Ultimate Guide to Nursing & Healthcare Degrees and Careers

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Admission Criteria and Requirements for a Healthcare Degree

Bachelor’s Degree

Admission criteria for bachelor’s in healthcare or nursing programs vary by institution, though many schools have similar overarching requirements. For general admission to the institution, applicants must present a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent, and a minimum GPA of 2.0. However, most schools ask for higher GPAs. In fact, top-ranked colleges and universities may require a minimum GPA of 3.0 or 3.5. Since healthcare majors and nursing schools are highly competitive, it is important to hold a high GPA when applying for admission.

In addition to GPA requirements, bachelor’s in healthcare or nursing programs may require standardized test scores, such as the SAT or ACT. Admission essays and letters of recommendation also carry weight when applying to programs. Your essays and recommendation letters will be carefully evaluated.

Master’s Degree

Much like bachelor’s degree programs, master’s in healthcare or nursing programs have stringent admission criteria that varies by institution. Healthcare and nursing graduate programs are highly competitive. Most programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0. However, some of the most competitive, top-ranked schools require a minimum GPA of 3.3 or 3.5. Admission also requires competitive GRE scores. In addition to GPA and GRE test scores, letters of recommendation and letters of intent are often evaluated. Programs will almost certainly ask for at least one letter of recommendation, but most require three on average. Having solid recommendation letters, a strong GPA, and competitive GRE scores will help your application for admission stand out, which will be important, as you will be competing for a small number of open slots.

Doctoral Degree or Ph.D.

By earning a doctoral degree or Ph.D. in healthcare-related disciplines, such as nursing, you are offering your passion, dedication, and promise to the field and industry. Admission requirements to Ph.D. or doctoral programs will vary by institution and type of degree. Programs are highly competitive and will likely require strong graduate and undergraduate GPAs, research acumen, and overall academic promise. Since healthcare and nursing programs are highly competitive, you will need to offer the highest GPAs and test scores you can. Ample research experience at the college level is necessary for most programs.

Career Options in Healthcare and Nursing

Dental Laboratory Technician

Dental lab technicians are responsible for the construction, fit, and repair of dental devices. They often work in laboratories, but some assist dentists and healthcare professionals in offices or healthcare facilities. This job requires full-time work and requires on-the-job training.

EMT

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) respond to emergency calls that require the performance of medical services. They help to stabilize patients and transport them to medical centers and hospitals. EMTs work full-time in stressful and strenuous conditions. An EMT generally has completed postsecondary education, such as a certificate or associate’s degree program. While requirements vary by state, EMTs are typically required to have received licensing to practice.

Occupational Therapist

An occupational therapist treats patients with disabilities, illnesses, or injuries that prevent the function of everyday activities. Approximately half of all occupational therapists work in occupational therapy offices or hospital departments. Some may work in home health services, nursing homes, or schools. To be an occupational therapist, you must hold a master’s degree in occupational therapy and be licensed in your state.

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Pharmacist

Pharmacists must have a Pharm.D., a four-year professional doctor of pharmacy degree. In addition to the doctoral degree, they must pass two separate exams and acquire licensing. Pharmacists usually work in pharmacies in healthcare facilities, hospitals, grocery stores, and various general merchandise stores or businesses. Pharmacists are responsible for dispensing medications to patients through prescriptions and explaining the safe use of medications to patients.

Physical Therapist

A physical therapist helps ill and injured people to manage pain and improve movement and flexibility. They typically work in private offices or in hospitals and treatment centers. The role is highly active and requires the therapist to be on their feet most of the day. To become a physical therapist, one must earn a doctor of physical therapy and become licensed in their state.

Registered Nurse

Registered nurses work in healthcare facilities, hospitals, nursing care centers, and physician’s offices. Some also work in outpatient clinics and schools. The role of an RN is to provide and coordinate patient care with a physician or nurse practitioner. They also educate and treat patients, addressing their current health conditions. To work as an RN, one must hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), an associate’s degree in nursing, or have earned a diploma from an approved nursing program. Also, RNs must be licensed in the state they plan to work.

Speech-Language Pathologist

A speech-language pathologist assesses, diagnoses, examines, and treats patients with problems communicating, swallowing, or speaking. Some pathologists may treat children exclusively, while others see both children and adults. Most states require those who perform this role to be licensed. While requirements vary by state, most speech-language pathologists need at least a master’s degree. Speech-language pathologists work in schools, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities and organizations.

Cost of Degree

The average cost of an undergraduate healthcare or nursing degree varies by institution and program. According to the most recent data published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board for public institutions was $17,797 per year. This number dramatically increases for private institutions. However, online healthcare programs may be obtained for a price between $10,000 and $30,000 annually.

State universities offer in-state tuition prices that are less than out-of-state tuition. In-state students pay less than out-of-state residents. Also, special tuition rates for first-generation college students can help cut costs of earning a bachelor’s degree by 50 percent or more.

Graduate healthcare degrees also vary by program and institution. For example, a master’s in nursing degree, or MSN, may cost anywhere between $12,000 and $45,000 annually. Affordable online healthcare programs exist and may be found at accredited colleges and universities for anywhere between $9,000 and $18,500 per year.

Earning a Graduate Healthcare Degree

A graduate degree in any healthcare discipline can greatly improve your job prospects and earnings potential. Graduates of master’s degree programs show potential employers that they have specialized knowledge and are lifelong learners. While a bachelor’s degree can open many doors following graduation, a master’s degree typically opens more. Having a master’s degree often leads to better job prospects. A graduate healthcare degree also prepares students for administrative, executive, and management roles in healthcare leadership. Many industries want their management team to hold graduate-level degrees.

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In-Demand Healthcare Majors

High quality healthcare services are vital to the well-being of society. Recent advances in healthcare allow doctors and healthcare professionals to treat more individuals and populations of people at every stage of life. Fortunately, colleges and universities offer undergraduate majors designed to prepare students for careers in all aspects of healthcare.

We considered top majors from accredited institutions, then we evaluated earnings potential and employment opportunities reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Based on employment projections, we found in-demand healthcare and nursing majors that offer the best return on investment. These majors are listed below.

Community Health

A community health or community health undergraduate science major focuses on awareness, education, and research of population-based health and community health. Often, the major emphasizes health education and promotion. Students complete general education subjects like English, languages, math, and science, but also spend time on social and behavioral health. Research classes near the end of the program may also be required.

Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition

A dietetics or clinical nutrition major prepares students with knowledge on how to assess the needs of clients, educate them, and supervise nutrition plans. This major focuses on disease prevention and health promotion, as well as the preparation and supervision of food storage. It pays to have taken classes in math and science, because skills related to data, statistics, and critical thinking will be required.

Healthcare Administration & Management

A major in healthcare administration and management may also be referred to as hospital management, healthcare management, or business administration with a specialization in healthcare management. No matter the name of the major, the focus is the same: to prepare students for administrative and management positions in healthcare facilities. Programs usually are heavy on the business and management side to ensure graduates have gained useful skills and leadership acumen.

Health Information Administration

Studying health information administration or health information management (HIM) can lead to careers in healthcare services and management. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) describes the major as a mix of business, information technology, and science. While majoring in this discipline, expect to take classes in all three of these subject areas. Graduates of these programs have landed roles as department directors, data quality managers, and medical research analysts.

Pharmaceutical Marketing

A pharmaceutical marketing major is a program that prepares individuals for careers in pharmaceutical sales and marketing. The program’s focus is on the study of management and marketing, as well as pharmaceutical sciences. Courses may include biology, chemistry, legal issues in healthcare, and pharmacology.

Public Health

A public health major is a degree path designed to help students develop critical skills and knowledge to confront public health issues among individuals and populations of people. These issues may include food-borne diseases, low vaccination rates, and overdose percentages in particular drugs. While an undergraduate major in public health is rare, there are many graduate programs offered.

Registered Nursing

One of the most common nursing degree programs at colleges and universities is the RN to BSN. Nursing majors often study a science discipline, such as biology, chemistry, or physiology, and take additional courses to hone nursing skills. Advanced nursing programs prepare students for careers in clinical nursing, nursing administration & management, and nursing research.

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Job Outlook

The overall growth for healthcare and nursing occupations projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is 15% through 2029. The projection sees between two and three million new jobs created in the industry. Healthcare occupations are expected to add more jobs than any other industry, thanks to an aging baby-boomer population living longer and healthier lives. As the population ages, a greater demand will be placed on healthcare services.

Below are the percentages of projected employment growth over the next several years in selected healthcare and nursing occupations.

Healthcare Occupations

Dieticians and Nutritionists

According to BLS, employment of dieticians and nutritionists is projected to grow eight percent over the next nine years. This percentage is much higher than the average for all other occupations. More specialists in this role will be needed to help fight and prevent things like obesity and diabetes. Also, more people will likely seek the assistance of nutritionists to help improve their overall health.

EMTs and Paramedics

EMTs and Paramedics should anticipate a favorable and steady employment growth rate of six percent over the next nine years. According to BLS, emergency personnel and specialists will be needed to tend to patients involved in acts of violence, automobile accidents, natural disasters, and other injurious occurrences.

Medical Records and Health Information Specialists

While not the 30% employment growth of physician assistants, medical records and health information specialists will still see a strong and favorable growth of eight percent over the next nine years. As the demand for health services increases and baby-boomers live a more active life in their twilight years, medical records and health information specialists will be needed.

Occupational Therapists

With a 16% expected employment growth over the next eight years, occupational therapists should see a favorable job outlook. Occupational therapists will be needed to treat individuals with various maladies, such as autism, cerebral palsy, limb loss, and other conditions.

Physical Therapists

The job outlook for physical therapists is favorable, according to BLS. In fact, physical therapists should see an 18% growth in employment over the next several years. Demand for physical therapists, due to the healthcare needs of aging baby-boomers, will spur an increase in new hires. Physical therapists will also be needed to treat people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity.

Physician Assistants

Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow more than 30 percent through 2029, according to BLS. The growth is much faster than the average for all other occupations. Such high growth is expected due to a significant demand in healthcare services. As healthcare services grow and expand, more physician assistants will be needed to meet patient needs and provide care.

Speech and Language Pathologists

A 25% employment growth is expected through 2029 for speech-language pathologists, according to BLS. With an aging baby-boom population, there will be more health conditions leading to language or speech impairments. As a result, there should be an increase in the demand for this occupation.

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Nursing Occupations

Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

BLS reports that employment for LPNs and LVNs is projected to grow nine percent through 2029, which is faster than the average for all other occupations. Job prospects should be the most favorable in rural areas and in medically underserved regions. As the baby-boom population ages, the need for healthcare services will increase.

Nurse Anesthetist, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

One of the most favorable job outlooks in healthcare occupations is for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners. According to BLS, a 45% growth is expected for these occupations through 2029. The favorable growth is anticipated due to an increased emphasis on preventive care and the demand for healthcare services from baby-boomers. Again, as this population ages, more healthcare services will be needed.

Nursing Assistants and Orderlies

The job outlook for nursing assistants and orderlies is projected to grow eight percent through 2029, which is a faster growth than the average for all other occupations. Nursing assistants should see the best job growth, as BLS reports a 25% growth for home health and personal care aids, as well as for nursing assistants. The demand for nursing assistants may be constrained by government funding, but as the baby-boom population ages, this occupation should see a favorable growth.

Registered Nurses (RNs)

According to BLS, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow seven percent through 2029. This growth is faster than the average for all other occupations. Reasons for the anticipated growth include an increased emphasis on preventive care, increasing awareness of obesity and diabetes, and demand from the aging baby-boom population. As the baby-boom population continues to stay active and live longer, healthier lives, more nurses will be needed.

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BDP Staff
April 2021

This concludes our article providing information about healthcare and nursing degrees.

Brenda Rufener
Author

Julie McCaulley
Expert

Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief