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Overview of an Associate's in Public Health

Associate degrees in public health prepare students for entry-level careers in public health such as health coaches, public health community outreach workers, patient service coordinators, medical office coordinators, and healthcare recruiters. An associate degree in public health is also a stepping stone toward a bachelor's degree in public health, community health, epidemiology, health administration, environmental health, or health education.

In an associate degree program in public health, students learn biology, sociology, psychology, and how to perform and utilize medical research. They also learn about the issues of population health. The best programs are hands-on, involve critical thinking and analysis of research, and provide internship opportunities. Because of the heavy science content, there may not be many 100% online options for students looking to attend online. However, there will still be the option to take many of your courses online while you complete in-person components on campus, and there are degrees that claim to be fully online, though you should look out for any in-person requirements.

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    One of the biggest positives of earning an associate degree in public health is that one can begin earning an entry-level income in the healthcare industry in two years. Once you’re in the industry and gaining experience in the field, many online and more traditional programs are available for completing your bachelor's degree in public health or a related field. Thus, one can be earning an income in the industry and gaining experience while working toward a degree that will provide a greater level of employment opportunities and earnings power.

    Also, with an online or traditional associate degree in public health, you’re more likely to be hired for entry-level employment in the field than a candidate who has no experience and no schooling or one who has only earned a certificate.


    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, if you have your sights set on mid-level employment in the industry, a bachelor's degree is a requirement. For example, jobs in public health such as community health specialists, quality improvement coordinators, public health administrators, research assistants, and prevention specialists are all required to possess at least a bachelor's degree in public health or a related field. Often, they are also required to have some experience, such as through entry-level employment or an internship. Thus, earning an online associate degree might help you get some very low-level experience, but it won't get you the jobs you are likely aiming for.

    If you’d like to be employed in an entry-level capacity in public health as soon as possible after high school graduation, you could obtain employment with a certificate program that will only take a year. Such certificate programs include those for patient services coordinators and medical secretaries, as well as programs for community health workers.

Certificate vs. Associates

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, students who would like to enter the public health industry as soon as possible after high school can earn a certificate that will allow them to work in jobs as medical secretaries and patient services coordinators. For those types of positions, the certificate programs take only a year to complete. Such certificate programs include coursework in business mathematics, medical procedures and terminology, medical computer software, and communications. The most general of these certifications is called the Certificate of Public Health and leads to entry-level employment in the industry.

The downside to a certificate program is that employers prefer to hire those who have completed their associate degree program in public health or a related field over those with just a certification, since the training for the former candidates is more well-rounded. Also, students who have not completed their associate degree program will be unable to complete an online bachelor's degree and move up to mid-level careers in the field.

There are certification programs for health coaches, but these programs do not allow the candidate to move from high school graduate to employment as a health coach in a year. The health coach certification requires candidates to have a number of years of experience in the industry or an online associate degree in public health in addition to completing the certificate program.

What Public Health Associates Degrees are Available?

Many of the online associate degrees in public health are an Associate of Science in Public Health. Those degrees provide transferable hours toward a bachelor's degree and have an emphasis on the biology and scientific side of the field. These are less often fully accessible as online degrees. Some of the programs are Associate of Arts in Public Health and units in these programs are often transferable as well. The emphasis of the Associate of Arts degree is more liberal arts, so there will be more of an emphasis on the sociology and psychology of public health and they are more likely to be found as online degrees than an Associate of Science.

There are also online Associate of Applied Science degrees in public health. Unlike the others, those programs do not have as many credits that transfer toward an online bachelor's degree. The goal of these programs is for the student to be able to graduate as quickly as possible and gain employment in the field.

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Public Health Education Admission Requirements

Generally, one only needs their high school diploma or a GED in order to seek admission in an associate degree program in public health. Some more competitive programs will ask for coursework in high school that includes mathematics, biology, and health. Some of the more competitive programs also ask for a few letters of recommendation from teachers and/or employers. There are some programs that will ask students to submit to a drug screening and will do a background check. The idea is to prohibit entry to students who seek entry into the field for the wrong reasons. Online programs will require the same admissions documentation as traditional programs.

How long does it take to earn an online Public Health Associate Degree?

If a candidate is able to devote themselves to full-time study for an associate degree, they will likely complete their program in two years. Candidates who have child-rearing responsibilities or who work will likely take longer to complete their program, which may be completed online, since they will need to take less than a full-time course load. Some programs offer an accelerated online version that may take 15 or 16 months. Candidates are urged to pursue scholarships and grants that will fund their living expenses as well as their tuition so that they can take a full load of coursework each term.

