per year nationwide
- Projected Career Growth: 21% growth from 2018-2028
- Required Education: Associate Degree in Respiratory Care
- Timeline: Two years or less
5. Occupational Therapy Assistant
Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTAs) help patients recover, develop, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. For example, someone who suffered a serious hand injury may need to re-learn how to work their writing muscles—which requires an OTA’s help. Like nurses, Occupational Therapy Assistants work directly with patients to help them through struggles and disability. You can learn more about the day-to-day role of an OTA here.
While nurses usually focus on getting patients healthy in the short-term, Occupational Therapy Assistants help patients cope with disabilities over a longer period of time. OTAs often see the same patients regularly—those on a long-term recovery plan, and those with chronic conditions. Their work is also primarily physical, as they teach patients how to develop or re-train muscle groups to complete daily tasks: eating, getting dressed, and typing on a keyboard are just some of the many examples. Like nurses, OTAs have the option to work in hospital settings, with sporadic shifts, or at private practices, schools, and rehabilitation centers, with more regular 9-5 shifts.
- Average Annual Salary: $59,200 per year nationwide
- Projected Career Growth: 31% growth from 2018-2028
- Required Education: Associate degree in Occupational Therapy Assisting
- Timeline: 16 months full-time at Goodwin
There are many jobs similar to nursing, that do not involve years in school, hectic schedules, or constant patient care. If you are seeking even more alternatives to nursing, check out our list of non-clinical healthcare careers. And if you would like to learn how to start one of the above career paths at Goodwin University, please do not hesitate to reach out. Goodwin University is a recognized leader in healthcare education, with a range of programs available for nurses and non-nurses alike.
Explore our healthcare degrees here, or call us at 800-889-3282 to request more information.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.