Health Science Major Overview
Choosing a health science major prepares you for a robust and versatile career in a large interdisciplinary health care field. You’ll be the general assistant to a medical team or you may choose to specialize in one particular area under the enormous health science umbrella and earn an advanced degree. 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 might best utilize your interests and skills.
Good question. Health science combines science and health care and melds these into a number of career fields that are committed to delivering quality care to patients, no matter what the population. You may choose to provide superior service to your key interest group in a number of ways, but no matter which area you choose, you’ll use science, engineering, math and technology (STEM) to achieve your goal. In health science, which is traditionally perceived to be an amalgam of western disciplines, you could even find yourself using alternative medicine or spiritual healing arts—that’s how broad the field is. But all will include STEM fields in some permutation.
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:
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 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
Two-year 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
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
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 health care or health science. Some prepare graduates to conduct research or implement solutions to health care issues. 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 looking for the flexibility of an online program, you’ll find plenty to offer as far as online and hybrid health science degree programs. 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 Courses
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:
- 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:
- Epidemiology and biostatistics
- Public health practices
- Health care economics
- Health informatics
- Environmental health
- Health care 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:
- Health care management
- Health care 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:
- Clinical competencies in health care
- 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.
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.
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 health care in general. With a 19 percent growth figure over the next decade, that equates to around 2.3 million new jobs, which is more jobs than any other group of occupations.
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, here are some examples of the variety available in top careers in the health sciences field, according to PublicHealthOnline.org:
- Dietitians and Nutritionists
- Medical Assistants
- Occupational Therapists
- Nurses and Nurse Practitioners
- Dental Assistants
- Medical and Clinical Lab Technicians
- Nuclear Medicine Technologists
- Nurses and Nurse Practitioners
- All Radiology, Medical Imaging and Ultrasound 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
- Arts Therapist Using Dance, Drama or Art
- Exercise Physiologist
- Alternative or Holistic Medicine Career
Use our comprehensive guide to explore the following essential topics about health science majors and careers so you’re fully informed when you choose your accredited school and degree program:
Make Your Move
Whether you want to help patients live healthier, better lives or perform research that could eliminate a deadly virus, it all starts by earning your degree. Now that you know more about the health sciences and the many options available to you, your next step should be to find the right school program that will help you get started on the path to making your goal a reality. It’s as easy a clicking Find Schools and requesting free information from the colleges that fit your education and lifestyle needs.
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