The Highest Paying Jobs with an Associate Degree

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Although people typically think of a bachelor's or advanced degree as the primary way to increase their earnings, an associate degree can help individuals land lucrative jobs, as well.

Associate programs do not demand as much time or money as higher-level degrees. Traditionally, students graduate in two years (although this varies based on accelerated and part-time paths). Because of that, associate degree graduates can enter the workforce sooner than their peers. Based on the 35 careers we outline below, associate degree graduates may also obtain more from their initial investment.

We rank the following profiles by their 2017 median annual salary, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For each, we also include a description of the career, example job titles, recommended degrees for pursuing the career, and common personal characteristics of professionals in the field. For a more complete look at the highest paying associate degree-related careers, consider our guide: Create a Career.

Highest-Paying Associate Degrees


1. Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers ensure that accidents do not occur between airplanes and other air traffic. They direct pilots where to go and keep watch over the movement of vehicles in the air. These professionals ensure that pilots do not take off or land in unsafe conditions. They also direct ground traffic at airports. It counts as one of the highest paying jobs with an associate degree.

Median annual salary: $124,540

Example job titles: Air traffic control officer, flight dispatcher, flight dispatch manager, air traffic control quality and safety manager

Recommended degrees: An associate or bachelor's degree from an Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program

Personal characteristics degrees: Air traffic controllers must possess vigilance and concentration, the ability to make quick and critical decisions, and solid math skills.

Read more about air traffic controller careers, required education, and job forecasts.


2. Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapists carry out radiation treatments for ill patients; they treat diseases such as cancer with high doses of radiation to kill cancerous or sick cells. These healthcare professionals use highly technical and heavy machinery to administer treatment. They also ensure that patients possess proper protection while therapy occurs.

Median annual salary: $80,570

Example job titles: Radiation therapist, radiation therapist supervisor, chief radiation therapist

Recommended degrees: Associate or bachelor's degree in radiation therapy

Personal characteristics degrees: These professionals should possess communication and interpersonal skills, along with a strong attention to detail.

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3. Nuclear Technician

Nuclear technicians use special equipment to measure nuclear radiation levels. While nuclear physicians and engineers plan and carry out research, nuclear technicians help by testing for radioactive contamination from the experiments. They might also work for organizations involved in nuclear energy production, monitoring any radioactivity caused by processes like power generation.

Median annual salary: $80,370

Example job titles: Operating technician, radiation protection technician, nuclear chemistry technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in nuclear science

Personal characteristics degrees: Nuclear technicians need skills in math, science, and computer technology. They should also work with a mechanical aptitude and alertness.

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4. Funeral Service Manager

Funeral service managers plan funerals. A funeral service manager works with the deceased's family members and loved ones to organize a service. They arrange details for grieving family members and file death certificates. They also prepare the deceased body for the funeral.

Median annual salary: $78,040

Example job titles: Funeral service manager, funeral director, mortician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in funeral or mortuary science

Personal characteristics degrees: Funeral service managers must show compassion to the grieving. They must also possess organizational and business skills.

Read more about funeralservice manager careers, required education, and job forecasts.


5. Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Many medical procedures and treatments necessitate nuclear technology. Doctors might use this technology for internal scans, or they may give patients radioactive drugs for treatment or therapy. Nuclear medicine technologists assist doctors with this technology, operating machines that create 3D images of the insides of a patient's body, for example.

Median annual salary: $75,660

Example job titles: Nuclear medicine technologist, nuclear medicine assistant, nuclear medicine coordinator

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in nuclear medicine technology

Personal characteristics degrees: Working with patients requires interpersonal and communication skills; using nuclear medicine machines requires technical know-how and physical stamina.

Read more about nuclear medicine technologist careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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6. Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists work for dentists. When patients visit the dental office for their annual checkup, dental hygienists clean their teeth to remove stains and plaque. Hygienists also administer dental x-rays and check whether patients have developed cavities or other dental problems; they then show the x-rays and give their assessments to the dentist.

Median annual salary: $74,070

Example job titles: Dental hygienist, dental hygiene coordinator

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in dental hygiene

Personal characteristics degrees: Dental hygienists need critical thinking and problem-solving skills to help patients with any dental problems. They also need good interpersonal skills since much of their day involves chatting with patients.

Read more about dental hygienist careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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7. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Diagnostic medical sonographers run machines that can generate images of patients' internal organs. They also use equipment that tests for medical problems in patients. These machines identify any abnormalities in patients, and then diagnostic medical sonographers analyze the information and images. These professionals may also specialize in different body parts, like the abdomen or the musculoskeletal system.

Median annual salary: $71,410

Example job titles: Abdominal sonographer, cardiac sonographer, musculoskeletal sonographer, pediatric sonographer

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in sonography or cardiovascular and vascular technology

Personal characteristics degrees: Along with the physical stamina and technical know-how to operate the equipment, diagnostic medical sonographers should possess interpersonal and communication skills.

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8. Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologists use MRI scanners to form images of patients' anatomies. MRI technology uses magnetic fields and radiation to create these images, so technologists need to know how to handle the equipment safely. MRI technologists also insert contrast dyes in patients before scanning so that images remain clear.

Median annual salary: $69,930

Example job titles: MRI technologist, radiologic technologist

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in MRI technology

Personal characteristics degrees: Like most professionals who work with medical machinery, MRI technologists must possess technological skills and the physical ability to work with machines all day.

Read more about magnetic resonance imaging technologist careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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9. Web Developer

In short, web developers make websites. They start off by meeting with clients to get a feel for what the website should do and look like. Then, they plan the site and create code to put the website together. They may also integrate applications and multimedia like videos.

Median annual salary: $67,990

Example job titles: Back-end web developers, front-end web developers, web designer

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in web design, programming, or a related field

Personal characteristics degrees: Web developers need to work with customers, so they should possess customer service and business skills. They also need creativity and attention to detail when creating the site.

Read more about web developer careers, required education, and job forecasts.


10. Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians care for aircraft and spacecraft equipment, maintaining the equipment and ensuring it does not fail. They perform quality assurance testing both physically and through simulation. Although they do not design the equipment, they work with engineers to make sure it functions properly.

Median annual salary: $67,240

Example job titles: Aerospace engineering technician, failure analysis engineering technician, aerospace operations technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in engineering technology or robotics

Personal characteristics degrees: These professionals should excel in math and science. They must also value details, critical thinking, and mechanical skills.

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11. Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technician

These technicians evaluate, test, improve, and fix computers and electronics devices. They often work with electrical and electronics engineers, carrying out technical tasks to help in the design and development of these machines. They might put together and test medical monitoring devices, navigational technology, and communications equipment.

Median annual salary: $63,660

Example job titles: Engineering technician, electrical engineering technician, electronics engineering technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in electrical or electronics engineering technology

Personal characteristics degrees: These workers should possess mathematical skills, mechanical skills, and the ability to think through problems logically.

Read more about electrical and electronics engineering technician careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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12. Avionics Technician

Avionics technicians maintain aircrafts, assess equipment, and replace ill-functioning parts. They might also help build components of the aircraft, like installing software, instrument panels, or radio communication devices. Additionally, avionics technicians analyze flight test results.

Median annual salary: $62,650

Example job titles: Avionics technician, aircraft avionics technician, avionics systems specialist

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in avionics

Personal characteristics degrees: Avionics technicians should possess dexterity, strength, and mechanical skills, and the ability to pay attention to details.

Read more about avionics technician careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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13. Computer Network Support Specialist

Computer network support specialists help troubleshoot problems with computer network systems. They might assist customers and organizations remotely, or they might go on location to fix the problem themselves. They also regularly evaluate and perform maintenance tasks on computer network systems.

Median annual salary: $62,340

Example job titles: Computer network support specialist, computer systems specialist

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in computer science

Personal characteristics degrees: Computer network support specialists work in customer service in addition to information technology, so they need communication skills as much as they need problem-solving and technical skills.

Read more about computer network support specialist careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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14. Engineering Technician

Engineering technicians can work within mechanical, civil, industrial, or electronic engineering. They identify and assess problems in machines, structures, and equipment. Then, they work to fix those problems. Engineering technicians usually assist or work alongside engineers, researchers, and scientists.

