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All About Health Science: Degrees & Careers

Read our comprehensive guide to the many careers you can pursue with a health science major.

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Home » Health Science

What Is Health Science?

Health science combines science and healthcare into a number of career fields that are committed to improving the healthcare industry and delivering quality care to patients, no matter what the population. You can work to improve individual and public health in a number of ways, but no matter which area you choose, you’ll use science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to achieve your goal.

Health Science as a Major

Choosing a health science major can prepare you for a range of careers in the large and interdisciplinary healthcare field. Health Science is a robust and versatile major; it can be general enough to give you flexibility in your future career, or can be the foundation for specializations like radiography and nuclear medicine.

Those who major in health sciences may work in schools, hospitals, government agencies, in public health or administration, or for non-profit groups. Your choices are virtually limitless in this dynamic and critical health care industry.

In order to help you navigate this broad spectrum of degrees and careers, we’ve created a guide to health science majors, degree programs, career info, and salary and job growth data that can help you hone in on where you want to focus your interests and skills.

What You Can Do with a Health Sciences Degree

Just as many other career fields offer the option to work up front with patients or behind the scenes in technology support, your job in health sciences will also provide the choice of either working clinically or in the more academic and research arenas. Where you work will of course depend upon where your interests lie. The website PublicHealthOnline.org says health science careers can generally take five different paths. These consist of the following services and technologies:

Diagnostic services: This involves treating or initially diagnosing a health problem through monitoring new and existing problems and following up on any abnormalities with labs, such as advising a mammogram for a breast abnormality.

Therapeutic services: You’ll help patients heal over a short or prolonged period of time by providing direct care, treatment plans, counseling services and education about their illness or issues.

Support services: This includes the large and crucial group of aides and assistant type roles—from medical assistants to veterinary assistants—that support primary care providers and patients in all areas of health care, including psychiatric, medical equipment and home health areas.

Health informatics: If your strength is technology and you want to work in the health care industry, this area of health science is for you. Health informatics is the application of information technology (IT) to the planning, delivery, and management of health care services.

Biotechnology research and development: Moving into more research- and-scientific areas of health science, biotechnology research and development workers study disease and invent treatments and antidotes by using biological processes and organisms to manufacture products intended to better our health and quality of life.

The History and Evolution of Health Sciences

Charting the history of health sciences is as all-encompassing as documenting the history of health care itself. The subject is so vast, you can even earn a degree in the history of health science—or get your master’s or doctorate in this interdisciplinary subject so you can go on to teach its evolution to students.

Health science has evolved as society, industry and technology have evolved. In ancient times there was no Industrial Revolution yet or the chemically (and other) induced toxins it produced so industry-related diseases were not evident in society. As society and its stratification progressed, it was necessary for health care to grow as need for it and its solutions evolved.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information counters that health science has adapted as our species has adapted, saying that as the environment changes the tools used to accomplish the tasks needed, such as finding solutions for disease, have changed too.

“Over the one hundred-year history of the evolution of health sciences, the field has used specialty education as the mechanism for differentiating itself…and for acquiring the knowledge and skills to succeed in the profession. Changing conditions require a continual review of that specialty education and a willingness to modify it in order to prepare it for the ever-changing environment.

And as technology becomes an everyday part of our lives, so does the need for its use in health science as a primary method to cure and prevent disease, and as a daily tool in routine health care administration and communication.

Health Science Degree Programs

Health science degree programs are available at every degree level, and each will prepare you to perform different roles within the health care industry. The most common health science degree is the bachelor in health science, and most of these programs are general focus curriculums that prepare you to either take a clinical or pre-professional track. Let’s take a look at the general purpose of each degree level in the field:

Associate’s Degree in Health Science

An associate’s degree in health science is a great and practical way to start your healthcare career. An associate’s degree generally takes two years to complete and many programs offer a wide range of specialty areas for you to pursue. Once you have completed the degree, you can begin to work in your chosen field. While your peers in four-year programs are working on term papers, you will be gaining valuable experience that will help inform your career for years to come.

Two-year programs can prepare you for success in a wide range of specific disciplines. You can focus your education on administration, for instance, and add a few extra management or accounting courses to your degree to help you hit the ground running in your first job. Others might prefer to study a clinical field such as dental hygienist.

