Online health degrees

Health care is a huge industry, both professionally and from an educational perspective. Careers in health run the gamut, from helping individuals in their homes to implementing public health solutions that benefit society. Degrees in health are equally broad in scope, encompassing a fairly large group of disciplines, including the following:

  • Health information technology
  • Clinical laboratory science
  • Healthcare administrator
  • Diagnostic medical sonography
  • Public health
  • Nutrition and dietetics
  • Phlebotomy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Medical assisting
  • Health education

Whether you work in a hospital, medical center, private practice, research facility or home-based position, health degrees can prepare you for professions that help people in one of the most fundamental and rewarding ways possible.

What kind of health degrees are there?

Health degrees can be earned at all levels of the academic system, from a non-degree certificate to a Ph.D., and the degree that you choose to earn is likely to depend on how you intend to use it, because different health careers require vastly different levels of education. Here are the degrees available at each level.

Careers in health sciences

Earning a degree in the health sciences can prepare you to enter a booming job market after graduation. Health careers are among the fastest growing in the nation, according to the BLS, and graduates of health sciences degree programs are better qualified than most candidates for careers like these:

*Diagnostic medical sonographers use imaging equipment to conduct medical tests and assist with diagnoses. Job growth through 2022: 39%.

*Radiation therapists use high-tech machines to administer radiation treatments to patients struggling with cancer and other diseases. Job growth through 2022: 24%.

*Nutritionists and dietitians use their expertise in food and nutrition to help people develop diet plans for optimal health or to achieve specific goals. Job growth through 2022: 14,000 new jobs, or 21%.

*Radiologic and MRI technologists perform x-ray and magnetic resonance imaging scans to capture diagnostic images in clinical environments. Job growth through 2022: 21%.

*Medical and health services managerswork behind the scenes to ensure that health care facilities run as smoothly as possible. Job growth through 2022: 23%.

Interested in any of these careers? Check out our SchoolFinder to locate programs near you.

Associate degrees in health

Health degrees at the associate level typically focus on the core skills of the discipline being studied, so the courses studied at this level may vary greatly from program to program. Some health associate degrees may also include few general education courses in science, math and communications.

Quite a few health science careers — diagnostic sonographer, nuclear technologist, and radiation therapist, to name a few — can become accessible with the right associate degree. If you have specific career ambitions, look for health schools near you, and be sure to talk with an advisor or registrar about your plans before committing to a degree.

Bachelor's degrees in health

At the bachelor's level, health degrees tend to less specifically career-focused. Instead, they aim to prepare students for careers but also introduce more of the central theories and underlying scientific basis of components of health care practice. Here are some courses you might take when pursuing a bachelor's degree in health and wellness:

  • Exercise and fitness
  • Vitamins, herbs and nutritional supplements
  • Alternative medicine
  • Stress management and prevention
  • Diet and nutrition

Students pursuing bachelor's degrees in health science may take a slightly different schedule of classes:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Public health practices
  • Biostatistics
  • Epidemiology
  • Research methods

Some health careers, such as dietitian, nutritionist and recreational therapist, require candidates to earn a bachelor's degree before they can work in the field.

Graduate and postgraduate degrees in health

If you're looking to go into research, upper management or education at the college and university level, a master's degree is the logical next step after graduating with a bachelor's. Continuing on to the postgraduate level and earning a doctorate can help distinguish you in academic positions and open the way to careers that involve complex experimental design and independent research.

Distance-learning options

Advances in online education technology have made it possible for students to earn health degrees mostly or entirely online, depending on the discipline. One of the primary advantages of earning an online degree is the ability to complete coursework according to your own schedule, without having to spend hours each day attending class in person.

Here are examples of a few online schools offering health degrees in various disciplines:

  • University of Cincinnati: The distance learning programs offered by this Ohio university include health information systems, medical laboratory science, respiratory therapy, speech-language pathology and more, all at a school named one of the best in the U.S. by the Princeton Review.
  • Walden University: The comprehensive public health degree program at this Minneapolis-based institution allows students to start with an online BS in public health, move on to an online master of public health and finish with an online public health doctorate.
  • East Carolina University: ECU has programs such as health services management, health education, health informatics and nutrition to choose from, all at a school ranked in the top five graduate nursing programs nationwide by U.S. News and World Report.
  • Central Michigan University: Health administration, health systems leadership and nutrition are just a few of the online programs offered at this public institution, which U.S. News and World Report named the best school in the country for online bachelor's degrees in 2014.

Degrees in subjects that require laboratory work or experience operating sophisticated medical equipment will usually call for the students to visit the school's campus or an associated learning facility. Degrees where little clinical experience is necessary, such as health administration or informatics, can often be done without visiting a campus at all.

Sources:

CMU Global Campus, Central Michigan University,
http://www.global.cmich.edu/cmuonline/Default.aspx

Overview of the College of Health Sciences, DeVry University,
http://www.devry.edu/degree-programs/college-health-sciences.html

Online Distance Education, Eastern Carolina University,
http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/ugcat/DistanceEd.cfm

School of Health Sciences, Kaplan University,
http://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/health-sciences.aspx

Degree Programs, Distance Learning and Outreach, University of Cincinnati, http://www.uc.edu/distance/courses_programs/degrees.html

"Princeton Review Places UC Among the Nation's Best Universities," UC News, University of Cincinnati, http://www.uc.edu/news/NR.aspx?id=20220

Master of Public Health (MPH), Walden University,
http://www.waldenu.edu/masters/master-of-public-health

"Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh

Best Online Bachelor's Programs, U.S. News and World Report,
http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/bachelors/rankings

Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs, U.S. News and World Report,
http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/nursing/rankings?int=a2a109

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