As the population in the U.S. continues to age, the healthcare industry keeps expanding rapidly. In 2010 alone, Americans spent $2.6 trillion on healthcare, which is ten times more than in 1980. A study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce projects that this industry will add 5.6. million jobs between 2010 and 2020. Not only is this the largest estimated growth in any industry, it is also developing at a rate twice that of the national economy.

“Healthcare will continue to grow fastest and provide some of the best paying jobs in the nation,” one of the authors wrote in the report. For example, the healthcare industry added more than 540,000 jobs in Michigan in 2011, making it the biggest private employer in the state.

Interestingly enough, there are some careers in healthcare that grow even faster than others. It’s also important to note that more than 80% of these additional jobs in healthcare will require postsecondary education or training.

So, if you’re thinking about working in an ever-expanding field that offers plenty of careers with great advancement opportunities, there’s no doubt that you should look into healthcare.

Most people associate working in healthcare with having to attend medical school, which takes at least four years to complete – after graduating with a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university. Many simply don’t have the time or funds to invest a minimum of eight years of higher education to finally work in the medical field.

Yet, there are plenty of promising careers in healthcare that don’t require med school or even a bachelor’s degree. In most cases, these occupations only require a certification or associate’s degree, which can take anywhere from a couple of months to two years, depending on the type of training program you chose.

The plethora of professions can be overwhelming. That’s why we listed the four most promising healthcare careers and included crucial information on typical duties, work environments, and required skills.

Registered Nurse

Registered nurses work in hospitals, physician’s offices, home healthcare services, nursing facilities, correctional facilities, schools, and the military. They perform a wide variety of tasks in their job, from caring for the sick to educating about medical conditions and providing emotional support.

As an RN, you should have clear communication skills, great attention to detail, ability to work in a team, good problem-solving skills, high ethical standards, and high stress tolerance. While an associate’s degree is the minimum requirement, employers are increasingly demanding a bachelor’s degree. RNs also often pursue advanced degrees while working to further enhance their job opportunities these days. Median income for RNs was $64,690 in 2010.

Career Guide: How to Become a Nurse

Radiologic Technologist

Radiologic technologists or medical radiographers work independently, but cooperate with radiologists, physicians and other medical professionals. They mostly work in hospitals, although some also work in physician’s offices or imaging clinics.

One of their main responsibilities is to position patients and equipment in order to take X-rays, which helps healthcare professionals identify various illnesses or injuries. A radiologic technologist should have good communication skills, outstanding attention to detail, great empathy, high ethical standards, as well as physical strength. Radiologic technologists typically need an associate’s degree. At least, they need to be licensed or certified in most states. In 2010, the median pay for this occupation was $54,340.

Career Guide: How to Become a Radiation Technologist

Physical Therapy Assistant

Physical therapy assistants are healthcare professionals who work with people who have been injured or have undergone strenuous medical treatment like surgery. Physical therapy assistants work under the direction of physical therapists. They usually work in private offices or clinics, hospitals or nursing homes, helping patients improve their movement and manage their pain.

Physical assistants should be physically fit, with the ability to kneel, bend, and lift. Moreover, they ought to have excellent social and communication abilities, as well as good organization and administrative skills. Most states require physical therapy assistant to have an associate’s degree. The median pay for physical therapy assistant was $37,710 in 2010.

Career Guide: How to Become a Physical Therapist

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants typically work in physician’s offices, urgent care facilities, hospitals, assisted living facilities, or other healthcare facilities, performing diverse administrative and clinical tasks like assisting physicians with patient examinations or preparing tissue samples for laboratory tests. It really depends on the location, specialty, and size of the facility.

A medical assistant should have strong communication skills, great empathy, decent problem-solving skills, good attention to detail, high ethical standards, as well as high dependability and stress tolerance.  While formal education is not necessarily required, it’s certainly preferred by employers. Most of these programs can be completed under a year. The median pay for medical assistants was $28,860 in 2010.

Career Guide: How to Become a Physician’s Assistant