What are the Different Health Field Majors?
Feb 25, 2022
What are the Different Health Field Majors?
The longest journey begins with a single step. This piece of wisdom is important to remember before setting off on any challenge, but maybe none more than your college career. Especially if you are looking to get into a lucrative, respected, and highly sought after role like the ones in the health field, you may be anticipating all the work you have to do. Keep in mind, though, that you can’t complete every year of schooling and get every degree you need all at once.
Start with something simple and make your ultimate goal feel more manageable. If you know you want to work in the health field, you need to know what choices you have in health field majors. This article will be the perfect place to start looking at different health professions.
In our guide we’ll talk about the most common majors you’ll find in the health field, look at career options that can fit with those majors, and provide some guidance on how to decide on the best academic path for you.
What are some majors in health?
Let’s start with the basics. Not all health care degrees are created equal, but there are of course some commonalities. No matter what, you’ll discuss the human body in some respect, you’ll of course get into a lot of science, and there will be discussion about dealing with and helping people.
Anne Giorgi wrote in All Allied Health Schools about typical courses subjects and projects you should expect to see in the majority of health or health science degree programs:
- Epidemiology and biostatistics
- Public health practices
- Healthcare economics
- Health informatics
- Environmental health
- Healthcare quality management
- A possible capstone project you work with a faculty advisor to decide on
These courses are in addition to your usual general education requirements, which vary from school to school but usually involve a foundation in liberal arts disciplines like the humanities, mathematics, natural sciences and social sciences.
Beyond those staple academic areas is where the health care and health sciences degree options start to differentiate. The health field is typically focused on the professional realm for as much or more than any other field, as the right preparation for doing the job is critically important. As you’ll see, the kinds of degrees you can go after map pretty closely on to what you can do with each degree.
Giorgi provides examples of possible health fields. Again, these won’t be the same at every college or university, but this a good sample of what you should expect to see when you go for a degree or occupation:
- Pre-professional studies tracks get right into preparation for practicing medicine, especially in popular specialties like chiropractic and optometry
- General healthcare studies are more closely tied to what you learn in your gen eds and liberal arts classes, giving you a broader base of knowledge that is great preparation for entry-level jobs in the healthcare industry
- Advancement programs are the most common term associated with programs for those with an associate degree who have a job in the healthcare field already and either want to move on to higher and bigger roles in an administrative capacity, gain more expertise on their field, or maybe want to change their area of medicine; this can often include advancing toward healthcare administration
- Research tracks are for those who are interested in further study of what medicine can be in the future but not as interested in practicing it themselves; you’ll see courses in biomedicine, epidemiology and biostatistics with a lot of involved data analysis in what is becoming a very important field in our current pandemic
- Healthcare informatics is part of what keeps hospitals and clinics running efficiently, studying technological advancements and searching for newer, better ways to keep track of patients and see patterns in medical data
- Public health tracks typically move the student’s view outside the hospital to how medicine is provided to the masses, engaging in matters of political policy, funding, and the intersection of social issues with health
What are the 5 types of healthcare careers?
Choosing between these majors will be the first step towards narrowing down your career path. Because that choice will be a significant commitment, it helps to look ahead to the kinds of work you can do in the healthcare field and work backwards to decide on what appeals most to you.
Careers in healthcare are varied, and you may be surprised by how many different options there are and what kind of work you can do when you expand your thinking beyond the typical in-office doctor and nurse roles. We offer more details in our guide on what to do with a health science major.
In her article, Giorgi found five categories commonly used to organize career opportunities in health care beyond the most commonly known specialties. These are often referred to as careers in allied health. Here is what she came up with:
- Diagnostic Services: diagnosticians are there to find out what’s wrong with a patient when a simple exam isn’t enough. They represent the “next step up” in evaluating a medical problem. This can involve checking blood and other bodily fluids with labs, and taking X-rays, electrocardiograms, sonograms, MRIs and CT scans, and other tests administered using medical technology. You may not interact with patients as much in these roles, but you will play a vital role in identifying their ailments and extending their lives.
- Therapeutic Services: these careers are more patient-focused, but involve tending to their needs beyond physical check-ups, prescriptions, and minor surgery. You could be a counselor, work for a clinic or hospital in health education, or you could find a position in the popular fields of physical therapy or occupational therapy, where you will help people living with chronic conditions or recovering from injuries or surgery learn how to perform routine tasks and go through their daily lives.
