Degrees Needed for Health Careers

A wide variety of education is needed for the array of health careers. Consequently, workers interested in the field have job options whether or not they have the ability to pursue advanced degrees. Individuals without a high school or college degree can pursue work as nursing aides, orderlies, home health aides, and physical therapist aides. With a high school education and additional technical training, opportunities such as laboratory technicians, radiologic technicians, cardiovascular technicians, and emergency medical technicians become possible. Advanced training and a college degree opens doors to health careers with more responsibility including nurses, technologists, and physical therapists. Registered nurses, physician assistants, and physicians who evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients, must all have advanced degrees.

Due to the demand for workers, academic programs for health care students are prevalent. Opportunities range from certificate programs to all levels of college degrees. Certificate programs are available through hospital employers, vocational schools, community colleges, and distance education programs. Associate's degree programs at community colleges offer technical training for health care positions. Bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and doctorates from state and national colleges and universities offer a wealth of health care and other programming.

Technical Training Programs. Several health care careers are available to workers with only a high school education, while some jobs do require additional technical training. While workers in these positions are in great demand and jobs can be had with minimal education and time commitment, these health careers possess relatively low levels of responsibility, a good deal of physical work, and comparatively low pay.

Nursing and psychiatric aides who hold support positions in hospitals and residential care facilities complete a minimum of 75 hours of state-approved training in high school, vocational school, or community college program. A degree is not required for an aide position.

Medical receptionists come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Private practices and hospitals set their own standards and needed skill sets for this position. Employers expect candidates to have a high school diploma, but may place skill set requirements ahead of additional education. While science and business training is useful, it is often not mandatory for hiring.

Degrees Needed for Health Careers

Medical transcriptionists must have a high school diploma or GED before entering a certified medical transcription training program. Depending upon the training program, students will spend anywhere from six months to two years before they earn their certificate and possibly an associate's degree. During their training, medical transcriptionists study English, medical terminology, science, and transcription.

In the field of medical records and health care information management, coding associates and coding specialists must have a high school diploma and complete a coding training program. Programs may incorporate an AHIMA-approved coding certificate program or another formal coding training program. Coding specialists are also expected to have completed science coursework.

Technical training programs are available at vocational schools, community colleges, and through distance learning opportunities. Many programs are accredited or organized by the related employment association, the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity, or the American Health Information Management Association, for example. Association websites are a good place to search for educational opportunities.

Associate's Degree

Many health careers are available to individuals with an associate's degree. In fact, workers with a high school or associate's degree fill about half of all health care positions. With additional training and experience, an associate's degree can be parlayed into a more responsible and higher-paying position. Licensed practical nurses or licensed vocational nurses train for about a year in a state-approved training program at a vocational school or community college. Registered nurses, the largest healthcare occupation, can practice with an associate's degree, though most nurses have advanced education. An associate's degree in nursing provides an entry-level nursing degree focusing primarily on technical skills that can lead directly to work or to further education in the field.

Clinical laboratory technicians or medical laboratory technicians in an associate's degree program take comprehensive coursework and a substantial practicum to gain the skills and experience needed to work in a medical laboratory. Some programs can be pursued through different routes, such as a technical training program resulting in a certificate or an associate's degree program that covers technical training as well as general subjects.

Students applying to an associate's degree program must possess a high school diploma. Schools generally require a high school transcript, recommendations, and completion of an application. Students should choose an accredited school that is proven to meet educational standards and opens the door to federal financial aid programs.

Though colleges offering an associate's degree program are often chosen for their location, applicants should carefully evaluate competing programs before selecting a school. Applicants should consider the courses, practicum offerings, and class outcomes, as well as compare the success rates of graduates on national credentialing exams since passing the credentialing exam is critical to pursuing health career opportunities.

Bachelor's Degree

Several health careers such as registered nurses, medical or clinical laboratory technologists, health information technologists and administrators, and patient advocates depend on the completion of an appropriate bachelor's degree program. These positions require a substantial amount of technical training and general knowledge. A registered nurse with a bachelor's degree will be given far more responsibility and higher pay, than a licensed practical nurse. Clinical laboratory technologists, with the additional knowledge and skills obtained during a four-year program, possess more skills than a laboratory technician. Consequently, the technologist will participate in developing laboratory procedures and may supervise the technicians.

At this level, employers also want to know that employees are capable of learning and retaining large amounts of knowledge and have a commitment to education. Typically, it takes four years to complete a bachelor's degree. Applicants who have already completed an associate's degree may be able to transfer credits to a bachelor's degree program to lessen their time in the program.

To pursue a bachelor's degree, applicants must have a high school diploma or GED. Candidates must also complete an application to the college or university of their choice. The application generally includes a required fee, high school transcripts or transcripts from an associate's degree program, and recommendation letters. Most schools require national standardized testing, usually the SAT or ACT.

Given the significant number of colleges and universities that offer a bachelor's degree in nursing, information systems, and laboratory technology, applicants have many programs from which to choose. Applicants should consider a range of factors including proximity, cost, program specifics, school reputation, academic resources, graduate success rates, and graduates' performance on national licensing exams when selecting a school.

The cost of a bachelor's degree program should be carefully considered. The true cost of a program cannot be ascertained until an application and financial aid application is finalized. Once a financial aid award has been made, applicants can assess both the true cost of a program and the value of an education at one school versus another. Students pursuing financial aid awards should only apply to accredited schools since only accredited colleges and universities are eligible for federal financial aid awards.

Master's Degree

Some health careers depend upon attaining a master's degree for optimal opportunities. A master's degree in nursing is necessary to become an advanced practice nurse who may specialize and take on additional, significant responsibilities that a nurse with an associate's degree or bachelor's degree cannot. Advanced practice nurses work as nurse practitioners, certified nurse anesthetists, certified clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse midwives. In these roles, nurses perform many of the traditional responsibilities of physicians including diagnosing and treating common illnesses and injuries, as well as administering anesthesia.

To become certified in the healthcare privacy and security aspect of health information systems, workers must have either a bachelor's degree and four years of experience in healthcare management or a master's degree and two years of experience. Additional education has a direct effect on the ability to perform information system management tasks and, correspondingly, to one's rate of pay.

Physician assistants must obtain a master's degree before sitting for the licensing examination. A physician assistant is a highly paid member of the healthcare team with many of the responsibilities of a physician. After obtaining a bachelor's degree with sufficient science course work, physician assistants complete master's degrees covering much of the same information a physician covers in medical school, in addition to completing a medical internship.

A master's degree is, typically, a two-year program following the completion of a bachelor's degree. This level of education is resource intensive, requiring years of time and significant financial input. However, the rewards are substantial. With this level of education and training, health care workers can pursue well-paid positions with a great amount of responsibility. Schools must be carefully chosen for their reputation, the success of their graduates--notably, success on licensing examinations, their value, and an applicant's overall comfort with the school environment.

Doctorate Degree

This level of degree is generally associated with obtaining a Doctor of Medicine or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree. However, physician assistants and nurses also pursue doctorates, particularly if they are interested in specialization. A doctorate requires a substantial investment of time and money. Programs in these health careers generally take four years to complete after completing a bachelor's degree. Students with a related master's degree may be able to complete the requirements of the doctorate program in less time than someone without a previous degree.

Medical schools are highly competitive programs. Applicants must have successfully completed a bachelor's degree with substantial science and math coursework; have strong recommendations, preferably from those in the medical field; and have a strong score on the MCAT, the Medical College Admission Test.

Following the completion of a master's degree, physician assistants may pursue a clinical doctorate degree, a Doctor of Science Physician Assistant. This level of training is appropriate for physician assistants in specialty practice or those who wish to teach in a physician assistant program. Superior training may also add more value to employers and increase job offers.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is designed for registered nurses with a bachelor's degree and is a four-year graduate program. Nurses who wish to become advanced practice nurses and take on leadership positions in health care should consider this option.

Last Updated: 05/21/2014