By earning an online bachelor's degree in health science, you gain the technical knowledge and leadership skills to improve the well-being of the population you serve. Bachelor's programs typically span four years, but you can shorten your time to graduation by enrolling in accelerated tracks. These full-time programs typically operate eight-week classes year-round, allowing you to graduate in about two years. Some higher education institutions feature dual-degree options, which are intensive programs that enable you to earn both a bachelor's and master's in five years.
An online health science degree is particularly beneficial if you seek career advancement in areas like nursing, nutrition, and physical therapy. Through this guide, you can explore the health science field, including academic options and career opportunities. You can also gain valuable insight from an experienced health professional.
What Is Health Science?
Health science is a multidisciplinary field that covers the broad spectrum of human and animal health. Health professionals can become researchers and educators who cultivate medical knowledge. They can also work in the applied sciences, using their knowledge and skills to cure diseases and improve individual and community health.
Due to the broad nature of online health science degrees, students can align their academic training with individual career goals through multifarious elective and concentration options. Healthcare administration is a popular option for undergraduate students; this degree track trains candidates to develop and manage healthcare programs and facilities. Health science students may also pursue a public health concentration, which prepares them for careers in environmental health, consumer advocacy, and infectious disease surveillance. Additional subfields include epidemiology, pharmacy technology, occupational therapy, and medical laboratory technology.
Healthcare occupations as whole continue to expand due to the needs of an aging U.S. population and shifting government regulations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 14% growth in these careers between 2018 and 2028. That increase translates to nearly 2 million new jobs.
You can learn more about the health science field by checking out this in-depth program guide, which details the 25 best online bachelor's degree programs in health science.
What You Can Do With a Bachelor's in Health Science
Because a health science degree can prepare students for many different career paths, these programs typically feature a wide variety of classes. Graduates can go on to work in many settings, including hospitals, clinics, public health organizations, nonprofits, and research laboratories. Their duties may include anything from practice management to direct clinical practice, depending on their educational pursuits and career goals.
- Medical and Health Services Manager
These managers coordinate medical services in a variety of settings, including hospitals and clinics. They must stay abreast of changes in healthcare laws and regulations. They may manage an entire facility or only a particular department.
Median Annual Salary: $99,730
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 18%
- Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists assist patients in performing everyday activities, such as getting dressed and brushing their teeth. They help individuals develop or relearn important physical skills, enabling their patients to live more independently. Students who graduate with a health sciences degree develop the foundation needed to pursue a graduate degree in this area.
Median Annual Salary: $84,270
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 18%
- Medical Records and Health Information Technician
These technicians manage medical records and confidential patient health information in both paper and electronic formats. They work to keep records safe, private, accessible, and accurate, often creating classification options to make records easier to manage. Individuals seeking to further separate themselves from their peers can also pursue certification in this area.
Median Annual Salary: $40,350
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 11%
Epidemiologists track patterns of disease in humans and attempt to reduce the risk of illness and injury in communities. This public health position often involves community education, patient interaction, public policy development, research, and fieldwork. Students who graduate with a health sciences degree can apply to master's in public health programs to prepare for work as an epidemiologist.
Median Annual Salary: $69,660
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 5%
- Health Educator
Health educators work in the community to teach people about wellness and promote healthy behaviors. Often employed within schools, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations, health educators usually work with specific populations, such as children or the elderly.
Median Annual Salary: $46,080
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 11%
Consult the career guide below to explore additional opportunities for health science majors. The page provides academic resources for different subsets of the healthcare industry. You can also learn about certification/licensure programs, professional associations, and continuing education opportunities.
What to Expect in a Bachelor's in Health Science Program
Online health science bachelor's degree programs typically total 120 credits, which you can generally complete in 2-4 years depending on course formats. You can often translate prior academic training and relevant career experience into transfer credits, thereby cutting tuition costs and hastening graduation.
Health science curricula generally cover topics like human development throughout the lifespan and health ethics and professionalism. You will also train in data analysis and research methodologies, which eventually help you complete a capstone project where you apply your newly acquired skills to tackle a real-world challenge in the healthcare industry.
Degree and career flexibility are cornerstones of the health science field. You can often personalize your curriculum through a concentration in an area like healthcare administration, aging and gerontology, or psychiatric rehabilitation. Some schools offer pre-professional tracks, which provide the foundational training you need to pursue a graduate degree in fields like optometry, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and chiropractic medicine. You can also enroll in a health science program with a pre-med concentration.
Here are some courses common to bachelor's programs in health science.
- Human Physiology
- Students examine various organs of the human body and their physiological functions. Major topics include hormones, renal functions, digestion, respiration, immune systems, and transport mechanisms.
- The U.S. Healthcare System
- In this core class, students explore the foundation and characteristics of American healthcare, including relevant technologies and the roles of health professionals. Degree candidates also delve into health policy, financing/reimbursement, and targeted services for vulnerable populations.
- Health Services Management
- Students train in supervisory techniques for healthcare settings, including program planning and facility management. They also cultivate risk management techniques and explore organizational change theory.
- Healthcare Data Analysis
- This class focuses on the application of computer technology to retrieve, clean, store, and analyze vast datasets. Candidates also develop presentation skills that enable them to facilitate data-supported organizational decision-making.
- Equity Issues in Health Science
- This advanced class provides a historical examination of equity challenges that led to the development of human subjects review boards and FDA oversight. Students also learn about situational ethics in the workplace and the importance of inclusive communication.
Rafael Salazar II
Rafael Salazar II is an occupational therapist (OT) and consultant. He received his master of health science from the Medical College of Georgia (now Augusta University) in 2012. Rafael has worked as a lead clinician in outpatient rehab settings and as a clinical consultant helping the state with hospital transitions. He serves on the state OT board and the board of directors for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).
- Why did you choose to study health science? Was it something that always interested you?
chose to enter the health science field after spending the summer before my senior year in high school in an outpatient occupational therapy hand clinic. An accident led to me undergoing a tendon repair for my left thumb and nerve. I was at an interesting time in life -- right before my last year in high school, about to have to make big decisions about my future.
That experience made me realize that I wanted to work in a field where I would be able to help people overcome limitations, recover from injuries, and improve their overall health and well-being. That led me to pursue a master's in health sciences at the Augusta University (formerly MCG) School of Allied Health Sciences in the occupational therapy program.
I graduated from that program in 2012 with an MHS in occupational therapy. I spent some time working in long-term care, managing the OT caseload across a couple different skilled nursing facilities. From there, I moved to an outpatient specialty clinic at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia.
That experience gave me a few interesting opportunities, one of which was to receive some management and leadership development training. I picked up a lot of ancillary skills like project management, systems development, strategic planning, and the like. During that time, I was also able to serve on the state licensing board for OT in Georgia.
Those experiences acted as the platform that I used to jump into an exciting role as an independent consultant, working on a project with Georgia's Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities -- helping transition individuals out of state hospitals into community residences.
- Is it common for professionals in your field to work as consultants on top of their other roles? Why or why not? Would you recommend that health science students considering pursuing opportunities as consultants?
It can be common for professionals in this field to provide some consulting services -- usually around accessibility, equipment, and home modifications -- on a clinical basis. It's a little more rare for professionals in this field to find themselves working in management consulting. The reason for that is probably because falling into a clinical consulting role makes sense to most clinicians, so it tends to be the obvious choice.
In my situation, I had the benefit of having received training in project management, policy work, and strategic planning. Those skills and interests ended up opening the doors to start contracting and doing clinical consulting and merging that into a management consulting role.
Currently, I do both: I provide clinical consulting services as well as work on projects involving systems, policies, and procedures. I think I'd recommend that anyone consider working in consulting once they're in a position in their career to provide value through that service.
What I mean by that is this: You need to spend the first bit of your career gaining skills, expertise, and insights that you can then use as a consultant to help move the needle on behalf of your clients. Without putting the time in at the beginning, you won't have anything to offer in the way of consulting.
However, if you are able to develop deep expertise and skills, taking the leap into consulting can provide a lot of opportunities, from higher income to the possibility of doing it full time as a contractor or business owner.
- What does professional development look like in your field?
Well, for occupational therapy, professional development is at some level dictated by the licensing agencies. This typically involves taking courses to gain continuing education units (CEUs) as part of licensure renewal. So for me, I am licensed in Georgia and certified nationally through NBCOT. So I have two licenses to keep up with, which involves gaining the appropriate number of CEUs in each category.
In reality, that's where most clinical professionals stop. They do what is required to maintain licensure and little else. I attribute much of my advancement and opportunities in my career to the fact that I have always looked to improve my professional skills not only in the clinical area but also in other advantageous fields. For example, I have taken courses and seminars on project management, business management, Excel, marketing, strategic planning, investing/finance, and customer service.
I've also made the commitment to myself to be a regular reader (my current goal is one book per month). I read books on business, personal finance, psychology, marketing, wellness/health, and entrepreneurship. All of that extra learning increases my knowledge base, improves my ability to draw insights from work situations and current events and apply those insights, knowledge, and skills in my work.
It doesn't matter where you find yourself in the health science field -- clinical work, research, policy development -- the skills and knowledge you gain from studying things outside of your particular area can pay great dividends, both in your personal life as well as your career and opportunities that present themselves.
- What advice would you give to students considering earning a degree in health science?
I would give the advice I give every student: Whatever course of study you choose, whether it be clinical, academic, or administrative, never pigeonhole yourself in that narrow field. You will find as you go through your career that interesting opportunities abound in areas that might be just outside of your comfort zone and skill set.
Be courageous enough to grab ahold of those opportunities. If it means learning new skills, learn them. Do that, and you will look back at your career -- and life -- and be amazed at how making those decisions propelled you to achieve more than you would have thought possible or realistic if you simply had stayed put in your niche or specialization.
The world is full of people who wish they had taken their chance when it came by. Be sure you're not one of those people. You do that by always learning, growing, and -- at times -- making uncomfortable decisions that stretch you to the limit of your skills and abilities.
- What advice would you give to students who are trying to decide whether to earn a health science degree online or on campus?
I think that would depend entirely on the degree or field being pursued. For example, if it is a clinically based degree (like rehabilitation), I would think you would need to spend some time on campus to learn those hands-on skills needed for assessment and treatment. If it is more about administration, management, or research, it may be cheaper and more convenient to earn that degree online.
- Any final thoughts for us?
My last bit of advice would be to keep focused on what I call your "higher purpose." What I mean by that is the reason you chose to enter the career field you have selected. Why did you choose health science? What goal or aspiration that is above simply landing a steady job led you there? Focusing on that will make all of the work, study, tests, applications, and the like bearable.
There will be times when all you feel you are doing is studying things that you feel have no application to your field. You can feel like you're jumping through hoops to land your job or finish your degree. Without that higher purpose driving you on, it can be very easy to give up, quit, or settle for mediocrity.
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Health Science Program
Colleges and universities need to obtain national or regional accreditation to confer valid degrees. Higher education institutions become nationally accredited through authorities supported by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. They receive regional accreditation from one of six location-specific organizations.
Online health science degrees can earn specialized/programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Accreditation bodies also exist for specialized programs, including the Council on Education for Public Health. By earning an accredited online bachelor's degree in health science, you ensure that the training you receive satisfies industry standards.
Here are some other important factors to keep in mind when choosing your program.
- Tuition Price: By attending a school that offers low tuition rates, you minimize the burden of student loan debt. Distance education is a particularly cost-effective option. Many online health science degrees come with affordable per-credit tuition prices that ignore residency status.
- Program Outcomes: Due to the broad nature of health science, you need to enroll in a bachelor's program that directly supports your professional goals, whether that be career entry or graduate academics. Consider factors like course offerings, concentrations, internship requirements, and networking opportunities.
- Student Resources: The best postsecondary schools deliver one-on-one academic counseling, accessible tutoring services, and campus engagement opportunities. You should also explore prospective schools' career services, including assistance with resume building and job searching.
Bachelor's in Health Science Program Admissions
This section explains common requirements and typical admission materials for online health science bachelor's degree programs. In addition to the items listed below, you should prepare to submit a one- to two-page letter of intent that details your academic interests and career goals. The enrollment process varies by program, but you'll likely need to submit evidence of the following:
- Minimum GPA
- ACT/SAT Scores
- Prerequisite Coursework
- The Common Application allows students to enter their GPA, test scores, resume, and personal essay into one electronic document that can be submitted to several schools. Although the overall application process may still take multiple months, the Common App makes things much easier.
- Official transcripts detail a student's class history, grades, and overall GPA. Applicants must request their transcripts directly from previously attended schools and usually have to pay a small fee.
- Letters of Recommendation
- Schools often request multiple letters of recommendation as part of the application process. These should be written by individuals who can attest to a student's work ethic and academic ability. Most applicants ask previous teachers, coaches, or employers for these recommendations. Letters of recommendation can take several weeks to write and submit, so students should give their recommenders ample time to complete this process.
- Test Scores
- Many bachelor's programs require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, and competitive programs often list recommended or required baseline scores for admission.
- Application Fee
- Almost all bachelor's degree programs in health science charge applicants an application fee, which goes to cover the costs associated with reviewing applications. Fees typically range from $25 to $90. Students who demonstrate financial need can sometimes get these fees waived.
Resources for Bachelor's in Health Science Students
This website provides students with resources about the connections between the environment and human health. Readers can access classroom activities, articles, and professional development opportunities.
NIH's website gives students access to science highlights, evidence-based research, games, microscope imaging practice, and answers to common science and biomedical questions.
A health science community portal that highlights recent research and educational resources, MERLOT provides links to academic health journals, professional organizations, and research articles.
Teaching Commons consolidates educational resources from colleges and universities across the country. It includes a section devoted to medicine and health sciences with articles, course materials, and sample lectures that students can listen to.
Khan Academy provides free education videos, lectures, and resources covering a variety of subjects. Health science students can pursue additional training in specific areas, such as anatomy and physiology.