When you matriculate with an associate’s degree, you will have transferable credit that you can apply to your education later. You could choose to work for a few years before returning for an undergraduate degree, or you might choose to apply your associate’s degree to the workforce while taking courses in your off hours.

Associate’s degree programs are readily available, and are particularly useful for those who currently hold a certificate or are working in health care and want to complete a general overview degree. Completing the program will allow you to transfer credits toward your bachelor’s degree program and begin working toward a specialization in administration, health care informatics or education (or other area of health sciences). You may also find that the prestige of degree completion could help you advance in your current job.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Health Sciences

A four-year program in health science is likely to be mapped out with the only possible end being a bachelor’s degree. This approach will provide a thorough humanities education with a degree that is broad-based but with a focused health care specialty area.

One educational advantage to pursuing a four-year degree at a single institution is that you get an integrated experience at a college that is likely to provide the resources you need to succeed. For instance, a full four-year institution may have laboratory facilities that are state-of-the-art, whereas a community college may not have the endowment or state funding to support the very latest resources.

While the bachelor’s degree in health sciences still embraces the interdisciplinary nature of the field, it provides many options for students to prepare for specific yet different careers in health science. Here are some examples of possible bachelor’s programs in health sciences:

  • The Pre-Professional Studies track provides a solid foundation for anyone interested in a medical career. This program prepares you to move into post-graduate programs that specialize in advanced areas such as chiropractic, optometry, public health and such.
  • Health Care Studies programs provide a liberal arts and humanities base, and help you ready for entry-level positions within the health care industry.
  • Advancement Programs are equivalent to degree completion programs for those already working in the industry with a two-year degree who desire to ultimately move on and pursue graduate degrees or advance within their current industry.
  • Health Care Informatics is for those who plan to specialize in technology and the use of electronic health records.
  • Public Health tracks are specifically targeted to those who want to pursue a career in the public health service, and educate students in public health principles and global health issues.
  • Research tracks put students directly into the health science arena and provide an opportunity to study biomedical sciences, data, epidemiology and biostatistics in preparation for a career in research.

Master’s Degrees in Health Sciences

With few exceptions, senior level professionals in health science will want to earn a master’s degree. More and more, a graduate degree is expected for top-level executive roles. When you achieve this level of education, your earnings may see a significant rise along with your personal satisfaction in providing the very best service to the institutions and patients you serve.

For students who want to move into administration or public health, a master’s degree in health science (MHS) allows you to hone in on your area of interest and become a leader in research, administration, policy, advocacy or education. Most two-year master’s degree programs offer the opportunity to specialize in regulatory affairs, research or administration, or health care quality. The MHS also helps currently employed professionals expand their skills. Other related master’s degree programs commonly pursued by professionals with an interest in health sciences include the Master of Public Health (MPH), the Master of Nursing and the Master of Health Administration.

Doctorate in Health Sciences

The Doctor of Health Science (DHS or DHSc) is typically a highly specialized advancement degree designed to ready professionals for senior roles in healthcare or health science. Some prepare graduates to conduct research or implement solutions. Another track in a doctorate program may be to prepare you to teach in advanced academic and clinical settings.

Online Degree Options

If you’re concerned that an online program may offer different curriculum than a traditional program, you’ll be relieved to know that the coursework should be nearly identical and you’ll have access to your professors and classmates, just as you would in a brick and mortar school. If you are choosing a clinical track where you may need to complete a practicum or garner hands-on experience (such as a phlebotomist, where you’ll need to complete a number of blood draws on live specimens), you may need to be on campus for some of your classes.

Make sure your school or courses are accredited by a regional or professional commission or agency so you’re sure you’ve graduated from a quality program. Accreditation is the seal of approval issued by peers within the educational system and industry who conduct frequent examination of the school and its coursework to ensure its tenets and curriculum are of the highest quality and currency within the industry and meet its standards.

Employers prefer to hire graduates of accredited schools, and accreditation ensures that your credits will transfer should you choose to pursue further education.

Additionally, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes several accrediting agencies based upon the location of an institution within the United States or its territories. If your school doesn’t hold professional accreditation, make sure it has been regionally approved and honored.

