Online Degrees in Health

The American health care industry has a strong heartbeat. Even as more than eight million workers lost jobs between 2007 and 2010, the health care industry created 720,000 new positions, according to a 2010 report from Altarum Institute's Center for Studying Health Spending. Furthermore, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics(bls.gov, 2010) predicts that half of the 20 fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. between 2008 and 2018 will be in the health care field.

It's important to note, however, that not all the new health care jobs will be in high-paying fields, and competition may be tough in high-demand facilities and popular urban centers. Some of the more in-demand roles are expected to be in ambulatory or long-term care facilities, especially in jobs as care attendants, nursing assistants and medical technicians, the BLS reports. For many of these jobs, applicants should be able to qualify with a two-year degree or less.

Nearly 600,000 public and private facilities employ workers that hold two-year, four-year and graduate degrees in health care studies and related fields, the BLS reports. Due to the hands-on nature of many of the professions in these facilities, a degree as well as clinical or laboratory experience is often required.

While online degree program students complete non-clinical studies remotely, online degree programs often have partnerships with local facilities that make it possible for students to still gain clinical practice. Other online degrees in health, such as bridge programs for registered nurses to earn a bachelor's degree, allow working health care professionals to build on their industry experience with online courses in theory.

Nurses, medical or laboratory technicians, and other professionals may also opt to pursue graduate degrees online. Jobs like hospital and medical administrator require a graduate degrees--and are predicted to grow by 16 percent from 2008 to 2018, the BLS reports. Other programs like an online MBA or master's degree in medical administration prepare professionals to advance to department head or facility administrator roles.

The individuals that enter health care professions are driven by a range of goals. Long-term career stability can be a major motivating factor, especially given the recent hiring trends in the field. Additionally, health care workers tend to receive strong benefits packages along with ongoing education incentives and support. For some, employers help offset or reimburse tuition costs for programs that may bolster the employee's credentials.

Health care workers can also derive great personal satisfaction from working in a community that is dedicated to patient care and research. Some are passionate about biology and emerging technology, while others love human interaction and caring for those in need. Health care professionals may also be drawn to the field by the potential of working across the wide range of medical specialties and locations around the nation.

When it comes to career advancement and opportunities, health care professionals can often benefit from the modular way in which their skills are built in this field. For example, certified nursing assistants can attend two- or four-year colleges to complete training to become a registered nurse. Once in the registered nurse role, these individuals can enroll in online graduate degree programs to advance their educations and qualify to become health care administrators.

Nursing degrees are among the most popular of the health care degree programs, and it's no coincidence. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that in 2010, 65 percent of all graduates of bachelor's-level nursing programs (BSN programs) had job offers at the time of graduation, a rate higher than the national average of 24 percent for all other professions. Between four and six months after graduation, the new BSN degree employment level went up to 89 percent.

Home health aides

Home health aides and home care aides top the BLS's list of fastest-growing fields in medicine. While salaries for these positions top out around $29,390 per year (compared to a top wage of $93,700 for registered nurses), the BLS predicts openings will rise by 50 percent from 2008 to 2018, creating about 461,000 new jobs (bls.gov, 2010). Students can pursue their training online as well as on-campus, taking courses in hygiene, infection control and other studies that prepare them for certification or state licensing.

Health care technicians and technologists also profit from one- to two-year online training to work as dental hygienists, medical records and health information technicians, radiologic technologists and technicians, or diagnostic medical sonographers. Skills learned in these online degree or training programs translate to practical applications provided the online program combines theoretical instruction with hands-on clinical practice. Job growth for technicians is predicted to be 14 percent during the 2008-2018 decade.

Not all health care jobs are in medical facilities, of course. Massage therapists--a career the BLS predicts will grow by 19 percent during the decade--work at chiropractic offices, massage clinics, spas, resorts, and home businesses.

Health at a glance

According to the BLS:

  • The health care industry will create more jobs than any other sector of the American economy between 2008 and 2018.
  • The greatest number of college health care degree holders enter the registered nursing or medical technician professions.
  • The largest occupations in health care that have the potential of great wages (in order of magnitude): registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, dental assistants, medical secretaries, medical assistants and home health aides.
If you need to work or need more flexibility with your time schedule, taking an online class is the best way to go. This is especially true for young stay-at-home moms. - Amy Young 
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