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What You Can Do with an Associate Degree in Health Science

With an associate degree, you can jump into an entry-level healthcare career.

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An associate degree in health science provides the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-based knowledge and skills you need to succeed in a range of growing healthcare professions. This degree is a great starting point if you’re interested in qualifying for entry-level roles at the intersection of science and healthcare. With this education, you can enter the workforce prepared to contribute to many aspects of the healthcare system.

In this Article

Overview

An associate degree in health science can prepare you for roles that are behind the scenes or involve direct patient care. Your knowledge will be based on an interdisciplinary curriculum that includes STEM.

“Associate-level careers in health sciences can be very rewarding,” says Anna Zendell, PhD, MSW, senior faculty program director at Excelsior College. “People seeking health sciences degrees want to make a difference.”

Associate Degree in Health Science

An associate degree in health science typically includes a curriculum that provides a broad view of the healthcare industry through interdisciplinary coursework. Many programs offer the opportunity to focus on a range of clinical or nonclinical concentrations.

“Many health sciences degrees are flexible,” Zendell says. “At many colleges, the degree is often open to electives and career exploration.”

While some students use the degree as a foundation for earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree later, you can also use it to step into some clinical positions without further education.

“(Associate) health science degree programs are great for those traditional college-age students who are not interested in attending school for four years and those nontraditional students seeking a career change,” says Marcy McCarty, MBA, RT (R) (N), director of the Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences program and assistant professor of Healthcare Administration at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences.

While some students use the degree as a foundation for earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree later, you can also use it to step into some clinical positions without further education.

Prerequisites

A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum educational requirement to be admitted to a program in health science, and your transcript should reflect good grades in science and math-related subjects, McCarty says.

Curriculum

A health science curriculum is designed to give you a strong foundation in basic STEM coursework, along with the professional skills to pursue a career in your area of specialization.

Examples of the types of core courses you may find in a health science associate degree include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Computer and internet literacy
  • English composition
  • General chemistry
  • General psychology
  • Healthcare ethics
  • Medical terminology
  • Statistics

Depending on the program you choose and your goals, you may also be able to take introductory courses in these specialties:

Clinical and Training Requirements

Depending on your specialization, you may be required to complete a capstone project or get hands-on training in a healthcare setting.

Working in a professional setting gives you the chance to apply what you’ve learned in the classroom. Your program may refer to this experience as internships, externships, practicums, or fieldwork. Most programs award course credit for this work, and some employers may also provide a stipend to students.

Depending on your specialization, you may be required to complete a capstone project or get hands-on training in a healthcare setting.

If your specialty involves direct patient care, your training should focus on meeting requirements for professional licensure and/or certifications that your state requires.

Online Degree Options

An online degree can be a good choice for students who work, have family responsibilities to juggle, or don’t live near a college campus.

Online and campus curriculums are virtually the same. But online programs typically allow you to attend classes at your convenience while meeting established deadlines for assignments and exams.

You may also be able to finish your degree faster if your online program allows you to complete courses at your own pace, rather than following a quarter or semester schedule.

It’s important to note that while you’ll be able to complete theory-based coursework online, you may have to attend onsite labs and do clinicals, fieldwork, or any other hands-on training in person.

While an online degree can be convenient, it’s not for everyone. Online students must manage their work and have the motivation to succeed without the structure of a classroom program.

Worthwhile Concentrations to Pursue

While the core of an associate degree in health science provides a broad-based education, some programs allow you to concentrate on a specific clinical or nonclinical area.

Here are two concentrations to consider:

Healthcare Administration

A healthcare administrator works in roles that involve managing healthcare facilities and ensuring the efficient allocation of resources. These roles are usually behind the scenes rather than at the bedside.

At the associate degree level, roles typically involve assisting managers and administrators in their day-to-day duties, with varying degrees of independent responsibility. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of 32% from 2020 to 2030 for healthcare managers and administrators. This staggering demand is due largely to the increasing need for healthcare services as the number of older adults continues to grow.

Pharmacy Technician

A pharmacy technician works under the supervision of a pharmacist, assisting in tasks related to dispensing prescription medication accurately and safely. They also perform administrative tasks such as inventory control and insurance billing.

As pharmacists perform more clinical roles, like administering immunizations, and the demand for prescription medicine increases with the growing aging population, pharmacy technicians are performing more duties traditionally handled by pharmacists. The BLS projects 4% job growth for pharmacy technicians from 2020 to 2030.

