8 Healthcare Certifications You Can Get Fast

If you’re interested in a career in healthcare but don’t have the time to pursue a two- or four-year degree program, certifications can help you fast track goals and start working quickly. Learn which healthcare certifications are available and find out how they work. 

Last Updated: 09/25/2020
——

You know you want to work in healthcare, but you also know you may not have years to dedicate to a full-length degree program. Lucky for you, earning a healthcare certification can be a quick way to build a strong career in one of today’s fastest-growing fields. Healthcare certificates can lead to careers as medical assistants, patient care technicians, veterinary technicians, pharmacy technicians, and many others. These programs are often available online as well as in-person, making them an especially convenient way to get your foot in the door without years of training. 

Certification programs for healthcare professions are narrowly focused and can prepare you for your chosen career in just a few weeks or months. In addition to the quick turnaround time, you can also take advantage of the flexibility. Most healthcare certification programs take place fully online or in a hybrid format and give students the option of full- or part-time study. The BLS predicts job growth of 15% for healthcare occupations between 2019 and 2029. That’s 2.4 million new jobs available over the coming decade. 

If you’re ready to get into a new healthcare career fast, see if one of these 8 healthcare certifications is right for you.

Dental Assisting

Dental assistants work with dentists and dental hygienists to provide dental care to patients. Dental assistants perform duties such as scheduling appointments, keeping detailed records, assisting dentists in procedures, and taking x-rays. Other duties might be expected of dental assistants depending on their work environment.

Time to Certification Completion

Earning a certificate for dental assisting typically takes about one year through a community college or vocational school.

Benefits of Certification

Some states require dental assistants to earn licensure or certification before practicing in a dental office, especially if they will have expanded duties, such as polishing teeth. Certification can be obtained through the Dental Assisting National Board.

Cost & Conditions

Certification requirements include passing an exam, graduating from an accredited program (or earning the requisite amount of experience), and current CPR certification. There are several different certification options, usually in the $400–$450 range.

Annual Dental Assistant Earnings

Earning certification as a dental assistant can help improve your salary outlook. Here’s what you can expect to earn:

10th Percentile
$27,980
Median
$40,080
90th Percentile
$56,930
Source: BLS

Dental Assistant Career Outlook

As more individuals recognize the link between oral health and general health, people seeking dental care will increase. Baby boomers who want to keep their teeth in good shape will also be placing strong demand on dental practices.

Job Growth 2019-2029
7%
Faster than average

Reasons to Consider This Certification

  • According to ONET Online, this is considered a “bright outlook” career, which means it’s expected to grow rapidly over the next several years.
  • The wide variety of certifications available means students have numerous options for different types of work environments; for example, potential certifications include those in oral surgery, orthodontics, and expanded duty.
  • This entry-level career allows graduates to gain experience and knowledge in the field, which can then help their educational and career progression if they choose to move into dental hygiene or medical assisting.

Medical Secretary/Administration

Working in a medical office, whether in the front office or the back, can begin with a medical secretary certification. This entry-level work is notable because it provides graduates an opportunity to get to know the business of medical administration well before embarking on further education to increase promotion prospects.

Time to Certification Completion

Medical secretaries in healthcare offices can be trained on the job, but they may be more likely to be competitive in the field with a certificate from a community college or vocational school. These programs can take anywhere from six months to one year.

Benefits of Certification

The need for certification depends on the particular job. Some medical offices want to hire those who have earned certain credentials, such as those through the National Healthcareer Association.

Cost & Conditions

The cost of certification for medical secretaries and administrative assistants depends upon the particular certification you choose. For example, the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) certification will cost you $105.

Annual Dental Assistant Earnings

Getting certified can help you move into higher-paying positions and might improve the chances of promotions within the medical office setting.

10th Percentile
$26,180
Median
$36,580
90th Percentile
$53,230

Medical Secretary Career Outlook

Remember that starting salary can vary depending on certification type and work experience.

Job Growth 2019-2029
10%
Faster than average

Reasons to Consider This Certification

  • You’ll learn a great deal about how a medical office works, which should include in-depth training on electronic medical records and basic medical software.
  • Depending upon your job duties, you might learn about basic medical equipment; those who work in specialized areas might learn about more specialized equipment, such as heart monitors and x-ray machines.
  • What you learn in this career can provide a strong steppingstone to other careers in healthcare administration and positions that allow you to help make decisions for the practice, office, clinic, or hospital.

Medical Assisting

Medical assistants work in clinics, hospitals, and private practices, where they provide assistance in the front office with clerical tasks, or in the back office, where they provide basic patient care such as checking vital signs. Medical assistants might have an expanded scope of duties, depending upon the rules in their state.

