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Healthcare Programs You Can Complete in a Year or Less

Here are seven healthcare careers you can start in a matter of months, with minimal education.

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Home » Blog » 12-Month Healthcare Programs
Stephanie Behring

Written and reported by:
Stephanie Behring
Contributing writer

You don’t have to spend years in school to launch a great beginning in healthcare. You can jump into a field in Allied Health—important supporting roles in the medical industry—with programs that take a year or less. And, depending on the field you choose, you may be able to use your initial training as a building block to a career with higher certification or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

There are many fast-track programs to get the education you need to work with patients or in an office. So, if you’ve got a year or less and are looking to start a new personal path, we’ve got some options for you.

Not Afraid of Needles and Blood? Consider Phlebotomist Education

  • Length of program: 4-to-8 months
  • Average cost of programs: Around $700
  • Median annual phlebotomist salary: $37,380 per the BLS

Phlebotomists are medical professionals responsible for drawing blood and doing other lab work. Before you begin a phlebotomy program, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED. Programs are available at a variety of schools and institutions, including community colleges, vocational schools, and hospitals

A typical phlebotomy program will take four to eight months to complete, but some can be completed in as little as eight weeks. You can expect two-thirds of your training to be in the classroom and one-third in hands-on clinicals, where you’ll learn to draw blood, care for patients and more.

Many online schools also offer phlebotomy training with customizable options, including virtual laboratory training sessions. There will also be a hands-on, in-person component, to get the practical experience you’ll need to take your certification exam.

After you’ve completed your training, you’ll have the option of earning certification. Not all states require certification, but most employers prefer it. You’ll be qualified to work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, laboratories, blood donation centers, and private medical practices.

Phlebotomy is a fast-growing field, and jobs are expected to increase by 22% by 2030, much faster than the national average for medical careers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which also reports that phlebotomists earn a median salary of $36,320.

Interested in Medications? Maybe a Pharmacy Technician Program is for You

  • Length of program: 6-to-12 months
  • Average cost of programs: Varies widely by school
  • Median annual pharmacy technician salary: $36,740 per the BLS

Pharmacy technicians work in pharmacies and hospitals, assisting both customers and pharmacists. They collect information needed to fill prescriptions, package and label prescriptions, and coordinate and take payments. In some states, technicians are permitted to mix medications or get prescription refill authorizations from doctors.

Vocational schools, community colleges, hospitals, and military programs offer training. Depending on your program, training will take six months to a year. Topics you can expect to cover include medical and pharmaceutical technology, pharmaceutical mathematics, and pharmacy law and ethics.

Many programs offer “hybrid” training, a combination of classroom and online learning.

Most states don’t require certification for pharmacy technicians, but voluntary certification offered through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board can strengthen your credentials. If you’re interested in getting certified, make sure your program is accredited, because only techs from accredited programs are eligible to take the exam.

Many pharmacy technician programs offer “hybrid” training, a combination of classroom and online learning.

The BLS predicts 4% job growth through 2030 for pharmacy technicians, which is slower than the national average. The median salary was $36,740 in 2020, the BLS says, but it may vary depending on your employer. For example, pharmacy technicians who work in hospitals earn $43,290 while those who work in pharmacies earn $35,230, according to the BLS.

Looking for a Desk Job? Check Out Medical Billing and Coding Specialist Courses

  • Length of program: As short as 4 months
  • Average cost of programs: $1,000 to $3,000
  • Median annual medical biller salary: $46,660 per the BLS

Medical billing and coding specialists review patient records and assign codes used to bill patients and insurance for care. Vocational schools and community colleges offer training in this field.

You’ll take courses related to physician-based coding and study medical terminology, health data, and healthcare reimbursement methods. You’ll spend approximately four months completing your program. Once you do, you’ll be eligible to earn certification through the American Academy of Professional Coders.

Your program will likely help you prepare for the exam. Certification is not required, but many employers look for it when hiring, and earning it is a great way to show that you’ve mastered the material.

You may be able to find at-home freelance work in this field.

You’ll be qualified to work in hospitals, clinics, and private physicians offices. You also may be able to find at-home freelance work.

Jobs in medical coding are expected to grow by 9% by 2030. Your salary will vary depending on your employer, but the BLS reports that coding and billing specialists earn a median annual salary of $45,240.

Want to Work Alongside Doctors? Get Educated as a Medical Assistant

  • Length of program: 9-to-12 months
  • Average cost of programs: Varies, between $5,000 and $20,000
  • Median annual medical assistant salary: $37,190 per the BLS

Medical assistants work in doctors’ offices and hospitals, where they take patients’ vital signs and prepare them for exams, and schedule appointments. Requirements for medical assistants are changing rapidly.

Many states have no formal licensing requirement, and on-the-job training used to be commonplace. Increasingly, however, states are asking that medical assistants complete formal training and earn certification.

Another driving force behind this trend is federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, currently credentialed medical assistants or licensed health professionals are required to enter a certain percentage of medication, laboratory, and diagnostic imaging orders into computerized provider order entry systems in order for their licensed providers (such as physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants) to receive incentive payments under the Medicaid electronic health record incentive program. This tougher requirement was set by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA, chief executive officer and legal counsel for the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), says mandatory credentialing for medical assistants is a logical next step.