Potential Careers in Public Health with an Associates

  • Patient Services Coordinator
    Patient service coordinators are entry-level, administrative workers in medical or clinical offices that are responsible for patient intake, discharge, and filling out paperwork. They also are often responsible for transporting patients between rooms and answering questions patients may have about tests or procedures. Other administrative duties include ordering and maintaining equipment, scheduling appointments, and answering phones. Good customer service and data entry skills are a must for these positions. The average annual income for patient services coordinators is $39,900.
  • Health Coach
    Health coaches work either for a clinic or medical facility or are self-employed. Their goal is to work individually with clients who have health and wellness targets. Health coaches advise their clients on health, nutrition, and lifestyle changes that can improve the client's health and wellbeing, such as advising clients on new dietary regimens or exercise routines. The average annual income for health coaches is $47,900.
  • Medical Office Coordinator
    Medical office coordinators perform the office duties within a medical office or clinic. This may include receptionist and phone duties, scheduling appointments, filling out and filing paperwork, and invoicing and ordering supplies. The average annual income for medical office coordinators is $44,000.
  • Community Outreach Coordinator
    Community outreach coordinators in public health create and carry out public health outreach activities within a community. They are also known as community health workers. They are the public face of a health organization that is charged with interacting with members of the public to change public perceptions and influence behaviors. They must evaluate groups within the public or the public in general by conducting outreach groups as well as by other means of collecting and organizing data. The average annual salary for a community outreach coordinator is $44,200.
  • Healthcare Recruiter
    Healthcare recruiters find qualified candidates for healthcare positions. They are responsible for looking over applications and interviewing candidates. They are also often responsible for placement of candidates, having candidates fill out employment paperwork, and building databases of candidates and placements. The average annual salary for a healthcare recruiter is $47,000.

Education Options to Advance in Public Health

The most obvious advancement for an entry-level worker in public health is to complete their online bachelor's degree, whether online or in person. A public health degree gives candidates the ability to work in positions with more responsibility and more pay at mid-level positions in the industry.

Some top-flight programs for students who already possess an online associate degree and who would like to complete their online bachelor's program in public health include the University of Southern Florida, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Old Dominion University, and Northern Arizona University. If you intend to transfer units, make sure that your GPA meets the criterion for the bachelor's program of your choice, that your units are indeed transferable and that you have met all of the prerequisites for admission. Patient service coordinators and medical secretaries with more experience may be able to advance to medical office management positions.

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Best Associate of Science in Public Health Programs

One word about this online associate degree; there are few associate degrees that are labeled “public health”. Many students will find that an online associate degree labeled “health services” will provide close to the same curriculum so long as they choose a program that is more broadly defined, and they tailor their elective choices. These programs will transfer to an online bachelor's degree in public health. It is important to ensure that your coursework is all transferable to your desired online bachelor's program, that your GPA meets guidelines and that you have taken the requisite lower-division coursework.

  • Excelsior College
    Albany, New York

    Excelsior's Associate of Science in Health Sciences is regionally accredited and can be tailored to the needs of a student who is looking to specialize in public health. Coursework includes demonstrating written and oral communication skills, critical thinking around healthcare issues, and learning about healthcare in the U.S. Students learn about insurance, health providers and their licensing, federal healthcare legislation and regulation, electronic medical records, and professionalism in healthcare. They can take electives such as anatomy and physiology, nutrition, how gender affects health, addictions in America, and the biology of health and disease.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Health Sciences
  • San Joaquin Delta College
    Stockton, California

    SJDC is regionally accredited and provides an Associate of Science in Health Science that provides a firm foundation in public health. Candidates will engage in health science research using critical thinking skills and the scientific method. They will learn about healthcare systems and health issues. They will be prepared, upon graduation, for entry-level careers in public health, community health, occupational health and safety, and healthcare administration. The area is at the hub of not only the San Joaquin County area but also the greater Sacramento and Bay Areas. This provides for many internship opportunities as well as employment upon graduation.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Health Services
  • Riverland Community College
    Austin, Minnesota

    Like San Joaquin Delta College, Riverland purposely makes their Associate of Science degree program in Health Sciences broad, so that students can transfer their credits to a variety of bachelor's programs, such as public or community health. They have transfer arrangements in place with local colleges and universities. Coursework includes a strong emphasis on writing and research skills, which are key in public health employment. Other coursework includes biology, psychology, and statistics. Everyone pays the same tuition at Riverland. The school has a rich tradition of supplying scholarships, even to those who don't need financial aid.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Health Sciences
  • Keiser University
    Clearwater, Florida

    Keiser is a regionally accredited, non-profit, private university founded in 1977. They have an array of healthcare degrees. For public health majors, the most compelling degree option is the Associate of Science in Sports Medicine and Fitness Technology. Coursework includes exercise physiology, nutrition, sports medicine, first aid, weight management, sports psychology, and exercise leadership. They have an internship program that allows students to learn about biomechanical principles, health risk factors, and injury prevention and treatment. They keep class sizes small and are flexible enough to allow students to take courses on campus or online.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Sports Medicine and Fitness Technology
  • Bergen Community College
    Paramus, New Jersey