Time to Certification Completion

Most medical assistant programs take up to a year to complete, while some can take two years. They can be found at community colleges, vocational or technical schools, and some colleges and universities.

Benefits of Certification

Upon graduation, medical assistants can opt for certification. Though it is not usually required, many employers prefer to hire those who are certified. Numerous organizations provide certification, including:

Cost & Conditions

Costs vary depending upon the organization. Examples include $125 to take the exam through the American Association of Medical Assistants, or $120 through American Medical Technologists. In most cases, you’ll need to provide proof of graduation from an accredited program, a certain amount of work experience, or both.

Annual Dental Assistant Earnings

Though a person can become a medical assistant without certification (in most states), getting certified can mean higher pay, better job opportunities, and a brighter outlook for advancement.

10th Percentile
$25,820
Median
$34,800
90th Percentile
$48,720

Medical Assistant Career Outlook

As the baby boomers age and need more preventative care offices of physicians will see an influx of new patients. Medical assistants will be necessary to help keep up with the demand.

Job Growth 2019-2029
19%
Much faster than average

Reasons to Consider This Certification

  • Medical assistants have a very bright outlook for hiring, according to ONET Online. The demand means that medical assistants, especially those who earn certification, can expect good opportunities for jobs.
  • Medical assisting is an excellent way to begin a healthcare career, as it familiarizes you with everything about a medical office. Those who want to eventually go back to school to become a nurse or other healthcare provider can start here to gain experience.
  • Those who work in the front office as a medical assistant will build ample knowledge of a variety of technology, from electronic medical records to scheduling software. This knowledge can serve you well if you choose to leave the medical profession and move into something else that requires technical prowess.

Medical Billing and Coding

Medical billing and coding professionals apply diagnosis codes and other information to billing insurance companies for care provided to covered patients. Medical billing and coding specialists can be found anywhere from large hospital organizations to small offices of physicians.

Time to Certification Completion

Many programs through vocational schools, technical schools, and community colleges offer a certificate in medical billing and coding that can be obtained in a year or less. However, some employers prefer to see an associate degree, which takes two years of full-time study to complete.

Benefits of Certification

Most employers seek out applicants who have certification. Though there are several options for certification, the most common is the registered health information technician. There are also some specialty certifications, such as the certified tumor registrar. Some states might require certifications regardless of the scope of an individual’s work in medical billing and coding.

Cost & Conditions

Certification typically requires graduation from an accredited program and passing an exam to test your knowledge. Some certifications also require a certain amount of work experience. The American Academy of Professional Coders offers numerous certifications.

Costs vary widely for medical billing and coding certification. For example, the certified professional biller exam costs $399, while the certified billing and coding specialist through the National Healthcareer Association starts at $117.

Annual Dental Assistant Earnings

Getting certified can help increase your chances at hiring time; you can also opt for more than one certification to help your resume stand out. Those who work in hospitals tend to have a slightly higher income than those who work in physicians’ offices, nursing homes, and similar facilities.

10th Percentile
$26,550
Median
$40,350
90th Percentile
$66,260

Medical Billing and Coding Career Outlook

Broader use of electronic health records, as well as an aging population that will require more medical care, are two strong drivers of the job outlook in this field.

Job Growth 2019-2029
8%
Faster than average

Reasons to Consider This Certification

  • This field offers an inside look at how medical offices and hospitals get paid and how insurance companies work. This is valuable experience if you choose to later pursue a career in hospital administration.
  • This is considered a “bright outlook” career by ONET Online, which means the options for employment in the future are very good.
  • A position as a medical biller or medical coder can help improve communication skills, get you familiar with all types of emerging medical and healthcare record technology, and allow for expanding duties, such as becoming a medical assistant.

Surgical Tech

Surgical techs work in hospitals and clinics, where they prepare operating rooms for use, arrange equipment, assist surgeons during surgeries, and inventory materials in the operating room to ensure patient safety.

Time to Certification Completion

Programs at community colleges, vocational, and technical schools can take anywhere from six months to two years. Two years of study usually results in an associate degree.

Benefits of Certification

Though certification is not required to work as a surgical tech, many employers require it. Certification is required to use certain titles, such as “Certified Surgical Technologist.” That’s available through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. The use of “Tech in Surgery – Certified or TS” is available only to those who earn credentials through the National Center for Competency Testing.

Cost & Conditions

Certification usually requires graduation from an accredited program and passing an exam. Costs may vary depending upon the certification or the certifying organization; however, a good example is the $190 for AST members for the Certified Surgical Technologist exam. The cost jumps to $290 for non-members.

