Human Anatomy Degrees: Master's, Doctorate & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a human anatomy degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD and potential careers.
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Studying Human Anatomy: Degrees at a Glance

Degrees in human anatomy are only found at the graduate level. A graduate degree in anatomy might be for you if you desire a better understanding of human anatomy that can enhance your career goals in the medical or scientific field. A master's degree in human anatomy may qualify you for teaching at a community college or high school and can compliment your medical degree. With a PhD in human anatomy, you can become a postsecondary teacher or a researcher in the field.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for postsecondary teachers was expected to grow by 17%, while medical scientists were projected to see a 36% increase from 2010-2020. Work environments for the field might include universities, hospitals and research laboratories.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in gaining more knowledge of human anatomy to enhance their current career or to prepare for a PhD program People wanting to teach at universities or become involved in research
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual income) A master's program is often used as preparation to pursue a PhD.
- Education administrator ($84,000)*
- Postsecondary biological science teacher ($74,000)*
- Medical scientist ($76,000)*
Time to Completion Two years, full-time About five years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 12 graduate-level courses based on anatomy
- Written and oral examination
- Research project or thesis
- 15-20 graduate-level courses focused on anatomy
- Written and oral examinations
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree in a related science field
- Undergraduate courses in anatomy or science subjects
- GRE scores
- Bachelor's or master's degree in a related field
- GRE scores
- Letters of recommendation
Online Availability Yes No

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).


Master's Degree in Human Anatomy

You can enter a master's degree program in human anatomy after completing a bachelor's degree program. If teaching is something you're interested in, a master's degree in human anatomy can qualify you to teach certain courses at a community college. If you're currently a teacher or medical professional, the in-depth knowledge of human anatomy you gain from a master's degree program may enrich your existing career. Few new career paths are available if you have a master's degree in anatomy, so it is a good idea to know exactly what you hope to accomplish by obtaining the degree before committing. You'll typically need a PhD if you hope to open up new employment opportunities by obtaining a graduate degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Most programs take only two years to complete
  • A master's degree may enhance your current career in the health or medical field and can help prepare you for a PhD program
  • Some programs have a thesis and a non-thesis option, allowing you to tailor the program to your needs

Cons

  • Does not qualify you to teach at universities (some community colleges may hire you)
  • Some programs have very specific admissions requirements, which may take some early planning during your undergraduate education
  • Few careers require this degree, so spending the time and money it takes to complete the program may not give you much in return

Common Course Requirements

Most master's degree programs in human anatomy include courses in specific anatomy subjects and related topics. The structure of the human body and how it functions is usually the focus of this program. Related subjects include biochemistry, cell biology, histology, immunology, neurobiology, and physiology of tissues and organs. Depending on the program, there may be opportunities for independent research and teaching assistantships. If you choose a non-thesis option, you may take a broader range of courses or be required to take a course on teaching and submit a portfolio based on your knowledge and experience.

Online Degree and Course Info

Online degrees in anatomy do exist, but there are not many. Because of the physical nature of the field, being present for dissections and microscopic observations of cells and tissues is an important aspect of your education. An online program may require a practicum or some sort of hands-on experience in addition to your online coursework, so you still may have to go to the campus a few times a year. If you would much prefer to take an online master's program, it could be beneficial to find out how much hands-on learning you'll be able to participate in, since many courses combine lectures with lab work.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Choosing the thesis option in your master's degree program may be good preparation for future education if you decide to go on and get a PhD in the field. This way you can enter a PhD program with experience in research already under your belt.

Keeping up with the technology that is currently used in the field is advantageous as well. The field of human anatomy uses technology like microscopes and computer software programs for analyzing data. Getting as much experience as you can with the tools used for anatomy studies can benefit you after you graduate or continue your studies.


PhD Degree in Human Anatomy

After successful completion of a PhD, you can teach at the university level and conduct your own independent research. Most medical science careers require a PhD, and you may be able to find work at federal agencies as well. The biomedical and biotechnology industries conduct a significant amount of medical research and may have some solid career options for PhD holders.

The PhD program in anatomy generally takes about five years to complete; your first couple of years are often spent taking graduate-level courses, while your final few years are focused on the dissertation.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Opens up opportunities for high-level research and teaching positions
  • The dissertation gives you a chance to get experience conducting your own original research and may lead to job opportunities after you graduate
  • Employers who want applicants with a graduate degree in anatomy usually prefer to hire someone with a PhD rather than a master's

Cons

  • PhD programs can take more than five years to complete (on top of the time it takes to finish a bachelor's and possibly a master's)
  • The skills you can learn from the program have narrow applications and aren't useful for careers that don't directly deal with anatomy
  • May be difficult to get into a program (schools may only admit a couple students each year)

Common Course Requirements

Some programs are strictly focused on anatomy and others might combine anatomy with studies in cell biology or physiology. Your coursework in a PhD program may be somewhat similar to a master's program, but the PhD program requires a dissertation as well. You'll take some oral and written exams and usually complete a research project. You may have a number of elective options that allow you to focus your studies on a particular area of interest. Some of the courses you might take in a PhD program include:

  • Biomedical science and statistics
  • Embryology
  • Gross human anatomy
  • Histology
  • Conduct and techniques in research
  • Neurobiology systems

Online Degree and Course Info

No online PhD degree programs in human anatomy currently exist. Much of the coursework and research requires you to physically observe and manipulate human cells and tissues, which is difficult to do without the proper equipment and research labs. You may take a course or two in an online format, but most of your courses will take place in a classroom or lab.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you decide to use your PhD to teach at a university, you may try for a tenured position. It takes at least five years before you can qualify for tenure, but it can greatly increase your job security once it is attained.

Whether you're doing research for a university or independent industry, knowledge of relevant and current technology may give you advantages when applying for a new position or trying to conduct new research. You may be exposed to new technologies during doctoral coursework or while conducting research for your projects, but be sure to take any additional opportunities you may have. Schools often have centers that are working on a variety of science-related research, so you should try to get involved with any extra activities that pertain to your area of interest. You can find out what kind of research a school is a working on before you enroll.

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