Median annual salary: $62,230

Example job titles: Engineering technician, mechanical engineering technician, vehicle engineering technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in engineering technology

Personal characteristics degrees: Job specifics vary based on the industry, but engineering technicians should excel in math and science. They should also work with a detail-oriented mindset.

Read more about engineering technician careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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15. Respiratory Therapist

Many individuals live with conditions that make breathing difficult, like asthma or emphysema. Respiratory therapists help these patients breathe more easily. First, they give the patients tests to diagnose their conditions. Then, they talk to doctors to determine treatment plans. In the end, they might give patients tools like ventilators or perform procedures such as chest physiotherapy.

Median annual salary: $59,710

Example job titles: Respiratory therapist, supervisory registered respiratory therapist

Recommended degrees: Associate or bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy

Personal characteristics degrees: Since they work with sick individuals, respiratory therapists need empathy and patience. They need good communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills, as well.

Read more about respiratory therapist careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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16. Electrical and Electronics Drafter

Drafters work to transform designs into technical drawings that others may use as blueprints to build machines or structures. Electrical and electronics drafters create wiring diagrams for electrical systems. These diagrams might apply to large systems like power plants or commercial buildings -- or smaller equipment like electronic devices.

Median annual salary: $59,690

Example job titles: Electrical drafter, electronics drafter, electrical designer

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in drafting, computer-aided design software, or a similar field

Personal characteristics degrees: These professionals need an advanced understanding of math and science. They should also possess creativity to help them think of resourceful designs.

Read more about electrical and electronics drafter careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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17. Occupational Therapy Assistant

The occupational therapy field involves helping people develop or relearn how to do certain activities. This might involve guiding patients with exercise, teaching disabled children how to socialize, or helping elderly patients with dementia complete basic tasks. Occupational therapy assistants work for occupational therapists, aiding patients one on one.

Median annual salary: $58,310

Example job titles: Occupational therapy assistant, certified occupational therapy assistant

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in occupational therapy

Personal characteristics degrees: These professionals work with vulnerable people, so they need compassion and patience to perform their job with care. They may also need physical strength to help patients with physical tasks.

Read more about occupational therapy assistant careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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18. Radiologic Technologist

Radiologic technologists use radiation equipment to examine patients' anatomies. They use x-ray machines, for instance, to capture images of specific parts of the body. These professionals usually work under doctor's orders when operating the medical equipment; they also regularly check on and maintain the equipment.

Median annual salary: $58,440

Example job titles: Radiologic technologists, radiographers

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in radiologic technology or radiology

Personal characteristics degrees: Radiologic technicians need mechanical and technical skills, a detail-focused work ethic, and interpersonal skills for working with patients.

Read more about radiologic technologist careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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19. Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapist assistants work for physical therapists. They help injured patients recover their ability to move and reduce pain as much as possible. Assistants work directly with patients, helping them practice certain exercises and movements. They might use devices or exercise equipment, as well. They also keep records of patient progress.

Median annual salary: $57,430

Example job titles: Physical therapy assistant (PTA)

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in physical therapy

Personal characteristics degrees: Above all, physical therapist assistants need compassion and interpersonal skills, especially with patients who might struggle with trauma. The job also involves a considerable amount of physical activity, so PTAs should enjoy working on their feet.

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20. Electro-Mechanical Technician

Like other technicians, electro-mechanical technicians maintain, assess, and fix certain equipment. These technicians work with mechanical technologies that contain electronic circuits. They might focus specifically on machines at worksites in industrial settings or work on robotic equipment.

Median annual salary: $56,740

Example job titles: Electro-mechanical technician, onsite electro-mechanical technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in electromechanics or industrial maintenance

Personal characteristics degrees: These professionals should know math and mechanics. They must also prioritize details and possess logical thinking skills.

Read more about electro-mechanical technician careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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21. Legal Support Worker

Lawyers employ legal support workers to help with many different tasks. For instance, legal support workers conduct research, compiling lists of facts and relevant information that attorneys need for their cases. They write reports summarizing materials for attorneys before trial, and they write drafts of legal documents like contracts.

Median annual salary: $56,120

Example job titles: Legal support worker, paralegal, legal assistant

Recommended degrees: Associate or bachelor's degree in paralegal or legal studies

Personal characteristics degrees: Legal support workers must work in a highly organized manner. They need critical thinking and research skills as well.

