Students who expect to land their dream jobs when they graduate from college are often sorely disappointed. With unemployment still at an all-time high, no one is guaranteed a job, no matter how great their credentials. On the other hand, students can hedge their bets by choosing a degree program aligned with a field desperate for workers. The health care industry is both the largest industry in the U.S. and the biggest employer. The demand for health care workers is so great that many hospitals and doctors’ offices can’t fill in all the gaps. Here are five health care careers that are in demand right now and have the shortest certification programs.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there should be 587,000 new jobs created for nurses through 2016. Add that to the percentage of the already existing 2.5 million nurses who will be retiring or taking promotions, and you’ve got high growth potential (23%) and excellent job prospects.

It’s no wonder nurses are in such high demand. Nurses provide more patient care than doctors and are employed everywhere medical care is given, from hospitals and schools to nursing facilities and home health care agencies. To become a nurse, you can opt to earn either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree.

Nursing Aides

There are almost as many nursing aides (or nursing assistants) as there are nurses, with 2.2 million people employed in this field. The pay for a nursing aide is lower than that of a registered nurse, but so are the educational requirements, with most earning diplomas or certificates. The BLS predicts a 28% growth rate in this field through 2016.

Nursing aides are employed through home health care agencies, hospitals, and long-term care facilities like nursing homes. They provide routine care under the supervision of a nurse.

Medical Assistants

The field of medical assisting is predicted to grow by 35% through 2016, meaning that now is a great time to enroll in a certificate program.

Medical assistants are like specialized administrative assistants. They keep track of patient records, check patients in and out, make appointments, and handle billing. Some also record vital signs, take patient histories, and assist doctors with exams. Most work in private doctors’ offices.

Pharmacy Technicians

This is another exploding field, with a predicted 32% growth rate over the next seven years. Students can elect to become pharmacy technicians through diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree programs.

Pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of a pharmacist to fill prescriptions, discuss medication with patients, and answer questions.

Dental Assistants

The need for dental assistants is predicted to grow 29%. To become a dental assistant, most students enroll in a diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree program.

Not to be confused with dental hygienists who require more advanced training, dental assistants perform routine tasks in dental offices under the supervision of dentists. They sterilize instruments and clean exam rooms, and they can assist with procedures, take x-rays, and perform other laboratory tests.