Rankings: 2023’s Best Online Programs for Healthcare Education
What does it mean to be a top online school in healthcare? Hundreds of colleges, universities, and vocational schools in the U.S. offer online programs in a variety of healthcare fields, including nursing, medical assisting, healthcare administration, and dozens of other disciplines. And while many of these institutions provide high quality education, some may be out of your price range. Or, some may be more than affordable, but they lack the accreditation or the online learning options you need to move your career forward. To help you find the right online program in your chosen healthcare field, we’ve researched and analyzed more than 7,700 schools across the country to see which ones stand out. Which have the best combinations of quality, affordability, and services for their students. Select a ranking below to review that subject’s top online schools for 2023.
- Behavioral & Mental Health
- Biomedical Technician (BMET)
- Certified Nursing Assisting (CNA)
- Child Development
- Dental Assisting
- Dental Hygiene
- Dialysis Technician
- EMT Training
- Exercise Science
- Health Informatics
- Health Information Management
- Health Science
- Healthcare Administration
- Healthcare Management
- Home Health Aide Certification
- Human Services
- LPN/LVN Nursing
- Marriage and Family Therapy
- Massage Therapy
- Medical Administrative Assisting
- Medical Assisting
- Medical Billing & Coding
- Nuclear Medicine Technology
- Nurse Practitioner
- Occupational Therapy
- Ophthalmic Technician
- Paramedic Training
- Pathologists’ Assistant
- Pharmacy Technology
- Physical Therapy Assisting
- Physician Assisting
- Public Health
- Radiation Therapy
- Radiology Technology
- Registered Nursing (RN)
- Social Work
- Sonography & Ultrasound Technology
- Speech Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA)
- Sterile Processing Technician
- Surgical Technology
- Veterinary Assisting
- Veterinary Technology
How It All Works: Online Education in Healthcare
In the world of healthcare, some professions are more hands-on than others. The amount of online learning in a program usually depends on the amount of academic, clerical, and clinical knowledge needed to succeed in a particular career. For example, medical biller and coder responsibilities lie almost exclusively with academic and clerical work, which is why these programs can be entirely online. On the other hand, nurses work with patients in a clinical setting every day, meaning that most nursing programs have a heavy face-to-face component.
Here’s a quick look at example courses within each category, and whether or not they can be taken online:
Academic Courses Online: Yes
These courses set the foundation of knowledge for any health-oriented education program. In fact, many programs – from nursing to medical assisting to radiology tech and more – will include courses similar to these. Since there is no hands-on work involved, they can be taken mostly or fully online.
Anatomy and physiology – Learning to read a “road map” of the human body
Basic or advanced biology – Provides an understanding of basic physical processes for human beings
Human diseases – A look at human disease through the lifespan
Mathematics – Important for understanding the basics of calculating dosages, figuring out billing and coding errors, etc.
Medical law and ethics – Understanding the ethical and legal aspects of healthcare work
Medical terminology – An overview of the most common medical terms
Nutrition – A look at proper nutrition for different age groups
Patient assessment – How to take and understand vital signs and patient histories
Pharmacology – Study of the various drugs that can be administered to patients
Clerical Courses Online: Yes
These courses focus on the paperwork that drives so much of the healthcare system today. Like the academic courses, these can be taught and taken via the web.
Administrative procedures – A deeper understanding of management practices and administrative responsibilities
HIPPA compliance and ethics – The laws and requirements in place for healthcare workers concerning privacy, ethics, legal issues and more
Insurance and finance – A dive into third-party systems, the structure of insurance companies, appeals and more
Insurance appeals – Learning the ins and outs of the appeals process
Medical billing – Learning how to use appropriate billing practices that keep a medical business running
Medical coding – Practicing coding with ICD-10 and other codes that ensure healthcare workers get paid
Medical office procedures – Understanding all the basics of how a medical office works
Medical transcription – Transcribing notes and dictations from healthcare providers to create an up-to-date medical chart
Clinical Courses Online: No
These are courses that must be completed in person, as they have a hands-on elements that simply cannot be taught through online means. Some courses might be a hybrid, in which some of the assignments can be completed online while other assignments must be completed in a classroom or clinical setting.
