Over the next decade, more new jobs will be created in healthcare than in any other industry. Although educational requirements for many health professions are becoming more rigorous, the good news is that there are still some jobs that require only a two-year degree or less - at least to start out.

There are still some "hot jobs" that require two years of college or less, usually, however, this is just the beginning.

"If you're interested in a career in healthcare, you don't have to spend four to six years in school before you can be hired," says Vicki Boche, work force planning consultant at HealthEast Care System.

Just The Beginning

As in any industry, the demand for healthcare professionals fluctuates. Currently, there is an increased demand for professionals, such as physical therapists, pharmacists and nurse practitioners, who need a bachelor's degree plus additional schooling. But there are still some "hot jobs" that require two years of college or less, usually, however, this is just the beginning.

"Employees should plan to take advantage of tuition reimbursement or scholarship programs to continue their education and advance their careers," Boche says.

Registered Nurses

The majority of nurses enter the field with a two-year associate degree. But more and more hospitals and other employers prefer nurses with a four-year degree. "We continue to hire nurses with an associate degree," Boche says. "But we look for those who are planning to return to school to complete a bachelor's."

Nurses with a bachelor's have more training in communication, leadership and critical thinking, which are becoming more important as nursing care becomes more complex. In fact, some career paths are open only to nurses with a bachelor's or master's degree.

Respiratory Care Practitioners

These professionals work with patients of all ages - from premature infants with underdeveloped lungs to elderly people with chronic breathing problems.

Respiratory care practitioners must complete either a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor's degree. Both degrees prepare students to sit for national and state credentialing exams. But therapists with a four-year degree usually earn more and have a better chance of being promoted.

A four-year degree also puts the practitioner on a more professional footing with colleagues like doctors and nurses. Many practitioners who initially received associate degrees later complete a four-year degree.

Medical Assistants

Assistants perform a variety of administrative and clinical functions in clinics or physicians' offices. Administrative duties may include answering telephones, updating medical records, filling out insurance forms, and arranging for hospital admission and laboratory services. Clinical duties may include taking medical histories and recording vital signs, explaining treatment procedures and assisting the physician during the examination.

Assistants complete a diploma or two-year degree - but the degree is increasingly preferred. "At HealthEast, we look for medical assistants who have earned national certification," Boche says.

Health Unit Coordinators

HUCs manage non-nursing patient care activities at nursing stations in the hospital. They process paperwork, enter the physicians' orders into the computer, update charts, and order diets, drugs, equipment, supplies, lab tests, X-rays and other procedures.

In the past, HUCs were often trained on the job, but today most complete a six- to nine-month certificate program.

Nancy Giguere is a freelance writer from St. Paul who has written about healthcare since 1995.