Annual Dental Assistant Earnings

Earning certification can help improve chances of getting hired, finding advancement opportunities, and enjoying higher pay. The highest income tends to be at outpatient care centers, followed by hospitals.

10th Percentile
$32,470
Median
$46,310
90th Percentile
$67,000

Surgical Tech Career Outlook

As surgery becomes safer, the aging population needs particular surgeries to enhance quality of life, and elective surgeries become more commonplace, surgical techs will be needed to keep up with demand.

Job Growth 2019-2029
7%
Faster than average

Reasons to Consider This Certification

  • ONET Online calls this a “bright outlook” career, so anticipate many job openings and advancement opportunities in the coming years.
  • You’ll learn a great deal about surgical equipment, surgical techniques, hospital policies for operating rooms, and much more. You’ll also become well-versed in cleanliness procedures, which are at the forefront of patient minds.
  • Earning certification allows you to broaden your horizons for employment, as many employers prefer to hire those who have proven their knowledge and skills.

Vet Tech

Vet techs work in a variety of ways that support veterinary clinics and operations, Vet techs work in a variety of ways that support veterinary clinics and operations, including providing nursing or emergency care for animals, administering anesthesia for surgeries or procedures, perform laboratory tests, take x-rays, prepare animals for surgery, and administer treatments, all in addition to the general care of animals brought into the practice.

Time to Certification Completion

Vet techs typically need an associate degree to begin working. Graduates must then usually become certified in order to work with animals.

Benefits of Certification

In most states, certification is required for work as a vet tech. Even if it were not, veterinarians are likely to search for candidates who have the most experience, knowledge, and skills under their belt; certification proves an applicant’s knowledge of animals and procedures. The Certification can be earned through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards.

Cost & Conditions

Taking the Veterinary Technician National Examination costs $330. To take the test, you must graduate from an accredited institution or program.

Annual Vet Tech Earnings

Earning certification is usually necessary to begin work; employment experience can help when it comes to making a move to a different practice or asking for a higher salary.

10th Percentile
$24,530
Median
$35,320
90th Percentile
$51,230

Vet Tech Career Outlook

Spending on pets and their care continues to rise, which explains the fast-growing nature of this profession.

Job Growth 2019-2029
16%
Much faster than average

Reasons to Consider This Certification

  • The very bright outlook of 16% growth for this profession suggests there will be plenty of jobs available for graduates in the coming years.
  • Veterinary technicians who earn their associate degree can gain work experience and then go back to school to earn their bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology, which is a more research-based profession.
  • Though working with animals can sometimes be difficult, the rewards of caring for them are often cited as a reason why individuals choose to go into and stay in the profession.

Pharmacy Tech

Pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of pharmacists in filling prescriptions, compounding treatments, verifying insurance information, counseling patients, and otherwise handling the day-to-day responsibilities in a pharmacy.

Time to Certification Completion

Pharmacy tech programs take anywhere from six months for the certificate to two years for the associate degree.

Benefits of Certification

Most states regulate the work of pharmacy techs, and that often means the state requires some sort of certification. But even if your state doesn’t require it, having certification can be a boost at hiring time, as employers want to see applicants who can prove their knowledge. Certification is available through two organizations: The National Healthcareer Association and the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board.

Cost & Conditions

As with most other certifications, becoming a pharmacy tech requires graduation from an accredited institution or program, as well as taking an examination. The exam fees vary; for example, the NHA allows signups for $117, while the PTCB charges $125. However, many pharmacy techs will be happy to know that some employers will pay the fees for them.

Annual Vet Tech Earnings

Those who earn certification might enjoy better advancement opportunities, as well as more attention in the sea of applicants during the hiring process. The highest paying jobs are found in hospitals and clinics, followed by pharmacies and drugstores.

10th Percentile
$24,120
Median
$33,950
90th Percentile
$49,130

Pharmacy Tech Career Outlook

As the population ages and individuals need more medications, pharmacy techs will be called to fill the demand. Those techs might also take on more responsibility as the pharmacists’ job duties shift to a more patient-oriented role, such as providing vaccinations in the office.

Job Growth 2019-2029
4%
As fast as average

Reasons to Consider This Certification

  • For those who are considering furthering their education to become a pharmacist, this entry-level job provides an excellent overview of the work they can expect to undertake as a pharmacist.
  • This job will hone your customer service skills, communication, and attention to detail, all of which will hold you in good stead in any healthcare job. Pharmacy techs can build the skills necessary to go back to school to move into other positions that focus on healthcare, such as nursing.
  • Given that pharmacies will always be necessary, both in hospitals and clinics and for outpatients in stand-alone drugstores, the job security for pharmacy techs could be considered quite stable. Certification helps broaden those employment horizons even more.