Read more about criminal justice careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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22. Radio, Cellular, and Tower Equipment Installer

Radio, cellular, and tower equipment installers set up technological equipment like cell phone towers that help people communicate. They also inspect the equipment to make sure it works properly upon installation, and they repair or replace equipment with technical problems.

Median annual salary: $56,000

Example job titles: Telecommunications equipment installers, telecom technicians

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in telecommunications

Personal characteristics degrees: These workers work with their hands, so they need dexterity. They should also possess mechanical skills and a strict attention to detail, as one wrong wire in a wrong place could cause a deadly accident.


23. Mechanical Engineering Technician

Mechanical engineering technicians work on machines and engines. They help mechanical engineers test and assess devices. Based on those assessments, they may make changes to improve the original designs or blueprints. These workers also sometimes inspect machines already in use.

Median annual salary: $55,360

Example job titles: Mechanical engineering technicians, mechanical engineering lab technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in mechanical engineering

Personal characteristics degrees: These individuals need a solid understanding of math and mechanics. They should also know how to solve problems in creative and resourceful ways.

Read more about mechanical engineering technician careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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24. Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians

Similar to other medical technicians, these professionals inspect patients' anatomies with special tools that can create images of humans' internal functions. Specifically, cardiovascular technologists and technicians focus on patients' hearts and lungs. They might complete tasks like monitoring patients' heart rates or connecting patients' arteries to their hearts with a catheter.

Median annual salary: $55,270

Example job titles: Cardiovascular invasive specialists, cardiographic or electrocardiogram technicians, pulmonary function technologists, cardiopulmonary technologists

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in cardiovascular and vascular technology

Personal characteristics degrees: Cardiovascular technologists and technicians need to work well under pressure, pay attention to details, and carry out tasks with good hand-eye coordination.

Read more about cardiovascular technologists and technicians careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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25. Mechanical Drafter

Mechanical drafters analyze designs of machinery and mechanical tools, and they turn those designs into drafts that engineers can build. Their drafts include technical information like dimensions, formulas, instructions, and fastening methods. They often need to use specific computer-assisted design programs to help create these drafts.

Median annual salary: $55,130

Example job titles: Mechanical drafter, mechanical technician/drafter

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in drafting, computer-aided design software, or a similar field

Personal characteristics degrees: Mechanical drafters should excel in math and possess technical and computer design skills. They should also work with a creative and logical mindset.

Read more about mechanical draftercareers, required education, and job forecasts.


26. Industrial Engineering Technician

Industrial engineering technicians work to make industrial worksites as efficient as possible. They often work with or under the supervision of industrial engineers. They analyze the way employees, machines, information, and all other aspects of a workplace integrate. Then, they suggest ways to streamline the workflow.

Median annual salary: $54,280

Example job titles: Industrial engineering technician, facilities maintenance technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in industrial engineering

Personal characteristics degrees: Industrial engineering technicians need solid analytical skills and the ability to look at how small details fit into a big picture. They must also possess good communication and observational skills.

Read more about industrial engineering technician careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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27. Geological and Petroleum Technician

Geological and petroleum technicians help with the extraction of natural resources. They assist engineers with tasks like installing field equipment, gathering geological samples for further research, and compiling and analyzing data. These technicians also operate highly specialized equipment like seismic instruments.

Median annual salary: $54,190

Example job titles: Geological technician, petroleum technician, hydraulic technician, seismic data technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in applied science or science-related technology

Personal characteristics degrees: These technicians should possess curiosity and analytical skills. They also need physical stamina in order to work in the field.

Read more about geological and petroleum technician careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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28. Architectural and Civil Drafter

Architectural and civil drafters create blueprints for various projects. Architectural drafters use designs from architects to create technical drafts with information about materials and dimensions. From their drawings, construction workers can build residential and commercial buildings. Civil drafters create designs with topological information for civil engineering projects like bridges or highways.

Median annual salary: $52,870

Example job titles: Architectural drafter, architectural computer aided drafter, civil drafter

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in drafting, computer-aided design software, or a similar field

Personal characteristics degrees: These drafters must use their creativity and mathematical knowledge in creating drafts. They must also possess strong time-management and technical skills.

