Health Science Associate’s Degrees: Curriculum & Career Options
Get your health care career in gear with an associate’s degree in health science.
Health care is one of the fastest growing fields in the nation. Not only is the population growing, but a major portion of it is aging. This is creating a huge demand for professionals across the spectrum of the health care industry.
Because of this, your choosing a career in health care is not only smart from a matter of practicality, but also serves a vital social need. These days you do not necessarily need to pursue a clinical role, such as a doctor or nurse, to find a stable niche in health care. There are many ways to help serve patients and the wider community from the perspective of health and wellness. One way is to start your career in health care by pursuing a degree in health science. Let’s take a look at an Associate’s in Health Science.
Why Get an Associate’s in Health Science
If you are eager to get started in a health care career but don’t want to spend a lot of time in school, an associate’s degree program can get you up and running in approximately two years, if you go to school full time. An associate’s degree enables you to put a credential on your resume and start working in your field two years before your peers, who chose to pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree.
This can work to your advantage in a number of ways:
First, you will be able to start accruing real-world experience in health care. Education is very important on a resume, but work experience is sometimes seen as more valuable by some employers. As you work, you can learn what interests you about health care and what particular concentration you might want to pursue as a career.
With a two-year degree under your belt, you can take your credits and transfer them to a four-year institution, where you can complete your full undergraduate degree. If you have taken time to apply your AA degree in a working situation, you will have likely gained a perspective on the field so that when you return to complete a bachelor’s you will have a better idea of which specific courses will serve you best in the real world.
When you approach your education and career as a series of well-considered steps, you can achieve far more success than students who work toward a degree without full awareness of what awaits them in the working world. Matriculating with an associate’s degree in health science will allow you to make your plans with full knowledge of what lies ahead.
What Can You Do with Your Degree
The associate’s degree in health science gets your foot in the door to a health care career. You can use it to find a job in a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office and see first-hand what is expected of professionals in these venues. While you might be performing a supporting role, you can see what is involved for every role. Very often these entry level jobs offer a lot of insight into how organizations actually operate without requiring a full commitment.
An associate’s degree in health science is not merely a stepping stone. It launches a fulfilling career that will serve you for a lifetime. Consider some of the potential careers you can pursue with a two-year degree:
Health Care Administration.
With a two-year degree, you can get your feet wet in administration. You might work under a department head, assisting with daily tasks and helping to implement long-term projects. Your two-year degree will give you the educational background to have a perspective on the issues at stake for your department. You will also be able to see how even the daily tasks have relevance to the wider organization, and even to the community.
Medical Record Administrator.
Patient records are the life-blood of a hospital. Doctors rely on accurate records to make determinations for surgery and in making a treatment plan. You will be able to facilitate the efficient access to records that doctors and nurses rely upon to provide the best care.
This is sometimes a subset of a health care administration concentration, but can also be offered independently. For this career path, you will need to be proficient in Information Technology as it relates to healthcare. You must also have knowledge of database creation and management. Knowledge of cybersecurity issues will also be a great help, as sometimes cyber criminals have been known to hack hospital databases.
Medical Laboratory Technician.
You will gain valuable experience running a medical lab, including retrieving and storing specimens, and performing the procedures to come to a diagnosis for a patient.
Health Science Writer.
Though this is often considered the domain of a person with a four-year degree, you can focus your degree on both writing and health science to land a job in the communications department of a hospital or university medical department.
Any health sciences program is by its very nature, an interdisciplinary course that provides students with a broad overview of the health care industry. Students can then focus on a particular concentration, or specialty. Programs are often divided according to the particular specialties they offer.
Most programs are based around a core curriculum. The core classes are intended to give you an overview of the field and a broader context into which you can place your specific knowledge. When you select your core classes, it might be beneficial to consider whether you intend to pursue a four-year degree later, as you want to be certain to take the classes that will also satisfy the requirements for later learning.
Here is a selection of core classes that you might encounter in your education:
- Topics in Health Care. This course will give you an overview of the general topics that you are likely to encounter as a health care professional.
- Health Care Systems. This course will show you how the wider industry operates. You will study different provider models and how they have evolved over time. Here, you can see the importance of various payment systems, from Medicaid and Medicare to standard insurance.
- Medical Ethics. This course typically discusses how health care systems distribute resources. Ethics courses frequently ask you to question your assumptions about what is right and wrong, and may even touch on some very difficult questions that will be immediately applicable to your life as a health care professional.
- Medical Terminology. This course is vital to any and every health care professional. No matter what your later concentration is, this course will provide you with the vocabulary you need to thrive in the medical environment.
Concentration: Health Care Administration
This is a popular concentration that can include management as well as information technology classes. Studying administrative issues within the specific context of health care will focus your learning towards your chosen industry. Some courses you might take include:
- Medical Billing. This course will go into some depth on the issues of billing insurance or Medicare and Medicaid. Since no hospital or doctor’s office runs on hopes and dreams, this focus on finance is vital to the life of any administration.
- Intro to Medical Administration. There are specific skills that you will need in your health care career and this class will illuminate the particular issues you will need to master.
- Healthcare Technology. You will study software packages as well as database issues that are standard in health care today. Keeping track of schedules and data security is often frequently covered.
Concentration: Pharmacy Technician
Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists and work with patients to answer questions and to provide information about the medicines they distribute. Pharmacy technicians are found in hospitals, retail drugstores and mail-order pharmacies, among other places. In fact, this concentration has its own national certificate, provided by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board upon successful completion of their exam. Some of the courses a pharmacy tech might take include:
- Pharmacy Math. You will need to know the metric system, in addition to other mathematical concepts.
- Inventory Methods. It is vital for you to know how to maintain the inventory of a pharmacy.
- Externship. This is a practicum that will give you some real-world experience in a pharmacy. This experience may help you land your first job.
All associate’s degrees include requirements for general education. Therefore, you will need to take classes in humanities, natural sciences and social sciences, though individual schools and departments will have their own particular names for these subject areas.
General education courses are intended to give students a broader education and can be a vital part of your education in that they challenge you in ways that career-focused coursework does not.
An associate’s degree in health science is a fantastic educational stepping-stone towards a long term career goal. Once you have your two-year degree you can build on it with other certificates, degrees or practical experience. There’s no time like the present, so start seeking your associate’s degree program today.
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