- Support Services: Often seen as the key to any functioning medical facility, support services include positions such as aide and physician assistant. As the first level of interaction with patients and clients, support service workers relay critical information to help doctors and nurses provide the proper care. They schedule appointments, keep track of patient information, and in many cases do basic medical tasks like checking their blood pressure, heart rate and pulse, and weight or collect lab samples. Perhaps most important of all, they help patients to remain calm and feel safe in some of the most stressful moments in their lives.
- Informatics: As mentioned earlier in the different healthcare majors, the area of informatics is all about information technology. Medicine is increasingly reliant on information technology to coordinate, analyze and improve health care. So if you have an affinity for people’s health but your expertise and passion is really in computers and developing new technology, this is the career path you need to follow.
- Biotechnology Research and Development: Research is what gives doctors the tools they need to adapt and cope with the ever-changing nature of the human body and how it interacts with a changing world. As a biotechnology researcher, your job will be to study the body and the problems it encounters in order to develop new treatments, antidotes, vaccines, medicinal drugs, and even surgical approaches. The field involves a lot of studying the body, so a passion for biology, anatomy, heredity and even a fascination with disease are each a big plus if you’re planning on making this your career.
Choosing The Right Health Sciences & Services Major
As the choices of majors and careers hopefully become clear, your problem won’t be having enough options. If anything, it may be hard to narrow down what degree program you want.
Remember to give yourself as much flexibility as you can. Remember that while some majors like pre-professional tracks can restrict your options to a certain specialty fairly quickly, most bachelor’s degree programs in health sciences and health services aim to give you a grounding in the core concepts of higher education so you can maintain versatility.
As Giorgi said in her article, “While the bachelor’s degree still embraces the interdisciplinary nature of health sciences, it provides many options for students to prepare for specific careers.” Meaning that you couldn’t get away from those general courses and the expertise they provide even if you wanted to.
Keep in mind that if you want to get into a particular area of health care, you can also specialize more in a graduate program. As mentioned above, going to graduate school and continuing education for a career in graduate school is not only a good idea, it can be entirely necessary depending on your field.
Joy Cromwelle wrote on My Degree Guide about some particular areas that are popular for those who pursue a master’s degree in hopes of better job prospects or the chance to get more prestigious positions.
Cromwelle said, “One of the more popular options is to become an environmental specialist. These people look at global health through an environmental lens and advise people at individual plants and factories on how to provide a better quality of life.
“On the flip side of the coin are healthcare administrators, who operate as … managers that oversee extensive facilities. These administrators need to be fluent in medical terminology and understand how all aspects of the facility work. Additionally, you might leverage your degree to work as a program director or an advisor on significant healthcare initiatives and groundbreaking research.”
Whatever your choice of healthcare major, be sure to think about what kind of work you can see yourself doing—and feeling enriched by—for a long time to come.
Interested In Getting a Health Sciences & Services Degree
There are different health field majors, such as public health major and health administration, that prospective students in the health field can choose depending on the career. Also, whether a student chooses to become a registered nurse, a medical assistant, or look for a job in healthcare management, it's important to know what type of school is required for each. Whatever your specific health care major ends up being, you will need to carefully choose a great school to help you on the way to your degree. Consider a health science program like the one at North Central College.
North Central’s program provides the kind of broad base of knowledge it takes to succeed in any health field. According to Tammy Wynard, assistant professor of health science, “Our courses go specifically into the knowledge and skills beyond just the science of the human body for this purpose.”
North Central also knows that every student is different, and that you will need support to craft the academic journey that fits your unique skills and interests. Kristin Ann Paloncy-Patel, assistant professor of health sciences, said, “As program director, one of my focuses is to individualize this major for each student and I do that by working directly with each student. Early on in their major, I meet with students to help identify interests in health/medicine and select what area they want to pursue. Then once the decision is made, we work together in their upper-class years to integrate the requirements necessary for graduate programs application (such as additional courses, hours of experience, etc.).”
If this is the kind of attention and guidance that sounds right for you, find out more about North Central College today.
Jacob Imm is the assistant director of communications for the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 11 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.
Anne Giorgi, All Allied Health Schools. https://www.allalliedhealthschools.com/health-science/
Joy Cromwelle, My Degree Guide. https://www.mydegreeguide.com/what-can-you-do-with-a-health-science-degree/