Clinical nursing residency – Working hands-on with patients under the close supervision of a registered nurse or physician. These courses can be specialized depending upon the educational path; examples include pediatric, obstetrics and women’s health, gerontology, cancer clinics, etc.
Fieldwork (or practicum) – Putting education to work in an approved setting, under the watchful eye of seasoned medical professionals
Internship – Completing a certain number of hours in a clinical, hospital, nursing home or the like, completing duties as assigned
Physical assessment lab – Learning to assess patients’ vital signs, overall appearance and complaints in a medical setting
If you’re part of an online program in healthcare that uses occasional in-person elements, learn how to make the most of your experience with our guide on How Residencies & Meetups Work.
Online Learning Platforms & Tech
For most schools, online learning is handled by a learning management system. Through these platforms, colleges can tailor their programs through the use of video chat, discussion boards, virtual scheduling calendars, integrated video streaming, and more. These platforms also allow for a variety of online resources to be integrated with the student’s program, such as tutoring options and library services. Here are some of the more common platforms and tech an online student might encounter:
Online courses can be delivered either synchronously (which means a student must be in front of the computer at a designated time), or asynchronously (the student still has regular deadlines, but doesn’t have “class” on any set schedule).
The 3 Types of Online Programs
Now that you know how these online programs work, what are your options for taking courses online? For some programs, you can look forward to an entirely online experience and never set foot in a classroom. But for others, you might have to attend some in-person sessions. Here are the basics of what you need to know, but if you want to learn more, check out our guide on online vs. hybrid vs. campus learning in healthcare.
- Fully online
In this type of program, students will complete every bit of their coursework online. This includes everything that is required for graduation, such as all general education, academic or clerical classes, as well as any examinations, group projects or collaborations. These programs employ distance learning to the fullest, which allows students from across the country to participate in the program. Examples of programs that use fully online formats to full advantage include:
- Medical billing and coding online courses
- Health information technology
- Medical transcription
- Some nursing bridge/completion programs
- Hybrid or blended
Hybrid (also called blended) courses are exactly what they sound like: they include both online courses and a hands-on element. But not all hybrid programs require the same amount of face-to-face learning. Mostly online programs are heavy on distance courses and light on hands-on training, while partially online programs simply allow students to supplement their in-person college experience with some online courses. Here’s a deeper dive into the two.
Mostly online: In these programs, a vast majority of courses can be taken online. Students can also complete exams through online proctoring, and can even work with other students for in-depth collaboration on assignments, reports and projects. In this situation, the only face-to-face work a student must complete will be in courses that require laboratory work, clinicals, or an internship. A few examples of programs that can take the mostly online approach include:
- Medical assisting
- Licensed practical nursing
- Magnetic resonance imaging
Partially online: In this type of hybrid program, students spend most of their time on campus. They take many courses in a traditional classroom on a regular semester schedule. However, some of their courses – especially prerequisites, general education courses and basic fundamentals of healthcare courses – can be taken online. Exams tend to be completed in person, and, of course, the hands-on work happens on campus or at an approved facility nearby. In a program like this, the use of online courses is a convenience for the student who wants a little more flexibility. Programs that often use this approach include:
Remember that online schools and programs in medical and health can vary widely. Even programs that culminate in the same certificate can have different requirements. For instance, one medical assisting certificate program may be partially online, while another will be mostly online; the former will have many more hands-on requirements than the latter. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to research potential programs thoroughly to determine which ones meet your personal needs.
