An associate degree in healthcare is a two-year degree that students may complete on campus, online, or in a combination of on-campus and online learning. Healthcare is a major part of the US economy, and an associate degree can open a path to a career in this vital field. Population changes drive much of the growth of healthcare in the US, while national policies have increased levels of health insurance available.
Healthcare occupations represent the largest projected increase among occupational groups in the US for the next eight years. There may be up to 1.9 million new jobs created in the sector in that time.
An associate degree is an entry-level degree and students can use this to move into jobs in the healthcare field or as a foundation for further education. Many four-year colleges accept a two year degree as part of a bachelor’s degree program in the healthcare disciplines.
Healthcare Degree & Career Paths
- Associate degrees can be earned more quickly than bachelor’s degrees — Typically, associate degree programs require two years of attendance. This also affects the cost of a two-year degree, which is far lower than a bachelor’s degree, and many bachelor’s degree students graduate with large amounts of student debt. While some specialty careers require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level work, there are just as many that allow those with associate degrees to enter the field at the entry level and start earning wages more quickly than those who earn a bachelor’s degree.
- Associate degree holders usually — earn more than people with high school degrees or certificates. Both in annual earnings, hourly wages, and lifetime earnings, associate degrees offer substantial advantages when compared to high school graduates.
- Associate degrees may be more accessible than bachelor’s degrees — Many community colleges offer them and admissions requirements may be more inclusive than four-year schools. Associate degrees may also be better for students with limited academic records such as fewer academic courses, more vocational courses in their transcripts, or perennially low grades.
- An associate degree does not offer — the range of job and educational opportunities that can come with a bachelor’s degree. Graduate level education usually requires a bachelor’s degree and many high-paying jobs require technical qualifications that students cannot earn in two-year programs.
- Bachelor’s degree holders tend to — earn more in wages and salaries than associate degree graduates. Some healthcare positions require specialization and the two-year associate degree cannot support the level of coursework, laboratory work, and other technical elements needed for this.
- Some useful certifications require bachelor’s degrees — Certifications help you demonstrate a level of competence and expertise in specific areas of healthcare. Many certificate programs ask for qualifying levels of education and experience.
What Healthcare Associate Degrees are Available?
Many schools offer four major types of associate degrees. One difference is the arts degree (AA) versus the science degree (AS). Another option is the applied science degree (AAS). The major distinction between applied science vs the associate of science degree relates to whether the program prepares students specifically to go into the workforce, as with the AAS, or for further education, as with the AA and AS.
Associate of Arts degrees are two-year programs that provide students with a strong general education. They are exposed to a greater variety of courses, while Associate of Science degrees usually focus on creating more in-depth knowledge of the field in which they are looking to earn a degree. Either one of these will allow students to move on to a bachelor’s program in the future.
Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degrees are similar to associate of science programs in that they offer and emphasis on mathematics, sciences, and computer science. However, they differ from AS degrees in that the AAS programs focus on job readiness and offer even fewer general education courses.
Some associate degrees in healthcare include:
- Associate Degree in Nursing (AND)
- Associate Degree in Cardiovascular Technology
- Associate Degree in Physical Therapy
- Associate Degree in Occupational Therapy
- Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene
Admission Requirements to Enter an A.S. Program in Healthcare
A high school diploma or GED is the basic educational requirement for admission into an associate degree program. Many schools examine the grade point average, standard test scores, and grades in core courses, though community colleges are more lenient when considering these. However, healthcare associate degree programs with competitive applications may prefer students with high grade point averages, strong test scores, and extensive coursework in mathematics and science.
Academic prerequisites will likely depend on the type of degree you’re hoping to earn. In some healthcare fields, schools prefer you have a solid foundation in science, such as biology and chemistry.
A wide range of community colleges and universities offer associate degrees. Admission requirements vary by institution but typical admission requirements seek to establish the student’s interest and ability to complete a degree program. Many community colleges have open admissions policies which seek to not exclude students on the basis of education or experience. When colleges require do educational prerequisites, they usually involve math and health-related courses like biology and chemistry.
When needed, schools can require students to complete supplemental courses to meet their program standards. A healthcare program might ask students to take additional courses in math or science if their backgrounds indicated a need. For example, a nursing or dental hygienist healthcare program might ask for CPR training and certification for every student.
How long does it take to earn an Associate Degree in Healthcare?
The typical length of healthcare associate degree programs is about 60 to 70 credit hours. That means students can complete these programs with two academic years of full-time attendance. To be awarded their degree, students must complete required courses and maintain a satisfactory grade point average, usually a 2.5 GPA on a 4.0 scale.
Some students can shorten the time needed for a degree by qualifying for advanced placement through credit for other coursework, life experience, and/or work experience. Or they could take extra courses during each semester and over the summer. Students can also extend the time it takes to earn a degree if they need to attend part-time due to the need to work, take care of family, or any other responsibility.
