Six Ways to Advance Your Healthcare Career Without Changing Careers or Getting Another Degree
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- Career advancement does not always require a career change or an advanced degree.
- Healthcare employees with experience can earn more, specialize, and become certified.
- Experience and specialization offer the opportunity to step into leadership positions.
- Building high-demand skills boosts the potential for advancement and salary increases.
Did you know there are ways you can achieve career advancement in healthcare without getting an advanced degree or changing fields? By already working in healthcare, you can boost your return on investment.
The baby boom generation is mostly retired, and adults in their age range have a higher rate of chronic diseases, including the most common conditions like high blood pressure, arthritis, and heart disease.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 12.6% job growth in healthcare from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. The increase is expected to produce 2 million new jobs.
The following six ways you can advance your healthcare career may not apply to every job you can get without a bachelor's degree.
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1. Gain Experience
Healthcare employees with experience are valuable assets to the healthcare community. Medical assistant Elizabeth Opurum notes that most employers would rather promote from within the organization, and employees who want to increase their responsibilities are in the optimal position for promotion.
"Every small skill you can acquire will make you more competitive for future opportunities. It is a way to prove yourself as someone who is willing to learn new skills and shows the company you are interested in helping the organization with their initiatives," said Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, CCRN, RN
- Emergency medical technicians (EMT) are a vital link between the community and the healthcare system. After completing 120 of supervised training and becoming certified, an EMT can earn approximately $2.25 more per hour after five years of experience.
- Dental hygienists examine the mouth and teeth for signs of disease and provide preventive care. After graduating with an associate or bachelor's degree, they can earn approximately $4.20 more per hour after five years of experience.
- Health information technicians organize and manage patient data, ensuring quality, accuracy, and accessibility. After graduating with an associate degree, they can earn around $2.00 more per hour after five years of experience.
From an Expert
“Most employers prefer to promote from within and when an employee shows the desire to have increased responsibilities, this puts them in the optimum position for promotion.”
— Elizabeth Opurum
2. Become Certified
Certification shows you have become a clinical expert. It often requires several years of experience before taking the certification exam in your specialty. Certification positions you for career advancement and demonstrates to employers you have achieved a high standard in your career.
Additionally, there may be pay increases associated with certification in your current job, and this gives you a competitive edge with new employers. Certification improves your career advancement in healthcare, marketability and shows current and future employers your commitment to excellence.
- Certified Professional Coders (CPC) interpret complex medical information, turning it into standardized coding for easier communication and privacy. Certification increases your career prospects, opportunities for advancement, and better pay. The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) offers a Certified Professional Coder (CPC) certification. Several specialty certifications increase your marketability in those areas.
- Certified surgical technologists are also called operating room technicians. They ensure a sterile and organized environment during three phases of surgery: pre-operatively, intra-operatively, and post-operatively. Many employers strongly recommend certification, though they do not mandate it. Specialties include cardiovascular, neurosurgical, orthopedics, and trauma and emergency surgery.
- Certified phlebotomy technician draws blood, prepares specimens for testing, and maintains equipment. While certification is not mandatory, according to the National Healthcareer Association, 93% of employers require or encourage certification. This helps maximize your earning potential, increases your employment opportunities, and demonstrates professionalism, which is one of the most important soft skills employers look for.
Specializing in the healthcare field is a strong way to increase your marketability and value to your employer. Patient care can require specialized knowledge to protect health and ensure improved patient outcomes.
Specializations reduce the risk of medical error, increase efficiency, and are the foundation for certification.
Each of these factors improves the healthcare facility's performance and reimbursement from government-sponsored healthcare, such as Medicare and Medicaid. The key in healthcare is to maximize efficiency and patient access to appropriate care.
- Medical assistants can choose to specialize in medical administration, which is a critical position to keep a physician's or nurse practitioner's office running smoothly. Tasks include scheduling, processing insurance, and updating medical records. Generally, a medical assistant is educated in clinical and administrative skills, but specialization in administration potentially increases your medical assistant salary and value to your employer.
- Sonographers, also called ultrasound technicians, work with ultrasound equipment to accurately capture images to identify abnormalities in a variety of fields. Sonographers can specialize in certain areas of the body, which makes them more valuable to the employer — and able to identify abnormalities on ultrasound far quicker. For example, a sonographer can specialize in OB/GYN or cardiology.
- Physical therapy assistants generally help patients with exercises during physical therapy, observe and report progress, and educate patients and families. They can specialize in a variety of fields, including pediatrics, geriatrics, wound care, and neurology. This may increase their salary potential and make them more proficient in the field.
4. Pursue Leadership Roles
Healthcare professionals can pursue leadership roles without advancing their education or changing careers. By inspiring and motivating employees to be their best selves, you may not even have to leave your current job to demonstrate your leadership ability.
Leaders notice leadership in others. Those who acquire experience and certification are capable of stepping into leadership roles in their workplace. This increases your value to your employer and makes you marketable if you choose to seek employment elsewhere.
- Registered nurses (RN)and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) can move into a leadership position in a hospital or long-term care facility without advanced education or certification. RNs are eligible to move into a charge nurse position in the hospital and LPNs can move into the same position in long-term care facilities. They are responsible for the unit operation during their shift.
- Lead pharmacy technicians manage the other pharmacy techs and generally are responsible for drug inventory and audits, and providing training. A pharmacy tech must complete a state-approved training program and become licensed based on the state requirements. After several years of experience, they can pursue a leadership role.
- Paramedic supervisor is a leadership position that requires an associate degree in emergency care or a related field and at least three years of experience. Responsibilities include training EMTs and paramedics and evaluating their performance. The paramedic supervisor is responsible for planning and implementing clinical programs and maintaining equipment and supplies.
From an Expert
“It [leadership] allows them to strengthen their work performance, which leads to increased communication, heightened self-awareness and gives them the tenacity to want to implement change.”
— Elizabeth Opurum
5. Build High-Demand Skills
Working in a high-demand job increases your marketability and value to healthcare institutions. However, you can build high-demand skills in your current career, increasing your value without getting another degree.
Many of these skills required additional coursework or certification, but you would not have to spend years earning another degree.
This gives you a competitive edge and the opportunity to align your skills with leadership roles within the institution. Highly sought-after soft skills include problem-solving, pattern detection, and active listening.
- LPNs working in some states can complete additional training so they can start IVs or give medications. In the current environment of a rising nursing shortage, these are in-demand skills as they enable the LPN to take on more responsibility.
- Expanded Function Dental Assistant can take on more responsibility such as taking dental impressions, and applying topical anesthesia, sealants, and fluoride. An expanded function dental assistant can take on more responsibility after a few years of experience, additional coursework, and passing a certification examination.
- Advanced EMT skills are in demand in the healthcare system. They can start peripheral IVs and maintain them on unconscious patients, draw blood, administer some medications, and perform tracheobronchial suctioning. These high-demand skills improve employability and salary potential.
From an Expert
“In a healthcare environment where patient experience dictates the way hospitals are “graded” and reimbursed, highly sought after skills include: communication, time management, coachability, and caring.”
— Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, CCRN, RN
6. Consider Working as a Contract or Travel Employee
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for contract and travel employees exploded. While the market has leveled, people who are willing to travel to work are still in demand.
These positions can lead to career advancement in healthcare, higher earning potential, greater flexibility, and vastly increase your experience in the field. These roles demonstrate flexibility and adaptability to change, which positions you for advancement in your career.
Opurum says “…work as a contract or travel employee [can] decrease work-related stress and improve mental health outcomes.
"When employees have the option to travel for work, this allows them the opportunity to be in different work environments, which adds a layer of variety to their lives. They can meet new people, share new perspectives and experience places they may have never been before.”
While contract work as a healthcare employee can provide mental health, pay, and career advancement benefits, onboarding for each travel assignment can be complex and time consuming.
You’ll usually need to provide your vaccination records and complete tasks such as a drug screening, tuberculosis screening, and a health assessment.
- Travel CNAs provide hands-on, direct patient care in a variety of medical settings. They help immobilized patients, record health changes, and monitor patients. CNAs considered for travel assignments must meet varying criteria depending on the state and agency. Some agencies require CNAs to be state-tested before giving a travel assignment.
- Travel phlebotomists can travel throughout the U.S. while broadening their experience practicing in a variety of clinical settings. Travel positions increase salary potential, ability to network within your career, and offer the opportunity to learn new skills in different healthcare institutions.
- Travel sonographers have opportunities throughout the U.S. at hospitals, physician offices, and imaging centers. Travel positions may have a preference for professionals who have specialized in a certain area of imaging, such as OB/GYN, cardiology, neurology, or the musculoskeletal system.
Average dental hygienist salary. (2023). Payscale
Average emergency medical technician salary. (2023). Payscale
Average health information technician salary. (2023). Payscale
Duffy, Joseph. (2023). How to start your career as a travel sonographer. AMN Healthcare
Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses: Occupational Outlook Handbook. (2022). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Monthly labor review. (2023). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Travel CNA: Resources and facts. (n.d.). LeaderStat
Traveling phlebotomist jobs. (n.d.). Med Travelers | AMN Healthcare
Why certify with NHA? (n.d.). National Healthcareer Association
Page last reviewed on October 15, 2023