Associate Degree vs. Bachelor’s Degree

An advantage of pursuing an associate degree is that you can qualify for a range of entry-level positions without a four-year degree. This can save you time and money and let you decide whether a field is right for you before committing to a bachelor’s degree.

“There is absolutely a benefit to starting with an associate degree for some students,” Zendell says. “Many students are working full time while earning their degrees, all while balancing work, family, and community roles. They will often take a break between degrees to test the waters and be sure this is what they really want to do before going further.”

While an associate degree can qualify you for entry-level positions, you may need a bachelor’s when you’re ready to move up to positions with more responsibility.

“The associate degree typically leads to entry-level careers, such as technical and assisting careers in radiology, dentistry, and in laboratories, or research and development,” Zendell says. “Career options in management and leadership begin to open up with a bachelor’s degree. Graduates enter healthcare delivery, advocacy, health education, health promotion, community health work, informatics, and more with their bachelor’s degrees.”

Careers with an Associate Degree in Health Science

Whether you plan to use an associate degree in health science to begin a lifelong career or serve as a path to more advanced roles, the degree can qualify you for a range of entry-level positions, McCarty says.

“Health science degree programs are unique because a student only needs the associate degree to practice in that specific discipline for many programs,” she says. “Many health science societies and accreditors only recommend/require an associate degree to meet the eligibility status for certification or licensure.”

A certification is a professional credential that demonstrates knowledge and expertise in a profession or specialty. States and employers sometimes require professionals to earn certification for employment. But even if they don’t, a professional credential is worth considering. They may:

  • Help you stand out in a field of job candidates
  • Position you for career advancement

Consider some of the potential careers you can pursue with a two-year degree:

Healthcare Administration


  • Job Description: At the associate-degree level, positions in healthcare administration typically involve assisting more advanced managers who oversee the resources of departments, facilities, or entire systems. Working in these entry-level assistant roles can often be the first step in a lifelong career in this area of healthcare.
  • Median Salary: $101,340 (at managerial levels; at the assistant level, the salary will be less)
  • Job Outlook: 32% growth from 2020 to 2030
  • Required Skills and Traits: Analytical skills, communication skills, detail-oriented
  • Available Certifications:
  • Certified Healthcare Access Manager (CHAM)
  • Certified Medical Manager (CMM)
  • Certified Professional in Healthcare Risk Management (CPHRM)

Health Informatics


  • Job Description: A health informatics technician maintains and reviews patient records and the coding of health information data. Their duties include organizing and updating patient data in clinical databases or registries.
  • Median Salary: $46,660
  • Job Outlook: 9% growth from 2020 to 2030
  • Required Skills and Traits: Analytical skills, detail-oriented
  • Available Certifications:

Medical Lab Technician


  • Job Description: A medical lab technician collects blood, urine, tissue, and other samples so they can be analyzed for disease and other conditions. Their duties can include working with patients to collect samples and using sophisticated equipment to provide accurate and useful data for patient care.
  • Median Salary: $57,800
  • Job Outlook: 11% growth from 2020 to 2030
  • Required Skills and Traits: Ability to use technology, detail-oriented, dexterity
  • Available Certifications:
  • American Medical Technologists (AMT)
  • Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT)
  • Phlebotomy Technician (PBT)

Medical Records Administrator


  • Job Description: A medical records administrator organizes, manages, and codes health information data. They use various classification systems to code and categorize patient information for databases and registries, process insurance reimbursements, and maintain patient histories.
  • Median Salary: $46,660
  • Job Outlook: 9% growth from 2020 to 2030
  • Required Skills and Traits: Analytical skills, detail-oriented
  • Available Certifications:

Health Science Writer


  • Job Description: A health science writer creates documents, articles, and other media related to a wide range of medical, scientific, and health-related topics for the general public. They often consult with medical professionals or research medical content to report on news involving research and developments in healthcare.
  • Median Salary: $78,060
  • Job Outlook: 12% growth from 2020 to 2030
  • Required Skills and Traits: Writing and research skills, critical thinking
  • Available Certifications:
  • Certified Medical Writing Professional (CMWP)
  • Medical Writer Certified (MWC)

Salaries and projected job outlook are from the BLS, 2021.

anna giorgi

With professional insight from:
Anna Giorgi
Contributing Writer

anna zendell

With professional insight from:
Anna Zendell, PhD, MSW
Senior Faculty Program Director for Graduate Health Sciences Degrees, Excelsior College

marcy mccarty

With professional insight from:
Marcy McCarty, MBA, RT (R) (N)
Program Director, Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences, and Assistant Professor, Bachelor of Science Healthcare Administration, Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences