The 4 Ways to Study Health Care Online

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Students can audit online classes for free, earn job certifications or pursue full online degrees.
There are plenty of free health courses online. On some platforms, students can pay a small fee to earn a certificate of completion and access additional features such as instructor feedback and graded assignments. (Getty Images)
Alicia Gillum, a senior client service executive at a worldwide health services company, felt she needed wider knowledge of the health care industry to advance in her career.
The 41-year-old Arizona resident decided an online graduate certificate from an accredited university was the way to go.
She enrolled in a program in health care innovation at Arizona State University‘s ASU Online to learn more about aspects of the field beyond health insurance. With the virtual format, Gillum could handle coursework on her own time whether after work, during weekends or even during lunch breaks at her full-time job.
After completing the certificate, Gillum decided to apply her already finished credit hours to ASU Online’s master’s degree program in health care innovation.
“It allows me to take courses that are related to my industry growth,” Gillum says.
To learn more about health care online whether the focus is on technology, policy, management, innovation or a combination thereof  prospective students have many options at a lot of different price points. To choose the one that best meets their needs, experts suggest considering factors such as career goals and available financial resources.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of available health care jobs is expected to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026, which would add about 2.4 million new jobs.
The median salary for health care practitioners and those in technical occupations was $64,770 in May 2017, whereas health care support jobs had a median salary of $28,710.
Whether your goal is to start a career in health care or enhance an existing one, there are numerous ways to study the discipline online.
Free online courses. Whether prospective students want to gain a foundational knowledge of the field, pursue a personal interest or boost an existing career by exploring a specific topic in health care, there are plenty of ways to do so at no cost online.
Some popular sites that offer free online classes in health care include Coursera, edX, Alison and Udemy. On some of these platforms, students can pay a small fee to earn a certificate of completion and possibly access additional features such as instructor feedback and graded assignments.
EdX, for instance, offers online health care courses ranging from Design in Healthcare: Using Patient Journey Mapping, developed with Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, to Leading Organizational Change in Healthcare with Doane University in Nebraska.
Both classes can be audited for free, but certificates are an option for those who pay $129 and $149, respectively, and can be shared on a resume and LinkedIn profile or with potential employers.
Online career training and certification exam prep. Certain jobs in health care require or prefer that job candidates have specific certifications, which usually requires passing an exam. Websites such as the U.S. Career Institute and MedCerts offer online training programs that prepare students for national certification exams and to work in specific professions.
Students may undergo online training to become a dental assistant, which had a median annual salary of $37,630 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; a pharmacy technician, which had a median annual salary of $31,750; and many other types of professions.
For example, through MedCerts, the online dental assistant program costs $3,000 total, takes 20 weeks to finish and prepares students for the Radiation Health and Safety exam and Infection Control Examination  the first two steps to getting a Certified Dental Assistant Certification.
Those hoping to gain the Certified Pharmacy Technician, or CPhT, credential from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board pay $2,700 for 16 weeks of online education on MedCerts.
Jason Aubrey, CEO of MedCerts, says the website updates its offerings accordingly as certification exams change over time.
Those who complete MedCerts’ online programs may be high school or college students who want a job certification as they graduate, unemployed or underemployed professionals seeking health care jobs or those who are already working in health care.
“I think online offers more flexibility so that students can balance online classes with work, or really any other unexpected curves that their life may throw at them,” Aubrey says.
Online certificates from universities. Those who don’t necessarily want to enroll in a full online degree program but still want a credential from an accredited university either for credit or not may consider an online undergraduate or graduate certificate.
Online certificates often focus on specific areas of health care. Compared with degrees, certificates typically take less time to earn and cost less, with fewer course requirements, though an employer may hold a degree in higher regard.
At eCornell, the online continuing education arm of Cornell University, five noncredit certificates related to health care are available, each costing a few thousand dollars and taking between two and four months to complete.
They focus on subjects including health care change leadership, business excellence for health professionals and health care facilities planning and design.
In addition to an online graduate certificate in health care innovation, ASU Online also has a graduate certificate program in the science of health care delivery.
The innovation certificate costs $522 per credit hour for a total of $7,830, whereas the health care delivery certificate costs $790 per credit hour for a total of $11,850.
“A certificate gives them the option to get the same courses and the content expertise in health innovation without having to go through all the requirements of a traditional degree,” says Rick Hall, director of health innovation programs at Arizona State’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “In our case, there are students who will start with the innovation certificate but decide they want to do more, and they’ll convert over to the degree option.”
Other higher education institutions offering online health care certificates include Drexel UniversityAmerican University and the for-profit Capella University.
Online health care degrees. Many schools offer undergraduate and graduate online health care degrees of different kinds – in health care administration, health care informatics and many other majors. Earning a degree may be required for certain health care positions and may lead to higher salaries compared with lesser credentials.
At Drexel, an online master’s degree in health care informatics requires 45 credits at $1,265 per credit, for a total of $56,925. In comparison, the graduate certificate in the same discipline requires nine credits, also at $1,265 per credit, for a total of $11,385.
When it comes to choosing the right online degree, experts say prospective students should assess their career aspirations and then decide which best meets their needs.
Among many other considerations, it’s important for students to also understand whether the online program has any in-person residency requirements and meets state licensing requirements for certain professions such as nurse practitioners, says Susan Aldridge, president of Drexel University Online.
“If the student has a job in mind, they need to look at what licensing requirements are required for that job, and then they need to map backward the extent to which that degree program will lead to licensure,” Aldridge says. “They don’t want to waste their time in a program where they finish, but the state licensing boards or even national licensing boards won’t recognize or accept them.”
Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.