If you’re interested in a medical career, you might consider going to medical school to become a doctor. Those skills are very employable, and doctors can usually command upwards of $150,000 a year on average, according to Payscale.
But while there’s the allure of a big salary, the cost of medical school is certainly a deterrent.
How much does medical school cost? To attend just one year at a public medical school is $34,592 for in-state students and $58,668 for out-of-state ones, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. For private medical schools, you’re looking at more than $50,000 per year — and that doesn’t include extras such as housing, food, or books.
Given that medical school is four years, you’ll shell out at least $140,000 in tuition alone. That’s after four years of undergraduate school, and you still have at least another three years of residency in your chosen expertise where you’ll only make around $40,000 to $50,000 a year.
You could be in tens of thousands worth of debt (if not more) before you’d even be eligible for that big payday.
If you answered “no,” but still want a high-paying career in the medical field, don’t worry. Here are five alternatives to medical school you can consider.
1. Physician assistant
If you want to take on many of the same tasks as a doctor, but wonder if medical school is worth it, consider becoming a physician assistant.
You get to treat and diagnose patients, create care plans, and stitch up wounds just like an M.D. The main difference is physician assistants are not allowed to perform surgery. This stipulation means not as much post-secondary schooling is required, but the level of expertise still commands a good salary.
- Education requirements: You’ll need to complete an undergraduate degree in addition to a physician assistant training program. A typical program takes about two years to 27 months to finish.
- Cost of schooling: You’re looking to pay between $70,000 and $90,000 for the entire program.
- Average salary*: The median salary for a physician assistant, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is just over $100,000 a year.
2. Health services administrator
While you might not work directly with patients as a health services administrator, you can still make a huge difference in the medical field.
In this job, you could work in a hospital or private practice to develop policies and structures to make sure the business of patient care runs smoothly. This could involve updating technological systems, understanding changes in healthcare policies, and making recommendations so health-related organizations can provide superior care.
- Education requirements: Both bachelor’s and associate degrees are acceptable to become a health services administrator, but there are options to advance with an additional master’s degree and a doctoral program. The additional schooling could help you nab an increase in salary and responsibility.
- Cost of schooling: The cost depends on what type of a degree you pursue and where. In-state programs will typically cost less than private, and two-year programs will cost less than four-year ones. According to U.S. News, an online bachelor’s degree for this field could cost as little as $165 per credit, or as much as $85,000 for a degree from a private college.
- Average salary: The median pay for a health services administrator is around $96,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
3. Nurse midwife
Midwives have been around for centuries, long before OBGYNs were in practice. Their roles today involve performing gynecological exams, assisting women during labor and delivery, providing post-natal care, and help with breastfeeding.
This important job requires some schooling beyond a two- or four-year program, but is less than that of a doctor.
- Education requirements: To become a nurse midwife, you typically have to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, although an associate’s degree could be acceptable. Beyond that, many people (82 percent, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives) receive their master’s degree as well, which takes about two years. You must also pass the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) exam.
- Cost of schooling: This ranges depending on where you go to secure your degree and if you get a bachelor’s or associate’s degree first. Frontier Nursing University, for example, offers a master’s program for around $34,000 and a combined master’s doctoral program for about $43,000.
- Average salary: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse midwives make a median salary of $107,000 a year.
4. Radiation therapist
A radiation therapist is essential in the medical field and one of the great alternatives to medical school. When a patient has cancer, someone with this job is in charge of administering the proper radiation treatment. You could work in a hospital or outpatient center.
- Education requirements: You can have either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. You must also be certified by a standardized exam in most states.
- Costs of schooling: Depending on the type of program you complete, the cost of education can vary. Minot State University, for example, has a bachelor’s program for $13,832 a year, but the average four-year degree costs around $35,000 a year.
- Average salary: The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median salary for a radiation therapist at around $80,000 a year.
5. Surgical technologist
Surgeons don’t operate alone — the operating room is filled with many people, all with different roles to make sure the surgery goes smoothly. One of those important people is a surgical technologist, who helps prepare the room and assists the doctor throughout the surgery.
What’s great about this career is you get to be in on all the medical action without paying for medical school. In fact, you might not even need a four-year undergraduate degree.
- Education requirements: In addition to a high school diploma, you’ll need some extra schooling. But this can be an associate’s degree, which can take 13 months to two years, or even military training. A certification may be required, but is usually a one-day test.
- Cost of schooling: Programs cost between $5,000 and $25,000+ depending on the school.
- Average salary: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technologists make about $45,000 a year. Plus, the demand for surgical technologists is projected to rise by 12 percent by 2024. That’s almost twice the rate of most professions and a big positive in an uncertain economy.
*Average salaries are based on the most recent data (Dec. 2017) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
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