How Online Schools Tackle Hands-on Requirements
Each online school has its own way of tackling the hands-on requirements for students in programs with moderate to heavy patient work. In some cases, the work can be completed at the college or university, or at a healthcare facility nearby. But what about those who live across the country from their online school? There are options for them as well. Here are a few of the most common questions asked by potential students:
1. How much in-person work is required?
This will depend greatly upon the program focus. For instance, a phlebotomist might have only a few weeks of hands-on training, while an aspiring nurse might face several semesters of clinical work. Internships might take up an entire summer or longer. To determine how much in-person work will be required, it’s always a good idea to study the curriculum plan of the program you hope to attend. Also, don’t be afraid to call a program representative and ask! Quality schools with online programs will have someone available to address any concerns you might have.
2. Where do online students complete their hands-on work?
3. Does the school set them up or do they find them on their own?
4. How does a student go about finding their own opportunities?
If you’re moving into a profession that requires plenty of hands-on work with patients – such as nursing or occupational therapy – any reputable program is going to require extensive hours of clinicals or an internship. Completing these hands-on sections are needed for graduation; beyond that, they are critical to getting hired. Employers want to know their new hires can hit the ground running, with excellent skills already learned through their educational program. If you’re headed for a patient-centric career, be very wary of any program that says “no hands-on work needed!”
Interview with an Online Student in Healthcare
Chris Caulfield RN, FNP-C is the Chief Nursing Officer of the nursing workforce management organization called IntelyCare. He earned his Masters Degree in Nursing from Frontier Nursing University.
Q. What did you find were the most valuable parts of your online program, and how did they strengthen your skills?
A. My distance-based education helped enforce critical thinking skills and independence. I’ve had the opportunities to get several degrees mainly from traditional on-site universities and college. When you are at school going to class 3 days a week it is easier to stay on track; however, when attending a university that is online, deadlines can quickly approach without much of a reminder. My organizational skills and personal ‘to-do list’ were forced to be quickly brought up to a higher level of execution.
Q. What were the most challenging aspects of taking the online classes?
A. Trying to figure out your own learning style. When taking classes at a traditional university, you have an in person instructor and it is easy to form a study group with your peers. On the other hand, [with] online courses it is sometimes more difficult quickly communicating with your instructors and many of your fellow students live in other states. I found that I best learned my graduate level Nursing courses by utilizing (nursing and medical) board review books and watching some great YouTube videos focused on the subject/topic I was trying to better understand.
Q. What was a typical day of school like for you?
A. For my didactic portion of my NP program, I’d typically spend about 5-6 hours per day reading my textbooks, review books, and watching videos. I’d usually spend several hours at my house and then take a walk to a local coffee shop for another couple of hours of studying. During my clinical training, I would typically spend 2-3 days per week for an 8-hour day at local healthcare clinics up until I reached around 1,000 clinical hours.
Q. How well do you feel your online program prepared you for your career in healthcare? What in particular made it such a great fit?
A. I feel that my NP program did a great job of preparing me as Nurse Practitioner. My school had a great mix of introduction in-person orientations that I was able to meet my fellow distance-based Nursing students as well as a great online community via forums.
Interview with a Professor of an Online Program in Healthcare
Christine A. Argenbright, PhD, RN, is the CNL/NA Program Coordinator and an Associate Professor at James Madison University.
Q. What should students look for in a reputable online program (beyond accreditation and graduation rates)?
A. Review the curriculum and expected full and part-time completion times. How long will it take you to complete the program? Does the program have restricted timelines? Explore options for increasing and decreasing course loads. What active role does the student have to take on to facilitate course enrollment and practicum expectations when applicable? Are the courses asynchronous, synchronous or combination? How often is campus presence mandatory? Is deferment a possibility without being dropped from the program?
Q. On the other hand, what should students avoid when choosing the right program for them?
A. Avoid overextending yourself and increasing financial stress. How much time can you honestly commit? Avoid financial burden. How many financial resources are available to you and how much debt will you occur?
Q. What can students do during their program to help improve their chances of getting hired upon graduation?
A. Make a wise decision about your program selection that supports future endeavors. For example, will a degree from a specific program give you a competitive edge? Build a strong network of professional connections while in school. Avoid a silo mentality. Engage in your community and seek out opportunities to connect with individuals who are currently working in the area you desire to be in after graduation.
