Are you considering pursuing a path in the health sciences?
If so, this guide is for you. In it, you'll find everything you need to know to get started on the road to earning a health science degree. From degree programs to careers you can land upon graduating and their trajectories, we've included everything you need to get the ball rolling.
What Is Health Science?
First things first: Let's define what this field of study actually is.
Health science is a term that refers to a group of disciplines all related to the delivery of healthcare through the use of science, engineering, mathematics, and technology.
What Are Health Science Degrees?
The educational path for health sciences doesn't look the same for everyone. Programs are offered at multiple levels and in various formats, including online learning.
Here is a quick look at what an associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral program in the health sciences may entail:
Associate's Degree in Health Science
If you are eager to begin a career in healthcare but want to get your foot in the door without spending a lot of time or money on school, an associate's degree in health science might be right for you.
This degree typically takes two years to complete and sets you up to begin work in your chosen discipline. In addition to general education courses, you'll take core courses in healthcare, medical ethics, medical terminology, and more.
Depending on the program, you may also be able to specialize in a specific concentration, such as healthcare administration or a pharmacy technician track.
Some students choose to put the transferable credits they earn from an associate's degree in health sciences towards furthering their education later on.
For those already working in the healthcare industry, an associate's degree can give them the prestige and education necessary to advance in their career.
Bachelor's Degree in Health Science
In a bachelor's degree program, a health science major typically takes an interdisciplinary approach by learning about numerous health disciplines in a single program. Such programs often offer a mix of coursework, labs, and experiential learning so that students are equipped for a wide variety of roles upon graduating.
Undergraduate students not only learn about the behavioral, natural, and social sciences, but also hone interpersonal skills such as leadership, problem-solving, and communication.
In the first two of years of study, students can expect to take several courses in biology, such as:
- Molecular biology
- Anatomy and physiology
They'll also attend chemistry labs and take courses in the social sciences, such as:
In the last two years, health science majors can expect to take courses that focus on analyzing healthcare delivery and health systems management. They may also take classes like:
- Environmental health
- Health informatics
- Leadership and management
- Global health
- Public health practices
Lastly, select programs may offer or even require some sort of health science practicum, which may involve completing an internship or gaining initial work experience in a healthcare setting.
Once you complete a bachelor's degree in health science, you can either directly enter the workforce or use the many prerequisites you earned to go on to pursue a more specialized master's program.
Master's Degree in Health Science
If you're interested in attaining a senior-level position, you will likely need to earn a master's degree — although there are some exceptions.
Fortunately, after earning a bachelor's in health science, there are plenty of different master's programs you can choose from, depending on your intended career path and interests.
Most two-year master's in health science (MHS) programs offer the following specializations:
- Regulatory affairs
- Healthcare quality
However, there are a number of other degree programs to choose from,
- Master of Public Health (MPH)
- Master of Nursing
- Master of Health Administration
Examples of masters-level courses include:
- Healthcare management
- Healthcare policy
- Public health
- Risk management
- Disease management
- Health services leadership
Doctoral Degree in Health Science
The highest degree one can achieve in the health sciences is a doctorate, such as a Doctorate of Health Sciences (DHSc) or a Ph.D.
A DHSc is designed for students who wish to expand their expertise in ways that can translate their research into real work practice. A Ph.D., on the other hand, is designed for students who wish to demonstrate expertise in a narrow discipline in order to advance knowledge in that subject as a scholar.
Both degrees prepare you for post-secondary teaching opportunities, should you choose to pursue them.
Who Should Study Health Science?
Although you don't need any specific set of traits to flourish in a health science program or career, it may be an especially good fit if any of the following are true:
- You're interested in understanding the underlying causes of disease
- You want to learn how to analyze human behavior
- You care about promoting health and wellness
- You have sharp analytical skills
- You are a natural leader
- You want to make a difference in your community
- You see room for improvement in the healthcare industry
- The rising prices of healthcare worry you
- You have eclectic academic interests
- You enjoy technical fields
- You like taking a practical, hands-on approach to learning
- You want an interdisciplinary and well-rounded education
Career Options With a Health Science Degree
You may be wondering: What can I do with a health science degree? The short answer is, a lot!
Here are some of the many ways you can put your health sciences degree to good use:
Some health science graduates choose to work as medical researchers either in private laboratories, like those in the pharmaceutical industry, or through government-run facilities.
Here are some examples of specific research roles:
- Bioterrorism researcher
- Clinical research director
- Director of applied research
- Research analyst
- Research biostatistician
- Data analyst
- Research scientist
- Survey researcher
There is a growing need for qualified individuals to take on administrative roles. Administrators may work in hospitals, home health care, assisted living facilities, or nursing homes. They have duties that may include:
- Information technology
- Public Relations
Some examples of relevant job titles are:
- Medical records administrator
- Medical secretary
- Health unit coordinator
Public health is defined as the science of protecting and promoting the health and safety of communities by way of education, policy, and research. As one of the fastest-growing sectors in healthcare, there are many public health jobs currently available, such as:
- Technical medical writer
- Public health journalist
- Program coordinator
- Outreach specialist
- Nurse educator
- Academic policy advisor
- Bioterrorism researcher
- Emergency response specialist
- State environmentalist
- Vaccine researcher
- Addiction treatment program developer
Such positions are typically based at nonprofits or government-run community centers and involve providing support and care for underserved communities.
If you're tech-savvy, you may want to pursue one of the following careers in technical instrumentation:
- Dialysis technician
- Electrocardiograph technician
There are a variety of communications jobs within the health sciences field. Some examples include:
- Biomedical illustrator
- Biomedical photographer
- Health care interpreter
- Health science librarian
- Health sciences writer
If you're interested in providing psychological care, one of these careers in the health sciences may be for you:
- Aging and human development paraprofessional
- Alcohol or drug counselor
- Medial social worker
- Psychologist or counselor
Similar to counseling, there are a number of health science roles that involve providing rehabilitative therapies. They include:
- Art therapist
- Exercise science
- Massage therapist
- Occupational therapist
- Physical therapist
- Physical therapy aide
- Speech/language pathologist
- Vocational recreation specialist
Students who complete a health sciences program may choose to continue their education in order to work in the field of medicine and work directly with patients.
There is a wide variety of careers in medicine. Popular career paths include:
- Medical assistant
- Osteopathic physician
- Physician assistant
- Surgical technician
Another branch of medicine is sports medicine, which includes careers like:
- Athletic trainer
- Exercise physiologist
- Sports medicine technician
One specialty students with a health science degree chose to pursue is dentistry. The main positions in dentistry require varying levels of education. They include:
- Dental assistant
- Dental hygienist
- Dental laboratory technician
For those who want to apply their health science knowledge to the care of animals, becoming a veterinarian or veterinarian technician may be right up their alley.
If you want to someday work in a pharmacy, earning your degree in health sciences is an excellent start. Someday, you could become a pharmacist, pharmacologist, or pharmacy technician.
Nursing is an important and lucrative career. A health science degree can lead to the following nursing positions:
- Clinical nurse specialist
- Home health aide
- Nurse anesthetist
- Nurse assistant
- Nurse midwife
- Nurse practitioner
- Registered nurse
Vision care includes a number of different positions, including:
- Ophthalmic medical personnel
- Optometric assistant
There are several career paths that involve working with radiological technology. They include:
- Nuclear medicine technologist
- Radiation therapist
- Sonographer/ultrasound technologist
For those who are especially interested in the mathematical or scientific aspects of health science, an engineering or science job may be the perfect fit. Such positions include:
- Biomedical engineer
- Biomedical equipment technician
- Medical physicist
Some health science majors become emergency medical technicians (otherwise known as EMTs). People in this position provide basic life support for patients in emergency situations and during the commute to the hospital. They must first undergo emergency training.
Dietetics and Nutrition
Dietetics involves using knowledge about food and nutrition to help prevent conditions and promote health. In this field, you can become a dietician or a dietetic technician, although there are other related roles as well.
Lastly, some health science students choose to switch up the roles and become health sciences educators themselves. There are health educators in a variety of settings, including at the postsecondary level.
Where Do Health Sciences Majors Work?
Healthcare professionals work in an array of settings, including:
- Public health organizations
- Private physicians’ offices
- Medical or research laboratories
- Rehabilitation facilities
- Government agencies
- Private agencies
- Consulting firms
- Insurance companies
- Manufacturing companies
- Pharmaceutical companies
Benefits of Completing a Health Science Degree
Completing a bachelor's in health science is a rewarding venture. Here are five impressive benefits:
1. High Pay
There is a wide variety of positions you can acquire with a health sciences degree, and their salaries vary significantly. Here are some common careers along with their median salaries:
- Home health aide: $25,280
- EMT: $35,400
- Massage therapist: $42,820
- Athletic trainer: $48,440
- Clinical laboratory technician: $53,120
- Audiologist: $77,600
- Chiropractor: $$70,340
- Dietition: $61,270
- Dental hygienist: $76,220
- Speech-language pathologist: $79,120
- Occupational therapist: $84,950
- Veterinarian: $95,460
- Dentist: $159,200
- Physician assistant: $112,260
- Optometrist: $115,520
- Nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and nurse practitioner: $115,800
- Pharmacist: $128,090
As you can already see, there isn't one set path for health science. Quite the contrary, there are a vast number of roles one can assume with a health sciences degree under their belt.
While some go one to work directly with patients, others hold managerial or even creative positions. With this degree, the options are seemingly endless.
To add to this flexibility, many schools also offer health science programs in a fully online format, so you can complete your coursework from anywhere, anytime.
3. Valuable Knowledge and Skills
As a health science major, you'll learn about things that matter — to you, to your community, and to people all around the globe.
By the end of your program, you'll be able to:
- Apply different approaches to the study of illness, injury, and disease
- Critically analyze the quality of healthcare delivery
- Help develop solutions related to the impact of aging on healthcare
- Articulate important issues in acute and long-term care from both the patient's and practitioner's perspective
- Analyze the various factors that affect health and healthcare
- Perform health-related research by using various methods
4. Graduate School Options
One of the best aspects of earning a degree in health sciences is that it sets you up to specialize in any number of subjects. This degree lays the groundwork for those who want to continue with their education by way of earning a master's degree or Ph.D.
5. Excellent Job Prospects
According to a report in Forbes, 13 of the 20 fastest-growing jobs are in the healthcare industry, and earning a health science degree can set you up for success in each of those fields.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in healthcare occupations is projected to grow by a whopping 15% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average for all jobs. Moreover, by 2029, 2.4 million jobs in this industry will be added, which is more than any of the other occupational groups listed. This rapid growth is largely due to an aging population and a greater demand for various healthcare services.
As far as salary, the median annual wage for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations (including roles like registered nurses, physicians, and dental hygienists) in 2019 was $68,190, which is significantly higher than the median annual wage for occupations, which fell at $39,810. Healthcare support occupations (such as home health aides, medical transcriptionists, and occupational therapy assistants), however, had a median annual wage of $28,470.
Health Science Occupations on the Rise
According to data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of the health science careers with the best outlooks is a physician assistant. This is evidenced by the following statistics:
- The 2019 median pay was $112,260 per year or $53.97 per hour
- The typical entry-level education is a master's degree
- The number of jobs in 2019 was 125,500
- The job growth from 2019 to 2029 is projected at 31%
However, there are a number of other health science occupations that are expected to keep growing in the coming years. In order of least to most, here is how much each position is projected to grow between the years 2019 and 2029:
- Pharmacy technicians: 7%
- Nuclear medicine technologists: 7%
- Radiation therapists: 9%
- Radiologic technologists: 9%
- Surgical technologists: 9%
- Optometrists: 10%
- Dental assistants: 11%
- Dieticians and nutritionists: 11%
- Medical and clinical laboratory technicians: 11%
- Registered nurses: 12%
- Audiologists: 16%
- Occupational therapists: 18%
- Respiratory therapists: 21%
- Physical therapists: 22%
- Medical assistants: 23%
- Nurse practitioners: 26%
- Speech-language pathologists: 27%
If you're interested in pursuing any of the many jobs related to the healthcare field, earning a health science degree is an excellent stepping stone. Whether it's through an associate's, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree, health science programs shape students into skilled healthcare professionals who endeavor to make the world a better and healthier place.
To get an idea of what this kind of degree might look like, check out our various health science course offerings today, including:
- Medical Terminology
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Human Nutrition
- Survey of Human Disease
- Sports Nutrition
- Personal and Community Health