Health Science Coursework

As you consider the areas of health science that might best fit your skills and interests, learning what you’ll study at each degree level may help you understand what track or degree will fit your goals. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the health science courses you’ll study at each level of your education.

What You’ll Study in Associate’s Degree Courses

Your associate’s degree program lays the groundwork for your health sciences career, so you can expect to take overview and introductory courses that provide the general foundation for your future education, yet which prepare you for some entry-level roles. Here are some example classes you might take:

Associate’s Coursework

Human anatomy and physiology

Ethics in health care

Biology principles

Basics of chemistry

What You’ll Study in Bachelor’s Degree Courses

Besides completing some humanities and liberal arts courses, you can expect to take classes such as these in your research or administrative track of a health science bachelor’s degree program:

Bachelor’s Coursework

Epidemiology and biostatistics

Public health practices

Healthcare economics

Health informatics

Environmental health

Healthcare quality management

In addition, you may be required to complete a capstone project under the guidance of a professor or supervisor.

What You’ll Study in Master’s Degree Courses

You’ll study topics specific to your health science specialty as you progress into post-graduate degree programs. Depending upon where and in which context you want to work, your master’s degree program should be customized to your specialization. Expect courses to include the following:

Master’s Coursework

Healthcare management

Healthcare policy

Public health

Health services leadership

Risk management

Disease management

Health education

What You’ll Study in Doctoral Degree Courses

Depending upon which track you decide upon, coursework in the DHSc or DHS program should prepare you to conduct research or lead at a high or global level. Some of the courses you can expect to take include the following:

Doctorate Coursework

Clinical competencies in healthcare

Health policy–planning and management 

Health care education

Patient safety

Medical writing

Community health promotion

Global health issues

Global epidemiology

Health law

You should be required to gain experience through an internship and practicum as well, and as in most doctorate programs, you’ll have a doctoral thesis to prepare and present at the completion of your program.

Health Science Practicum

As a budding professional, you will want to put your education into practice. This applies to all students, not only those who are working towards professions in clinical practice. When you complete a practicum, you will not only have credits added to your transcript, but you will also have valuable, real world experience when you sit down for your first interview with a potential employer. In fact, you might be able to convert a practicum into a job opportunity, or lay career groundwork with a network of contacts and referral sources.

Some schools offer the opportunity to pursue a practicum overseas. You could put your knowledge of public health to the test in a European country and learn how other cultures approach the public good. Alternately, you might study the impact of environment on health in a third world nation. If you have the desire to study abroad to see different approaches to healthcare, pursue a program that offers this as an option. Even if your school does not have such a program, you might be able to participate in another school’s international program and then transfer the credit back to your alma mater. Always seek out solutions that will work best for you and your goals. Your advisor is sure to support you in finding the options that suit you best.

Examples of Health Science Careers

Many of the career fields within health sciences involve technician and assistant jobs as well as technology and informatics roles. The great news is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a much faster than average job growth for most careers in health sciences and for healthcare in general. With an 15% growth figure through 2029, that equates to around 2.4 million new jobs, which is more jobs than any other group of occupations.

Health Sciences Career Growth

15%

job growth

2.4

million new jobs

The BLS cites an aging population and federal health insurance reform as the primary reasons for this spurt of growth. Nonetheless, it spells good news for those with a calling for helping people and animals through quality health care.

As health sciences is an unusually broad field with an unlimited array of choices, your salary and job growth may depend on the area you enter as well as the education you earn. Here are some examples of the variety available in top careers in the health sciences field, according to PublicHealthOnline.org:

Top Careers in Health Science

  • Audiologists
  • Dietitians and Nutritionists
  • Medical Assistants
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Nurses and Nurse Practitioners
  • Dental Assistants
  • Medical and Clinical Lab Technicians
  • Nuclear Medicine Technologists
  • Radiology, Ultrasound, and Medical Imaging Careers

If you’re looking for a career within health sciences that is somewhat out of the conventional path associated with health care, here are a few specialized areas you might explore that will allow you to utilize your particular skill set:

  • Orthotists and Prosthetics Designer
  • Chiropractor
  • Arts Therapist Using Dance, Drama or Art
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Alternative or Holistic Medicine Career