Q. Any other insights you’d like to add about online medical and health programs?
A. Your quality of life is more important than the quality of the program. Before you begin the process of searching and selecting an online program, make sure you are clear about your short- and long-term goals. The program you select must be in alignment with the expectations you have set for your own success. The program should support you; it should not be a barrier to your success.
Key Online School Resources
Enrolling in online school can be a tough decision, even if only part of your program is delivered virtually. You might have doubt when it comes to the type of program you need, the impact it could have on your finances, and what it takes to succeed. If this sounds like you, check out some of the key online school and program resources available on EduMed.
- Certificate vs. Diploma vs. Degree: Read the difference between these three credentials and the pros and cons of each online.
- Cost of an Online Degree: Learn the real cost of that online credential you’ve been thinking about.
- Highest Paying Healthcare Degrees Online: Which healthcare degrees available online lead to the highest salaries?
- Online Degree Completion: Want to go back to school online to finish what you started? See if an online degree completion program might work for you.
- Online Learning Test Drive: Not sure if you can learn effectively online? Read how you can try out an online course or program before you apply and enroll.
- Online School for Working Adults: Working full-time but still want that degree? See how online school could be the best way for you to earn your degree while balancing work and life responsibilities.
- Pre-Health Education Tracks: For students thinking about a career in healthcare, a number of “educational tracks” exist to help them reach their goal. Learn how a pre-health track in college can help prepare you for entry into physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other professional healthcare careers.
- Top Associate Degrees in Healthcare Available Online: Discover which associate degrees can prepare you for some of the top-earning careers in healthcare and find out why you should consider earning your healthcare degree online.
- Top Bachelor’s Degrees in Healthcare Available Online: Find which online bachelor’s degrees lead to the highest paying careers in healthcare and learn about the benefits of earning your degree digitally.
- Top Master’s Degrees in Healthcare Available Online: Want to earn an online master’s degree that prepares you for a high-paying job in healthcare? Find the top degrees at this level and learn how much you can make.
- Top Doctorate Degrees in Healthcare Available Online: Ready to align your career aspirations with an online healthcare degree that can increase your paycheck? Discover which doctorate degrees in healthcare can help you earn the most and find out why learning online can be a smart choice.
- Fastest Healthcare Certifications: Want to break into the healthcare field fast? Discover which healthcare certifications you can get quickly so you can start your dream career as soon as possible.
Read Up Roundup
Choosing the best medical and health program is not an easy task. When you throw the various online options into the mix, the venture gets even more difficult. Even though we’ve given you a great start in understanding the options, there’s so much more to learn about online programs, and so many decisions to make on the path to determining which one is right for you. If you’re looking for more, check out these helpful resources.
American Medical Association. Designed for physicians but with an enormous amount of information anyone in the medical field can use, this is a great place to learn more about advances in healthcare.
Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions. From radiologist to medical assistant to nurse and more, aspiring healthcare professionals can turn to this site for information on allied health degrees, schools and careers.
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook. This valuable resource has a wealth of information on almost any career imaginable, including those in allied health, nursing, medicine and the like.
Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. This important organization looks at the quality of various programs for allied health professionals.
Explore Health Careers. This site offers everything from advice on how to find the best education to job boards, events, resources and more.
Federal Student Aid. The home of the FAFSA, this site provides information on financial aid, grants, loans and other ways to pay for a college education.
Health Professionals Network. Here you can find news and information on a variety of health-related issues faced by professionals in the field.
U.S. Department of Education: Accreditation. Finding an accredited school is vitally important for all students seeking a certificate, diploma or degree. This page explains everything about it.
What is eLearning? Known as online learning, distance education and even the virtual classroom, taking courses online can be tough to understand at first. Here’s a primer courtesy of the state of North Carolina.