3 Great Benefits of Online and Distance Learning Health Care Programs
Being part of a vocation that offers rewarding advantages is something most of us want. But it usually requires at least a little bit of post-secondary training to qualify for the best opportunities. And that can mean having to fit school into an already busy life. That's why a growing number of schools offer online or distance-based programs for clinical and non-clinical areas of health care. Some of the most popular reasons that students give for pursuing this type of educational option include:
1. Better Accessibility
Most traditional programs require you to show up to a physical classroom at a specific time. But that's simply unrealistic for a lot of people. After all, what if you have a full-time job, family members to take care of, a disability that makes it hard to travel, or similar obligations or challenges? You need the flexibility to study at the time and place that works for your particular situation.
With most online and study-at-home options, you get the chance to arrange your own schedule, set up your own learning environment, and complete courses at your own comfortable pace. That way, you don't have to put aside your health career aspirations. You can effectively pursue your goals while looking after your existing commitments.
Plus, some health and medical programs—mostly for occupations with a clinical or laboratory aspect—even have a hybrid structure. That means most classes are online, yet you also have the valuable opportunity to practice your skills in-person under the guidance of an instructor. In some cases, you may even get the chance to acquire real-world experience through an internship or clinical rotation before graduating.
2. The Power of Choice
Online health care schools offer a large and growing variety of career-focused programs. As a result, you might have a lot more options to choose from than if you were restricted to on-campus programs only. So, although a campus-based program may not be available near where you live for the career you'd like to pursue, you still stand a good chance of finding one you can take online.
And the occupational areas you can pursue through online or distance learning are compelling and diverse. They include popular and important sectors of health and medical care such as:
- Health care administration—This broad area includes several occupations related to the management and business-related functions associated with providing health services. For example, medical billers and coders handle reporting and financial transactions related to getting payments from insurance companies and government programs like Medicare. Medical office and administrative assistants help keep health clinics, doctors' offices, or hospital departments running smoothly by providing support in areas like record-keeping, scheduling, and paperwork. And medical transcriptionists convert voice-recorded reports from doctors and other care providers into accurate and easy-to-read text formats.
- Health information technology (HIT)—In this field, the focus is on using computer systems to provide more efficient, effective, and secure management and sharing of medical records and other vital information within the health sector.
- Clinical assisting—Professionals in this area of health care get to work directly with patients in support of doctors or specialized care providers. For instance, medical assistants often work in physicians' offices or clinics and set up exam rooms, take vital signs, administer medications, and collect bodily fluid samples for lab testing. Occupational therapy assistants carry out prescribed treatments for people who need help performing routine tasks associated with everyday living and working. Physical therapy aides interact with people going through rehabilitation from injuries, surgeries, and other physical conditions. Dental assistants provide chairside support to dentists. And opticians help fit people with corrective contact lenses or eyeglasses based on the prescriptions of optometrists or ophthalmologists.
- Medical diagnostic technology—This area is all about performing tests that help doctors accurately diagnose their patients and choose the most appropriate treatments for them. For example, diagnostic medical sonographers use ultrasound (i.e., sound wave) equipment to capture images of patients' internal soft-tissue anatomy. Radiologic technologists use x-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to take pictures of bones or other areas of concern inside patients' bodies. And medical laboratory technicians run tests on blood, bodily fluids, and tissue samples to detect abnormalities or signs of disease.
- Surgical technology—Health professionals in this field, often called surgical technologists or scrub techs, do things like help clean and set up operating rooms, prepare patients for surgery, and pass surgical instruments or supplies to surgeons during operations.
- Nursing—For people who are already registered nurses (RNs) but wish to upgrade their educational credentials to the bachelor's degree level, some online schools offer RN to BSN bridge programs. In addition, options also exist for RNs who want to gain more expertise in the legal aspects of nursing and health care.
- Pharmacy technology—Online programs in this area can help you become a pharmacy technician or assistant, which involves supporting pharmacists by filling prescriptions for medications, dispensing medical devices, and performing various administrative duties.
- Wellness and prevention—People who work in this sector focus on promoting healthy activities, lifestyle improvements, and treatments that aid with stress reduction and general well-being. Examples include nutrition and exercise specialists, personal fitness trainers, and relaxation and massage therapists.
- Natural, complementary, and alternative health care—Consultants and other professionals in this area specialize in providing advice and treatments that are often outside the scope of traditional Western medicine.
- Social and human services—This extensive sector focuses on supporting the most vulnerable people within our communities, such as at-risk youth, the elderly, the disabled, and those with mental health or addiction issues. It's possible to find online courses of study in areas like psychology, behavioral science, gerontology, substance abuse treatment, and long-term care management. Aspiring health care aides can also find programs to help them qualify for opportunities with employers like home health service agencies.
3. A Path Toward Greater Stability
Online health care training offers a convenient way to prepare for an occupational sector that has a terrific job outlook. After all, by 2022, health care and social assistance could be the largest employment sector in America. And it is already one of the fastest-growing sectors, with an overall projected growth rate of 29 percent between 2012 and 2022.*
In fact, more than half of the nation's top 30 fastest-growing occupations are related to social assistance and health care. They include careers you can study for online (either partially or fully) with high projected growth rates such as:*
- Personal care and home health aides—over 48 percent
- Diagnostic medical sonographers—46 percent
- Occupational therapy assistants—almost 43 percent
- Physical therapy aides—about 40 percent
- Occupational therapy aides—over 36 percent
- Medical secretaries—36 percent
- Substance abuse counselors—over 31 percent
How to Start Taking Advantage
Think about the areas that interest you most. Then check out a selection of online health care schools that can help you make your goals happen. Begin with a customized search for training options by entering your zip code below!
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, website last visited on August 27, 2015.