    Regionally-accredited, Bergen offers something unusual for students interested in public health associates degrees. They offer Associate of Science degrees in Exercise Science, Sports Management, and Athletic Training. They also offer an Associate of Applied Science in Health Sciences that is tailored to public health professionals who are certified and already have experience in the healthcare field.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Applied Science in Health Sciences
    • Associate of Science in Exercise Science
    • Associate of Science in Sports Management
    • Associate of Science in Athletic Training

Traditional Schools Offering an AS in Public Health

  • St. Paul College
    St. Paul, Minnesota

    St. Paul College offers an Associate of Public Health that one can attend on-campus or online. There is an emphasis on biology, communication, and interpretation of medical research. The students will take in-depth coursework on population health, the public health system, biometrics, and social health factors. They will work hands-on within their program and in community service.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Public Health
    • Associate of Science Broad in Health Services
  • University of Wisconsin
    Madison, Wisconsin

    All of the 14 regionally-accredited UW campuses offer the AAS in Health Sciences. The coursework emphasizes biology, anatomy, chemistry, and psychology. There are also elective options that help a student hone their coursework to meet goals within the health sciences field, such as public healthcare issues.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Arts and Science in Health Sciences
  • Laramie County Community College
    Cheyenne, Wyoming

    Laramie's generalist Health Sciences Associate degree helps students choose a pathway that is the best fit for their future career and health education goals. Coursework includes medical terminology, biology, physiology, and healthcare ethics. Students will tailor their electives to their career goals, such as public health. Out-of-state students will pay more, but the online class rates are reasonable.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Health Sciences, Broad
  • University of the Cumberlands
    Williamsburg, Kentucky

    Regionally-accredited, UoC, located in the Appalachian Mountains, was founded in 1913 and aided by Andrew Carnegie. Their online Associate of Science in Public Health tackles the issues of nutrition, substance abuse, communication, healthcare technology, and community health. Students are prepared for careers as public health educators, community health education coordinators, nutrition directors, directors of wellness programs, and community nutrition educators.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Public Health
  • American Public University
    Charles Town, West Virginia

    APU began as American Military University, as a for-profit university in 1991, founded to provide distance learning online to far-flung military personnel around the globe. Its mission now is to provide quality distance learning for civilians as well as military personnel. APU is highly ranked by U.S. News and World Report.
    Their Associate of Science in Public Health is regionally accredited. Coursework includes chemistry, sociology, psychology, wellness and health. There are courses on healthcare management, administration, and moral issues.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Public Health

As an end note, the Centers for Disease Control provides a fairly extensive list of fellowships, internships, and other learning experiences for students interested in the public health field. The listing is for students who are high school students, undergraduate, and graduate students.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an associate degree in public health worth it?

It’s true that most public health professionals say that a bachelor’s is the best degree to get in the field. It gives you the breadth and depth of knowledge needed to get a job in the field and to keep earning promotions and moving up to new roles. However, an associate degree is a great opportunity in any field, even if all you’re doing is ensuring that you really want to be in that field. You’ll complete your general education and gain credits that can be transferred to a bachelor’s program even if you decide to shift into a slightly different degree option. It’s also true that many roles in public health require bachelor’s degrees, however, you could earn a position as a community outreach worker or research assistant with an associate degree, which could help you work your way through the rest of your health education, letting you spend less overall while gaining the knowledge you need to succeed.

Is public health a good career path overall?

While many health positions have workers suffering from burnout, public health is still a solid career path choice. There are new and emerging careers in this field, and you can choose how forward-facing a career you want. After all, just because you earn a degree in public health doesn’t mean that you need to work in a position where you are constantly seeing patients in the same way nurses or doctors do. You can use your health education knowledge to help people with this degree without setting yourself up for early burnout. And many careers in this field have excellent salaries and there is high projected growth throughout the field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What type of courses can future public health workers expect to take when earning their online public health degree?

Earning a public health degree is an increasingly popular choice among those wanting to make a positive impact on the world. With advances in healthcare technology, the growing demand for qualified professionals, and a more diverse approach to addressing the needs of communities, it’s easy to see why so many students are turning towards taking a public health degree program. But what type of courses can future public health workers expect to take when earning their degree? Those looking into obtaining a job in one of the many public health professions should consider what types of coursework is necessary for success in this field.

From epidemiology and biostatistics to environmental health and nutrition, there are plenty of courses that students will need to take in order to gain the skills needed for this profession. Additionally, they may choose from various electives that will focus on specialized topics like global health or behavioral sciences.

When taking a public health program, will I learn about topics such as disease prevention, environmental health, health promotion, etc?

Public health is an area of study that is becoming increasingly important in our ever-changing world. It is the science of protecting and improving the health of individuals, communities, and populations worldwide. Public health involves understanding how different elements - such as disease prevention, environmental health, and health promotion - can affect public well-being. When taking a public health program, students will learn about a variety of topics related to these elements in order to better equip them with the knowledge they need to improve people’s lives. They will be taught about the latest scientific research relating to public health and gain insights into current issues facing our society today. Students will also be able to develop their skills in areas like epidemiology, biostatistics, community assessment and intervention design which are essential for working in this field.

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