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What Are the Different Types of Healthcare Degree Programs?

An associate's degree is required to become a dental hygienist.
A bachelor of science degree is available to those seeking a career in nursing.
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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2014
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Different types of healthcare degree programs prepare people for careers in every aspect of healthcare. These programs vary by academic rank, ranging from two-year associate’s degrees to doctoral degrees that require many years of study and practice. They also vary by content and curriculum, in accordance with the specific discipline that they cover. Healthcare degree programs are offered by a variety of schools, including vocational schools, community colleges and universities.

Those who want to enter some healthcare professions may only be required to hold an associate’s degree, though opportunities for advancement may be limited to those who don’t pursue additional education. Substance abuse counselors, registered nurses and dental hygienists, for example, can be licensed in many jurisdictions after completing a two-year degree. Both medical and physical therapy assistants can also complete associate’s degrees. In the case of medical assistants, a two-year degree will often include training in medical office management.

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Bachelor-level healthcare degree programs include the Bachelor of Science of Nursing as well as programs in medical technology, psychology or social work. Those who hold degrees in medical technology can get work as lab technicians and, in many cases, advance into management. Students with bachelor’s degrees in psychology or social work can often get work as psychiatric technicians in community based mental health centers or residential treatment programs. For nurses and dental hygienists, holding a bachelor’s degree can provide significant opportunity for career advancement by providing a greater choice of jobs including those in supervisory and management roles.

Physical therapists, advance practice nurses and clinical social workers and counselors are typically required to hold master’s degrees. Nurses who earn the Master of Science of Nursing degree (MSN) can teach nursing, supervise student nurses and become clinical nurse specialists, nurse-midwives or nurse practitioners. Clinical social workers must earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, while professional counselors must typically complete a master’s program in counseling: In both degrees, students are required to spend a significant amount of time practicing under the supervision of clinical supervisors before graduation and eventual licensure.

Doctoral-level healthcare degree programs include the Medical Doctor and Doctor of Osteopathy degrees. In the United States, both degrees can lead to licensure as a physician. Dentists, chiropractors and podiatrists also earn doctoral degrees. Some professions, such as nursing and physical therapy also recognize and support doctoral-level programs. While not required to practice as physical therapists or nurses, holding a degree such as the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can significantly increase one’s opportunities in professional practice, teaching and in consulting roles.

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