5 best health care jobs that don't require a 4-year degree

Last Updated Apr 14, 2016 11:48 AM EDT

Even as the U.S. job market finds its footing, the health care field continues to outshine other sectors in terms of anticipated employment growth. Through 2024, the number of jobs in it is projected to grow by 2.3 million, or 19 percent, faster than the average rate of growth for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The aging U.S. population and expanded insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act are spurring higher demand for health care, contributing to robust hiring in the sector. Meanwhile, many health care workers are retiring, creating job openings, according to staffing firm Execu|Search Group.

"There is no gig economy for health care," said Rose Baker, an assistant professor at the University of North Texas who studies employment trends.

Positions for registered nurses account for most of the current job openings in health care, but demand is also strong for workers to fill positions that don't require a four-year degree, according to job search engine Simply Hired, which last week released a ranking of the best such jobs.

Those occupations -- weighted for past and projected growth, average salary, number of available jobs and other factors -- require relatively little in the way of post-secondary education, generally a year or less.

Topping the ranking is licensed practical nurse (LPN), an occupation that, as of March, had year-over-year job growth of nearly 7 percent and more than 55,000 U.S. openings. Phlebotomists (who draw blood for tests, transfusions and other uses), operating-room technicians, medical assistants and radiographers (who take x-rays and perform other types of diagnostic-imaging exams) also made the top half of the ranking, in that order.

While such positions have plenty of openings, these jobs certainly aren't for everyone. Many of them are demanding and fast-paced, and some, such as nursing, are also physically taxing.

What's more, many of them don't pay all that much, particularly in nonhospital settings, where workers typically aren't unionized. Phlebotomists, for instance, earn $28,623 a year on average, according to Simply Hired. It might be tough to support a family of four on that salary, which is slightly more than the 2015 federal poverty level ($24,250) for a family of that size.

"These are high-volume jobs, but they aren't the highest-paying jobs," said Kyle Mattice, president of health services at Execu|Search Group.

For some people, taking a job as an LPN or phlebotomist may be the first step in a health care career, said Mattice, who noted that wages across the health care field are rising, thanks to the strong demand for workers and coming minimum wage hikes to $15 per hour in places like California and New York. Those increases should result in a significant bump for home health aides and other types of low-wage health care workers.

"If you enjoy working with people and think that one of these jobs may interest you, these are huge growth areas, and there are tons of opportunities," Mattice said. "Maybe someone works as a phlebotomist or medical assistant and pursues a higher degree at the same time -- a lot of people do that."