What Kinds of Degrees Are Available in Healthcare?

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The healthcare field encompasses numerous professions, including but not limited to nursing, dentistry, physical therapy, optometry, and podiatry. Degrees in healthcare include courses in biology, psychology, anatomy, and other physical and social sciences. They also require significant clinical experience components so students may learn from a real-world perspective.

Demand for healthcare services is increasing as our population grows and ages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs in the healthcare field to grow 14% between 2018 and 2028, much faster than average for all occupations.

Associate Degree in Healthcare

Several healthcare degree jobs exist for individuals with an associate degree, including registered nurse, dental hygienist, radiologic technologist, and medical sonographer.

Associate degrees in healthcare require 60-65 credits and take roughly two years to complete. Students can choose a program that specializes in their chosen field, such as an associate of science in dentistry or nursing. Or they might consider a general healthcare degree, such as an associate in allied health, which prepares students to become assistants to physicians and deliver rudimentary patient care.

Some associate degrees lead to state licensure or certification. Admission requirements for associate healthcare degrees include high school or GED transcripts.

Bachelor’s Degree in Healthcare

A bachelor’s degree in healthcare typically requires 120 credits, including general education and major core courses, and it takes about four years to complete.

Healthcare degrees at the bachelor’s level exist across a variety of disciplines, including nutrition, nursing, and public health. Bachelor’s degrees in healthcare often require foundational coursework in sciences like biochemistry, pathophysiology, genetics, organic chemistry, and anatomy.

Students have the option to receive college credit for internships in healthcare settings, and some programs may even require clinical labs or practicums, especially those that fulfill state requirements for licensure. For instance, a bachelor of science in nursing prepares students to take the NCLEX exam so they can become registered nurses.

Healthcare bachelor’s programs can also prepare students to pursue a master’s degree or attend medical school. For example, many pre-med students major in biology or another science before applying to medical programs. Application requirements include high school transcripts and SAT or ACT scores.

Master’s Degree in Healthcare

A master’s degree in healthcare is ideal for individuals who want to work in leadership positions within healthcare institutions or whose field requires a master’s degree for employment. Master’s degrees typically require 30-40 credits and take 1-2 years to complete.

Obtaining a healthcare degree online can allow students to work while advancing their studies. Degrees such as a master of science in healthcare administration prepare students for careers as clinical managers, chief operations officers, healthcare consultants, and health services managers in hospitals and other clinical settings.

Other professions require a master’s degree to enter the field. For instance, aspiring physician assistants must complete a bachelor’s and master’s and then pass a licensing exam. Admission requirements for most master’s programs include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and GRE test scores.

Doctoral Degree in Healthcare

Depending on their interests, degree-seekers can obtain either an M.D. or a Ph.D. The M.D. is required to become a doctor or physician in the U.S. It consists of at least four years of post-baccalaureate study and prepares students for a residency program and then a career as a doctor in their specialty.

A Ph.D. prepares students to conduct research and/or to teach at the college level. It typically requires 90 credits and takes 4-6 years to complete. Students must write a dissertation and pass an oral defense in order to graduate.

Admission requirements for doctoral programs in healthcare include a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited institution and usually GRE or GMAT scores.

Certificate in Healthcare

Certificate programs in healthcare are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels. An undergraduate certificate in healthcare typically requires more coursework than a minor and provides students with an additional credential upon graduation. Students of undergraduate certificate programs usually need to be enrolled in an associate or bachelor’s program. Students can pursue graduate certificates concurrently or independently from a graduate degree.

Common healthcare graduate certificates include programs in healthcare administration, global healthcare management, and healthcare informatics. These certificates typically require 15 credits and take less than a year to complete. Coursework might include population health, international health and development, healthcare policy, quantitative research methods in healthcare, and ethics in healthcare administration.

Graduates from these programs can pursue positions related to emergency health management, population health, healthcare policy, facility management or health services management, and healthcare analytics.

How does a certificate differ from a degree?

A certificate is shorter and more specialized than a degree. Certificates require 12-15 credits and take less than a year to complete; degrees require 60-120 credits and usually take 2-4 years to complete. In addition, the curriculum for degrees include general education courses; certificate programs only require courses directly related to the field of study.

Why would someone who has a degree choose a certificate program?

Certificate programs can provide healthcare professionals with additional competencies and credentials that complement their degree. They can also be a good way to transition into a slightly different role within the healthcare field. For instance, allied health workers who have earned an associate or bachelor’s degree may choose to earn a graduate certificate in healthcare management or healthcare informatics as a way to gain entry into administrative or analytics-related positions.

Who is qualified to participate in a certificate program?

Healthcare certificate programs are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, so applicants must meet the requirements for undergraduate or graduate admissions in order to matriculate into a certificate program. However, some schools and programs allow students to complete certificates as non-degree students.

What kind of salary or career boost might a certificate provide?

Certificate programs provide evidence of knowledge and competency to employers that can sometimes substitute or complement prior work experience and allow for quicker career advancement. For instance, healthcare administrators in hospitals, nursing homes, and home health agencies earn an average annual salary of $55,955 with less than one year of experience, according to PayScale. However, a healthcare worker with a certificate in healthcare administration may be eligible for the same earning potential as an early career manager with 1-4 years of experience at roughly $57,981 per year.

Additional Accreditation and Licensing to Consider in Healthcare

In addition to regional accrediting organizations, several accrediting agencies specialize in developing and ensuring standards for healthcare education. These include the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, American Optometric Association, American Physical Therapy Association, Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education, Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management, and Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education.

Healthcare degree jobs in nursing, physical therapy, radiologic technology, and sonography require state licensure or certification upon the completion of a degree. For instance, graduates with an associate or bachelor of science in nursing are eligible to take the NCLEX exam and become a registered nurse. Advanced licensure in nursing also exists for students who have completed a master’s degree.

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