“This CMS requirement scored a victory for the medical assisting profession, because it allows for enhanced patient care through better communication among the healthcare team members and increased attention to patient needs,” Balasa says. “The fact that credentialed medical assistants are now recognized in such a high-profile federal initiative implies that they are just as able as licensed health care professionals to undertake such significant responsibilities.”

You can complete a medical assisting program in nine to 12 months, and many schools have online programs. Coursework includes medical terminology, law and ethics, plus office management and the use of electronic health record systems. You’ll also have a short stint of on-the-job training to prepare for work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private physicians offices.

Your program must be accredited if you want to take the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam, which is administered by the AAMA. This certification is good nationwide, so even if your state currently doesn’t require it, you’ll be covered if that changes in the future.

Medical assistants earn a median salary of $37,190, according to BLS data. Job growth in the field is expected to hit 18% by 2030, making it one of the most sought after healthcare fields.

Looking for a Fast-Paced Career? Think About Certification as an Emergency Medical Technician

  • Length of program: As short as a month
  • Average cost of programs: $800 to $1,000
  • Median annual EMT salary: $35,470 per the BLS

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) work as part of a team to stabilize people in emergency situations and get them safely to a hospital. EMTs also provide community training.

“EMTs and paramedics provide an expanded menu of services, including community paramedicine, injury, and illness prevention training, as well as CPR and bleeding-control training,” says Matt Zavadsky, president of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT).

There are three types of certification for emergency medical technicians:

  • EMT-Basic
  • EMT-Intermediate
  • EMT-Paramedic

The time it’ll take to earn certification will vary depending on your state, but some schools offer EMT-Basic training that can be completed in as little as three weeks. If you don’t have a lot of time or money for school, you can earn EMT-Basic certification first and move on later to EMT-Intermediate or EMT-Paramedic certification. More advanced programs can take up to two years to complete.

Some schools offer online programs, but you’ll need hands-on experience to earn certification.

During your program, you’ll learn all the basic skills needed to thrive as an EMT in crisis situations. If you continue on to higher levels of training, you’ll learn about advanced medical procedures and take courses such as anatomy and pharmacology. You might also complete some training at hospitals and fire departments. Some schools offer online programs, but they’ll be in hybrid format, since you’ll need hands-on experience to earn certification.

After you complete your training, you’ll be eligible for certification from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). Once you’re certified, you’ll be qualified to work in a variety of emergency medical environments, including hospitals and clinics, and on paramedic teams.

EMTs are in demand, earning a median salary of $35,470, and job growth is expected to increase 11% by 2030, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Curious About Dental Care? Consider a Degree in Dental Assisting

  • Length of program: 9-to-12 months
  • Average cost of programs: Varies by school
  • Median annual dental assistant salary: $38,660 per the BLS

Dental assistants work as part of a dental office’s medical and administrative teams. They process patient X-rays, schedule appointments, maintain patient records, and assist with a variety of dental procedures.

Dental assistant certificate programs can take between nine months and a year to complete. You’ll study oral anatomy, dental pharmacology and radiography, and dental office administration. Some programs offer a mix of online classes and on-the-job training or internships.

You might be able to do all of your training on the job, but this isn’t recommended. Without formal training, you may not be eligible for certification, and employers will likely expect you to have that. In fact, the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) strongly advocates for formal training.

“In this day and age, formal education is essential for preparing dental assistants to perform intraoral functions,” says Sidonia Peto, education director at the ADAA. “This includes infection control, radiography, and a variety of additional critical procedures performed routinely by dental assistants.”

You might be able to train on the job, but this isn’t recommended because you may not be eligible for certification without formal training.

Not all states require certification, but it can boost your career. Depending on your state, you can take either the Dental Assistant National Board’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam or the National Entry Level Dental Assistant test. Additional certifications are offered for students looking to work in specialized fields like orthodontics.

According to the BLS, the median salary for dental assistants is $38,660, and job growth is expected to reach 11% by 2030.

Interested in Cardiology? How About Entering a Cardiac Monitor Technician Program

  • Length of program: 3-to-6 months
  • Average cost of programs: $500 to $2,000
  • Median annual cardiology technician salary: $60,570 per the BLS

Cardiac monitor technicians, also known as cardiographic technicians or electrocardiogram (EKG) technicians, work in hospitals and critical care centers using EKG machines to read and monitor the heart rhythms of patients. Many cardiac monitor technicians also assist with physical exams, surgery screening procedures, and general patient care.

Most programs can be completed in three to six months, during which time you’ll study basic cardiology and receive technical training on EKG machines. You can earn certification with a mix of online and hands-on-training. In some cases, you might be able to complete a free on-the-job training course from your employer. In this case, your training will be mostly hands-on, although you might need to have technical training on medical terminology and cardiology as well.

After you’ve completed your program or training, you’ll be able to take the Certified Cardiographic Technician exam or the Certified Rhythm Analysis Technician exam. Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) offers both. You can qualify to take an exam by either completing a program or through training from your employer.

The median annual salary for a cardiac monitor technician is comparatively high. The BLS says it’s $60,570, and job growth is expected to reach 8% by 2030.

donald balasa

With professional insight from:
Donald Balasa
Chief Executive Officer and Legal Council, American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)

Sidonia Peto
Education Director, American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA)

matt zavadsky

Matt Zavadsky, MS-HSA, NREMT
Past President, National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT)