Healthcare Degrees: Certificates, Associate & Online Training Info

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What kind of job can you get with a degree or certificate in healthcare? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses and healthcare degree and certificate programs.
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Studying Healthcare: Degrees at a Glance

Healthcare programs may cover a variety of areas within the field, including healthcare administration, health policy or medical office administration. Individuals working in the healthcare industry may work in doctor's offices, hospitals, clinics or nursing homes. The tasks involved in a career in healthcare depend on the position. For example, health service managers oversee the operations of a medical facility, while medical records technicians maintain the records of patient that visit a medical facility. Entry-level positions in the industry might only require having a certificate or completing an associate's degree program, but management and administrative positions often require possessing a bachelor's or master's degree.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that the healthcare and social assistance sector would experience the most job growth of all industries in the nation between 2010 and 2020. For example, the BLS reported that medical and health services management positions were expected to see 22% growth during 2010-2020, which was faster than the average for all occupations.

Associate's Certificate
Who is this degree for? Individuals seeking entry-level office and administrative positions within the healthcare industry Healthcare and non-healthcare professionals seeking entry- to mid-level positions within the healthcare industry
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Coding compliance specialist ($50,000 - with two years of experience)*
- Medical records technician ($31,000)*
- Medical assistant ($30,000)*
- Medical and health services manager ($86,000 - with a bachelor's degree)**
- Medical policy manager ($95,000 - with a bachelor's degree and four to six years of experience)*
Time to Completion About two years, full-time Anywhere from a few months to a year
Common Requirements - Roughly 10-15 courses covering the subject area
- Internship or practicum
- Most certificate programs consist of about six courses
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent - High school diploma or bachelor's degree, depending on the program
Online Availability Some programs are offered in blended and online formats Various programs and courses are available online

Sources: *Salary.com (figures as of December 2012), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).


Associate's Degree Programs in Healthcare

At the associate's level, healthcare studies can focus on medical coding, medical billing, healthcare business informatics or healthcare administration. Usually, each program is designed to prepare students for a career in its field of study. For example, a healthcare business informatics program prepares students to work with technological medical systems, such as computers, networks and data storage equipment. However, a medical coding program teaches students how to properly code medical bills and understand medical terminology so that they can send patient bills insurance companies.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some programs may prepare students for related certifications upon graduation
  • May give you an advantage over applicants who only have a certificate or high school diploma
  • Credits from the program may transfer towards a bachelor's degree if you decide to continue your education

Cons

  • Management positions and advancement opportunities usually require a bachelor's degree
  • Most programs have a broad curriculum, so you probably won't become an expert in any particular area
  • Degree may not be required for many entry-level medical administration and office positions

Courses and Requirements

Most associate's degree programs begin with general education courses, followed by courses specific to the particular degree program. Many programs offer some type of hands-on learning opportunity, such as an internship.

Medical billing and coding programs typically include courses in medical software, business writing, medical office procedures and medical terminology. Programs in healthcare business informatics include courses that cover data management, security concepts and networking. Healthcare administration and business services programs include basic medical-related courses like medical terminology and healthcare reimbursement. However, these programs also contain business courses in accounting, marketing, business law and organizational management.

Online Degrees

Many, but not all, associate's degree programs focusing on healthcare, including medical billing, coding and healthcare administration, are offered in online or blended formats. The online versions of these programs are comparable to the traditional versions, and you can expect to complete your studies in about the same amount of time. However, strictly online programs do not typically include internship opportunities.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

You can start preparing for your desired career path by obtaining a part-time job at a healthcare facility while attending school. Many entry-level positions in the healthcare industry only require a high school diploma, thereby making you eligible for them while earning your associate's degree. Having work experience may help you stand out against your competition when seeking a job in your specific field.

Being certified can also give you a boost over other job candidates. For example, the American Association of Medical Assistants awards the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) designation to assistant professionals who have completed an approved program and passed an exam. Each profession has different certifications, so aspiring healthcare workers may want to investigate the options before enrolling in a program.


Certificate in Healthcare Studies

Certificate programs focusing on healthcare are available for students without a degree, students who wish to supplement their bachelor's degree studies and graduate students seeking advanced healthcare training. You can find certificate programs in a variety of specializations within the healthcare industry, such as healthcare policy, healthcare administration, medical assisting, medical case management or healthcare management. Some schools allow credits earned in a certificate program to be applied towards a degree program, if a student chooses to continue their education.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can provide you with specific training in your field without reuqiring you to complete general education classes
  • May supplement your degree and open up job opportunities in additional sectors of the healthcare industry
  • Programs are usually flexible to accommodate working students

Cons

  • Most programs typically do not offer many elective classes
  • Certificate holders may face strong competition for jobs from candidates who have a degree and experience directly related to the position
  • Possessing a graduate-level certificate is rarely a requirement for most healthcare positions

Common Requirements

Although the number of courses in certificate programs is fairly consistent, the specific course topics depend on the type of certificate pursued. For example, a healthcare management certificate program might include courses about healthcare information systems, healthcare organizations and health economics, while a healthcare policy program consists of courses in public health policy, healthcare economics and health law. Medical assisting programs are designed for undergraduate students who don't have a degree. These programs usually have more course requirements than other certificate programs.

Online Options

You can find healthcare certificate programs offered completely online, the most of which are in healthcare administration and healthcare management. The coursework of these online programs is typically comparable to their on-campus counterparts, but may only offer limited elective class topics. Online programs are usually flexible and allow students to complete coursework at their convenience each week.

Stand Out with This Certificate

Some schools host student branches of healthcare clubs and associations. Students in these clubs may have the opportunity to attend conferences or events involving guest speakers from the healthcare industry or to visit local healthcare facilities. Students interested in a particular sector of the healthcare industry can learn specific details about that sector that they may not acquire from classroom learning. Additionally, the networking opportunities these clubs offer may lead to additional employment or internship opportunities while you're still in school.

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