Patient Care Tech

Patient care techs, sometimes known as nursing assistants, look after patients in the hospital or nursing home settings. They work under the supervision of LPNs and RNs, handling day-to-day duties for patients that can include helping with feeding and toileting, turning bedridden patients to prevent pain and bedsores, measuring vital signs, and reporting any concerns to nurses.

Time to Certification Completion

Earning this certificate typically takes about six months, but some programs last for a year.

Benefits of Certification

Certification or licensure is usually required for a nursing assistant. Passing an examination after graduation from an accredited program is required; after that, graduates can use certain titles, depending upon the state. In most states, the title is Certified Nursing Assistant. In some states, additional credentials are possible; these individuals might be known as Certified Medical Assistants, as they can dispense medication and perform other duties beyond the usual expected of CNAs.

Cost & Conditions

Most states have a state nurse aide registry; looking up this registry can often yield the requirements for CNA and other certifications. If not, the Board of Nursing will be the place to go to determine where to take the required examination. Sometimes this is provided through places like Pearson VUE or Prometric. Costs vary depending upon the state. The American Red Cross offers some general information on the exam.

Annual Vet Tech Earnings

As increasingly more options become available for CNAs in health and community rehabilitation services, their earning potential is anticipated to grow.

10th Percentile
$21,960
Median
$29,660
90th Percentile
$40,620

Patient Care Tech Career Outlook

An aging population and better outlooks for those with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, are key drivers of the growth in patient care tech positions.

Job Growth 2019-2029
8%
Much faster than average

Reasons to Consider This Certification

  • This is an ideal position for those who are “on the fence” about whether they want to pursue a degree in nursing. This job allows you to get very familiar with the day-to-day work of a hospital or nursing home.
  • Considering the wide range of duties a patient care tech can handle, they can find jobs at a variety of places outside of the usual hospitals or nursing homes, such as clinics, home health care, and more.
  • This gets you into the workforce fast, with only six months of study and training. That can be a boon for those who need money now and want to keep their options open for further study in the medical field later.

How Do Online Healthcare Certifications Work?

Healthcare certificates earned online work very differently than those earned in a brick-and-mortar school. However, the outcome is the same: A high-quality education, no matter how it’s delivered. Here’s what you need to know about opting for online certification.

Q: What are the best online healthcare certifications?

A: The certificates listed above are among some of the best you can earn, thanks to the quick entry into the workforce and the base of knowledge they provide. That knowledge base can hold you in good stead if you choose to go back to school for a related certificate or degree program. But ultimately, the best certification is the one that meets your professional goals. A good example is the person who wants to work in nursing, but doesn’t have the time or finances to earn their associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing; therefore, they might choose to become a patient care tech or medical assistant, get into the workforce, start saving money, and then look into online nursing programs to further their education.

Q: How do online certification programs work?

A: Most programs take a hybrid approach to education. This means that many of the courses can be taken entirely online, while the hands-on component must be completed in person. This in-person work often takes place at a location convenient to the student’s home, such as a local clinic or hospital. You can learn more about how clinicals and fieldwork work in online healthcare programs here.

Q: What medical certifications pay the most?

A: Though the pay for a given position in the medical field will vary depending upon the geographic location, an applicant’s experience level, and other factors, it is possible to look at the median wages for that position across the nation and determine which ones might have a higher pay rate than others. Some of these higher-paying options include dental assistants, surgical techs, and medical billing and coding specialists.

Q: What is the easiest certification to get?

A: That depends upon what you consider “easy.” For some, easy means it takes a short amount of time, such as the six months to become a patient care tech. For others, it means coursework that is easier to handle – in that case, the easiest certificate to get might be the one that draws on your background experience and knowledge. For instance, if you have volunteered in a veterinary office for years, making the leap to vet tech might be much easier for you than it would be for someone who has little experience with animals.

Q: How much do online medical certifications cost?

A: Just as with earning a full degree, tuition costs will vary widely. Residency might affect the cost – some online programs are offered at a special rate for everyone, while other schools might base the rate on whether a student lives in-state or out-of-state. Fees will vary as well, depending upon the school and the services offered for students, both those on campus and online. Generally, the shorter the program is, the less it will cost simply from a standpoint of tuition – but this is not always the case. After graduation, earning certification for a particular career often costs less than $1,000, as seen in our examples in this guide; however, that might vary as well, depending upon the state or the level of certification you seek.

Resources