Read more about architectural and civil drafter careers, requirededucation, and job forecasts.


29. Morticians, Undertakers, and Funeral Directors

Individuals who work at funeral homes carry out various responsibilities. Morticians do everything from planning the funeral to arranging the details of the deceased's body. They coordinate cremations, funerals, and even the shipment of bodies to another location. They also deal with more mundane tasks, like administration and paperwork.

Median annual salary: $51,850

Example job titles: Undertakers, funeral directors, morticians

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in funeral or mortuary science

Personal characteristics degrees: These professionals work with people who recently lost loved ones, so they need empathy and compassion. They should also possess business skills to succeed in their tasks.

Read more about morticians, undertakers, and funeral director careers, required education, and jobforecasts.


30. Civil Engineering Technician

Civil engineering technicians work with infrastructure projects. They usually work under the supervision of civil engineers to create bridges, highways, and utilities. They often use computer software to help with design, and they look out for any problems with plans or the construction itself. They work with with highly technical equipment to evaluate the projects, as well.

Median annual salary: $51,620

Example job titles: Civil engineering technician, civil design technician, field engineering technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in civil engineering technology

Personal characteristics degrees: These technicians need advanced knowledge in math. They must also put to use critical-thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Read more about civil engineering technician careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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31. Paralegal and Legal Assistant

Paralegals and legal assistants work at attorneys' offices where they perform various tasks to help lawyers with their workload. They complete administrative work like filing paperwork and calling clients and witnesses. They also take on heftier tasks too, like preparing contracts, conducting research for trial, or gathering evidence for depositions.

Median annual salary: $50,410

Example job titles: Corporate paralegals, litigation paralegals, legal assistant

Recommended degrees: Associate or bachelor's degree in paralegal or legal studies

Personal characteristics degrees: These workers must possess the organizational, administrative, and research skills that allow them to succeed in a high-pressure field.

Read more about paralegal and legal assistant careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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32. Respiratory Therapy Technician

Respiratory therapy technicians assist respiratory therapists. These professionals help people with difficulty breathing. They work with anyone from premature infants who need aid for their underdeveloped lungs, to patients at the end of their lives. Respiratory therapy technicians tell patients how to use equipment and offer drugs to help them breathe. They also record patients' progress.

Median annual salary: $50,350

Example job titles: Respiratory therapy technician, respiratory technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in respiratory therapy

Personal characteristics degrees: These professionals need interpersonal skills, patience, and compassion to work with patients.

Read more about respiratory therapy technician careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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33. Drafter

Architects and engineers create designs for future buildings or bridges, turning those designs into technical drawings that guide construction. These drafts include details like dimensions, materials, and fastening methods. Drafters also use computer-aided design (CAD) software and building information modeling systems to create their blueprints.

Median annual salary: $50,290

Example job titles: Drafters, CAD operators, CAD drafter, technical drafter

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in drafting, computer-aided design software, or a similar field

Personal characteristics degrees: Drafters need math, design, and creativity skills, and they should do their work with an acute attention to detail.

Read more about drafter careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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34. Environmental Engineering Technician

Environmental engineers develop plans to fix problems with the environment; environmental engineering technicians assist those engineers by executing the plans. They use equipment meant to solve problems like pollution. They also pick up geological samples, test samples for pollution in labs, and record results.

Median annual salary: $50,230

Example job titles: Environmental engineering technician, environmental technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in environmental engineering or a related field.

Personal characteristics degrees: Environmental engineering technicians should possess problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. They should also be able to observe environmental situations onsite and communicate with their teams.

Read more about environmental engineering technician careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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35. Medical Equipment Repairer

Medical equipment repairers make sure machinery and devices in hospitals and other healthcare facilities -- such as defibrillators, patient monitors, and life support machines -- work properly. They repair the equipment and install working machines. They also regularly check on the devices to make sure they work properly.

Median annual salary: $48,820

Example job titles: Medical equipment repairer, biomedical equipment technician

Recommended degrees: Associate degree in biomedical equipment technology or engineering

Personal characteristics degrees: These individuals should possess good troubleshooting, mechanical, and technical skills. They should also work well with their hands and boast plenty of physical stamina.

Read more about medical equipment repaairer careers, required education, and job forecasts.

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