A master's degree in health science presents several professional opportunities both clinically and in the field of research or academia. There are five general areas to explore with a post-baccalaureate degree in this broad field: diagnostic services, therapeutics, health informatics, support services, and biotechnology research and development. Each area encompasses several career paths that provide the chance to make an impact in this vital and dynamic professional arena.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 18% growth rate from 2016-2026 for the healthcare sector. As a health science practitioner, you can expect to enter a robust job market after earning a degree in this field.
What to Know About Online Master’s in Health Science Coursework
Responding to the rising demand for highly trained healthcare professionals, several accredited colleges and universities now offer online health science master's programs. Many full-time healthcare professionals prefer to pursue online programs because it gives them the chance to earn their master's degree while still fulfilling professional and personal obligations. Most master's in health science programs total 30 credit hours and typically take between 18-24 months to complete.
A well-planned master's curriculum in health sciences gives opportunities to gain a broad view of the healthcare field as a whole and of a specialization area in particular. The specific skills and training provided by each master's program largely depends on the specialization area chosen to pursue. As a rule, however, an accredited online master's program in health science provides opportunities to develop research, communication, and technical writing skills, often in addition to coursework that strengthens a student's abilities in program management and in patient and/or community relations.
- Common Courses
What Common Courses are Offered in a Master’s in Health Science Program?
Online master's degrees in health science offer varying courses, depending on the overall focus of the program. Even similar programs available from different schools often follow unique academic paths. However, most online health science master's programs offer some foundational coursework for students to build on as they select and pursue a specialization area. Some basic health science courses follow below.
- Epidemiology and Biostatistics: This course teaches students both the practical and conceptual aspects of biostatistics and epidemiology so that they can understand and analyze research on disease vectors and population data more efficiently. Students develop the ability to assess the relevance of demographic information.
- Ethical Issues in Healthcare: In this course, students examine ethical topics that healthcare providers face in their clinical practice, including euthanasia, the allocation of scarce resources, and informed consent. Enrollees study the medical, moral, and socioeconomic aspects of these and other issues and how they impact the decision-making process.
- Principles of Management: This course teaches the fundamental principles of management related to the needs and objectives of healthcare professionals. The course typically covers topics such as organizational management, decision-making, resource allocation, talent acquisition and management, and conflict resolution. Students can apply the key learning outcomes from this course in virtually any administrative position in the health science field.
- Trends and Cultural Issues in Healthcare: In this class, students explore various cultural elements and emerging trends that impact the healthcare system as a whole, as well as the quality and delivery of health services. Students learn to design, implement, and evaluate programs that address these issues and improve the patient/client experience.
- U.S. Health Policy: This course gives students the chance to examine the roles played by different stakeholders and state/federal agencies in shaping the country's health policies. Students learn to analyze and evaluate various healthcare policies that impact the healthcare system as a whole, as well as how they can amend policies to improve the quality and delivery of health services.
What Specializations are Available in a Master’s in Health Science Program?
A broad field of study, health science offers specialization areas across several disciplines. Specializations may narrow in on research and clinical practice or on areas that focus on administrative and policy-setting roles. Earning a master's degree in any of these specialization areas prepares you for leadership positions in your field of expertise.
- Health Policy: Designed as an interdisciplinary program, this specialization serves students with an interest in economics, public administration, and health science. Students follow a curriculum that includes coursework in healthcare policies, organizational management, public policy administration, and health economics. The program prepares graduates for policy-setting leadership positions in health-oriented government agencies or international organizations.
- Community Health: This specialization examines several factors that affect the health-related practices and behaviors of groups and communities, which often leads to careers in hospital administration, health education, or environmental health. Building on coursework in biological and behavioral sciences, students explore topics such as social action theory, epidemiology, and community organization.
- Epidemiology and Biostatistics: In this specialization, students learn to collect and analyze an array of health-related data using multiple software tools. Graduates of a master's in health science program with this specialization often qualify for positions as health data analysts, infectious disease epidemiologists, and public health program specialists.
What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?
Colleges and universities that offer master's in health sciences online programs typically give their students a thesis or non-thesis option. Students who pursue the non-thesis option need to enroll in additional classes to meet increased credit requirements, as opposed to a thesis option master’s in health sciences program.
Some online master's programs in health sciences require students to complete a capstone course prior to graduation that summarizes the key learning components of the program and may comprise a practice-driven research project. Several online health sciences master's programs require students to pass a comprehensive exam prior to beginning a thesis or capstone requirement.
How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master’s in Health Science Program?
While researching online master's programs in health science, keep a school's accreditation at the top of your list of requirements. Accreditation assures you that an institution meets the standards set by an industry-recognized accrediting body. Search the websites of the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to find out the accreditation status of a school.
There is no single accrediting body that accredits multiple health science programs. Instead, several distinct accrediting bodies grant programmatic or regional accreditation to different fields of study that comprise the health science arena. Examples include diet and nutrition programs accredited by the American Dietetic Association, pharmacy programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, and healthcare management programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management.
In addition to accreditation, also examine a program's other components, such as graduation and retention rates, the credentials of faculty members, and whether or not they offer unique specializations.
Career Opportunities With a Master’s in Health Science Degree
The projected 18% growth rate for the healthcare/health science sector through 2026 translates to the addition of 2.4 million jobs. While employment opportunities exist for health science practitioners at practically every level, master's degree holders usually qualify for top managerial positions and leadership roles. The positions below represent a small segment of professional opportunities typically requiring a master's degree in a health science field.
As public health professionals, epidemiologists collect and analyze data on public health problems and make recommendations based on scientific research and empirical data. They also plan, implement, and evaluate public health programs, lead health education campaigns, and communicate significant findings to policymakers, stakeholders, and health practitioners.
- Median Salary: $69,660 per year
- Currently Employed: 6,100
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +9%
The responsibilities of a healthcare administrator often depend on both the size and type of facility they manage and the healthcare services provided therein. Most healthcare administrators set policies and procedures that improve the quality and delivery of services, ensure the facility is compliant with industry and state regulations, maintain current and accurate financial records, and manage personnel.
- Median Salary: $99,730 per year
- Currently Employed: 352,200
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +20%
Nurse practitioners, also known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), typically analyze test results and alter treatment plans accordingly, perform and/or order diagnostic tests, provide primary and preventive care, and make referrals when necessary. APRNs often specialize in the care of a particular demographic group, such as children, patients with mental health disorders, or the elderly.
- Median Salary: $113,930 per year
- Currently Employed: 203,800
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +31%
Occupational therapists work with injured or disabled patients to help them regain or maintain motor skills such as walking or getting dressed. They often work with accident victims, children with developmental delays, stroke patients, and elderly patients with a variety of medical conditions.
- Median Salary: $84,270 per year
- Currently Employed: 130,400
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +24%
Working with doctors and other healthcare professionals, physician assistants perform multiple functions, including examining and treating patients, prescribing medicine, and educating patients on treatment protocols and wellness issues. Physician assistants can specialize in one of several medical disciplines such as surgery, pediatrics, gerontology, or infectious diseases.
- Median Salary: $108,610 per year
- Currently Employed: 115,547
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +37%
What’s the Expected Job Growth for Health Science Careers?
As stated above, the outlook for health science careers remains positive overall. Health science practitioners, especially in healthcare positions requiring post-baccalaureate degrees, enjoy a median annual salary of $64,440, higher than the general median annual salary of $38,640. Healthcare support occupations, however, have an annual median wage that is lower than most other occupations at $29,740. Educational attainment, the professional field and scope of responsibilities, and job location all impact median annual salary.
Professional Organizations for Careers in Health Science
Professional associations for health science professionals offer several member benefits, including network building, mentoring opportunities, and discounts for regional and national conferences. Health science practitioners can also gain valuable industry insights, learn of the latest developments and advancements in their field, and take advantage of employment and collaboration opportunities through professional organizations.
- American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management: This organization offers certification programs for various industry designations, educational webinars that apprise members of development and policy changes, and scholarship opportunities. Members connect with one another in real time through AAHAM's listserv forums.
- American Nurses Association: ANA offers certification preparation courses, several professional developmental resources, and free online workshops on current and emerging trends in nursing practice. ANA also administers the American Nurse Project and Fresenius Kabi Scholarship program.
- American Pharmacist Association: APhA admits pharmacists and pharmacy technicians at all levels of their career and offers membership benefits such as specialized education and advanced training programs, a webinar series for new practitioners, and free continuing education courses.
- American Physical Therapy Association: APTA members enjoy several benefits, including physical therapist licensure exam preparation; a job board; and assistance with practice administration maintaining electronic health records, regulatory compliance, and patient documentation.
- American Public Health Association: APHA offers programs that help members access continuing education credits, industry-recognized print and digital publications, and several members-only resources -- including webinars on urgent and emerging public health issues.
How to Pay for a Master’s in Health Science Degree
Federal funds and/or private scholarships can cover the majority of costs for a master's in health science online degree. Government agencies and professional associations both realize that in order to meet the rising demand for well-trained healthcare professionals, the field needs to attract more of the right type of students. Begin the search for financial assistance with the funding opportunities below.
This scholarship opportunity falls under the Health Resources & Services Administration and is reserved for graduate students pursuing a primary care health degree, such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. The scholarship covers tuition, fees, and other reasonable educational costs. Scholars also receive a monthly stipend to help cover living expenses. In return, scholars serve in a designated health professional shortage area for at least two years.
ARCF administers two award programs with the National Board for Respiratory Care: the Gareth B. Gish Postgraduate Education Recognition Award ($2,500) and the William F. Miller Postgraduate Education Recognition Award ($1,500). Applicants must be respiratory therapists pursuing a postgraduate degree. Both awards also cover the cost of airfare, accommodation, and the registration fee for the annual American Association for Respiratory Care Congress.
The HIMSS Foundation awards two scholarships every year, each one worth $5,000. Undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in healthcare information are encouraged to apply. In addition to the $5,000 scholarship, winners receive a trip to the HIMSS Global Conference and Exhibition and a $200 Honoraria.
Both undergraduate and graduate MGMA student members qualify to apply for several scholarships sponsored by the American College of Medical Practice Executives. Applicants must be pursuing a degree relevant to the medical practice management field such as healthcare administration or public health management. Scholarship amounts range from $1,000-$5,000.