Potential Careers in Healthcare with an Associate Degree
An associate degree in the healthcare sector can open the door to many high-demand careers. Though an associate degree is far less expensive and faster to earn than a bachelor’s, it can make jobs available with salaries that are comparable to those earned by bachelor degree holders.
Associate degrees can help graduates enter technical, technological, and support roles in the healthcare fields. For example, cardiovascular technologists work with cardiologists in catherization lab work. CVT technicians help detect, diagnose, and treat heart and circulatory conditions. You may even find yourself working your way into a healthcare administration role, dealing with facilities, personnel, budgets, and policy matters.
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians are associate degree graduates who qualify for important diagnostic occupations. These are high-demand occupations in which workers operate special imaging equipment to help confirm diagnoses and conduct medical tests. The average salary is $68,300.
- Nuclear Medicine Technologists are trained professionals that prepare radioactive drug treatments and help administer them to patients. Radioactive combinations leave markers that machines can trace and measure. Nuclear medicine is an essential tool to help diagnose conditions. The average salary is $68,300.
- Radiation Therapists are skilled technicians that treat cancer and other diseases that require radiation treatments. They work with patients in critical therapeutic stages and mange powerful drugs and treatment processes. The average salary is $72,700.
- MRI Technologists perform diagnostic imaging exams. Patients need precise imaging, and MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance scanners and create diagnostic images ordered by physicians. MRI technology is an essential tool in determining patient conditions. The average salary is $66,900.
- Respiratory Therapists provide vital support and therapy for patients that suffer with breathing impairment. These patients include those with chronic respiratory disease like asthma and emphysema. Respiratory therapists work with patients at all stages of life and in various levels of treatment. The average salary is $54,600.
Options to Advance
Students can achieve healthcare career advancement by further education, work experience, and certifications. Associate degrees can transfer to four-year institutions allowing students to earn bachelor’s degrees in general or specialized areas of healthcare including healthcare administration, which may be in high demand as healthcare expands to meet increasing need.
Related educational achievement is one of the best ways to advance a career. Business administration, economics, and finance can expand career opportunities in administration. Many career paths can expand by additional training and education in areas like healthcare laws, public policy, and regulations.
Certifications can also provide options for advancement or new lines of work. Graduates can add or demonstrate new qualifications by getting certifications in specific areas.
Colleges that Offer Traditional Associate Degrees in Healthcare
Ultimate Medical Academy
This small school in Florida is focused almost exclusively on training healthcare professionals. They provide the opportunity to earn either a certificate or an associate degree in a number of vital professions.
- Dental Assisting/Assistant – 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- Health Information/Medical Records Technology/Technician – Associate Degree
- Health/Healthcare Administration/Management – Associate Degree
- Medical Administrative/Executive Assistant and Medical Secretary – 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- Medical Insurance Specialist/Medical Biller – 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- Medical Office Assistant/Specialist – Associate Degree
- Nursing Assistant/Aide and Patient Care Assistant/Aide - <1 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- Pharmacy Technician/Assistant – Associate Degree
Colleges That Offer Online Associate Degrees in Healthcare
Online programs supplement distance learning with on-site training for necessary laboratory and clinical education. Healthcare graduates work in healthcare operations in hospitals, nursing facilities, and clinics.
Purdue University Global
This public, non-profit college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Purdue Global University offers flexible programs through its main and regional locations.
- Associate of Applied Science in Health Science
- Associate of science in Health science
Florida Institute of Technology
This the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) accredited healthcare management degree prepares students for a wide range of potential healthcare roles.
- Associate of arts in healthcare management
Wichita State University Tech
The healthcare program has HLC accreditation. The school offers a wide range of medical and healthcare technology fields of study. The healthcare studies can enhance nursing education for practical nursing students.
- Associate of Applied Science in healthcare administration and management
- Associate of Applied Science - Dental Assistant
- Associate of Applied Science Surgical Technology
- Associate of Applied Science Veterinary Nursing
- Associate of Applied Science Healthcare Simulation Technology
Oklahoma State University
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The Division of Health Sciences offers many programs of study that lead to associate degrees. Some programs have specialty accreditation and the programs emphasis equipping students to meet industry standards.
- Associate in Science in Healthcare Administration
- Associate in Science of Nurse Science
- Associate in Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography, and
- Associate in Science in Radiographic Technology.
New England College
Heniker, New Hampshire
The New England College has NECHE accreditation for its online programs. Students can achieve their healthcare degree completely online. The program prepares graduates for settings like patient care and diagnostics in hospitals and clinics. Graduates can also go beyond this into management and information roles.
- Associate of Science in Healthcare Administration
- Associate of Science in Human Services