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Online Health Science PhD Programs: Explore Today’s Top Schools

Ready to meet your academic and professional potential in health science? Learn about online PhD and doctorate programs and how they can help you achieve all you set out to.

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WRITTEN BY: Stephen Porritt
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REVIEWED BY: Edumed Editing Staff

Last Updated: 02/09/2024

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Now more than ever, healthcare professionals are in high demand. In fact, opportunities are projected to grow by 13% over the next decade, resulting in two million new jobs. The thing is, they won’t all be the same job. Not only is there a growing need for physicians, but for physician’s assistants, healthcare administrators, researchers, educators, and a whole lot more.

Whether you have yet to join the workforce, or are currently employed in an allied healthcare field and want to skill up and earn more, these job opportunities are good news. With the right postgraduate training, you can prepare yourself to take advantage of these opportunities. Better still, that training doesn’t have to come in the form of medical school. After all, not every “doctor” working in an allied healthcare discipline is an M.D. In this article, we’ll explore the difference between online PhD and doctorate programs in health science, top schools that offer them, available specializations, and more.

Keep reading to discover how an online PhD in health science can open doors for you as you look to broaden your employment options.

Whether you’re looking for detailed guidance on selecting the right online health science degree for you or you’re just here for some recommendations on schools that offer excellent post-graduate education, you’ve come to the right place. So, without further ado, here are three online PhD programs in health science that would serve you well.

Faulkner College of Health Sciences

Faulkner University is home to over 3,000 students pursuing a variety of degrees. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), with specialized accreditation in multiple fields including legal studies, speech pathology, business education, and several healthcare professions, Faulkner University guarantees its students an education that meets standards of academic excellence and professional preparation.

Applicants to their online PhD in health sciences program should be prepared to meet a number of qualifications, including completion of an accredited graduate program in a relevant field with a minimum GPA of 3.0 GPA; submission of a resume relevant educational and professional experience; a letter of intent that describes their intended career goals, areas of research interest, and reasons for pursuing this degree; and letters of recommendation from former professors and professional supervisors.

Students can expect to spend $780 per credit hour, and at 45 total credit hours, can expect to graduate in just 18 months.

RUSH University

RUSH University is both an academic institution and a fully-fledged medical center, allowing it to operate as an educational, research, and clinical facility simultaneously. In other words, RUSH puts students as close to active professionals in their field as possible. In fact, degree programs offered at RUSH University are built on a teacher-practitioner model, meaning that every instructor has first-hand, real-world experience with the professions and principles they teach in class. And, as an institution with Joint Accreditation, RUSH has received specialized accreditation for each of its areas of focus — nursing, pharmacy, and medicine.

Students of its online Doctorate of Philosophy in Health Sciences program can expect to study for four to five years, at a cost of $1,046 per credit. They have the option to enroll full-time or reduce their course load per semester and study part-time. Average class sizes range between eight and ten students, allowing students to better capitalize on the personal expertise of the instructors.

The online PhD program at RUSH University prepares students for roles in academia, clinical research, and senior level management in allied health.

University of South Dakota

The University of South Dakota is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and holds a host of additional programmatic accreditations for specialized programs, making USD a prestigious and well-respected institution.

USD’s online Health Sciences PhD program includes 75 credit hours of major area coursework, plus 15 credit hours of discipline-specific coursework, allowing each student to focus their education in subject areas that best suit their career goals. Finally, dissertation requirements add another 15 credit hours. The program is designed for practicing healthcare professionals who are looking to further their training and employment opportunities. Depending on your career goals or areas of focus, this post-graduate program can prepare you for further clinical practice, positions in research, or roles in management.

Admission requirements include completion of a master’s or higher degree, with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.4.

Doctor vs. PhD in Health Science: Which is Right for You?

While the terms are often used interchangeably, a doctorate and a PhD aren’t necessarily the same thing. In healthcare especially, there is often a big difference between “doctor” and “professor.” While both cover similar subject matter, there are a few practical nuances that separate a Doctorate of Science and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Health Science.

Career Trajectory

One of the greatest distinctions between a PhD and DHSc (Doctor of Health Science) is that of career goals. Degree earners in both groups leave their university well-prepared to further promote positive health outcomes wherever they find employment. PhD graduates are typically focused on a more specialized area of expertise and typically pursue roles in research and management.

Meanwhile, DHSc candidates receive training that tends to be more broadly focused and practical in nature since programs are designed with both current and future clinicians in mind. Those who earn a doctorate are often already licensed to practice in their current capacity, or expect to earn a license following their graduation, further supporting clinical career outcomes.

Duration

Online programs tend to be a little less standardized in their estimated durations or completion times. Many students study part-time to accommodate their work schedules, while others leverage the online format to fast-track their education and reduce the time to graduation. As such, it’s important to treat these estimates as guidelines rather than absolutes. That being said, as a general rule, PhD programs are longer — in many cases by twice as much — as doctorates.

Some PhD programs can be completed relatively quickly (18 to 24 months), normally, though, these programs run anywhere from three to five years, due in large part to the dissertation component.

Doctorate programs, on the other hand, don’t usually take longer than 40 months to complete. One reason for the shorter duration is how licensing is handled — clinicians must be licensed locally, so most online programs expect you to do so separately.

Focus & Application

As mentioned above, PhD graduates lean toward non-clinical roles after graduation, while doctorate earners tend to pursue clinical ones. Despite this, students in both types of programs often begin their post-graduate programs with some measure of clinical experience under their belt, and graduates from either category can find their way into just about any particular profession with the right approach.

The bottom line is this: doctorate students pursue their programs asking questions like If you’re going into this decision asking yourself “How can I provide better healthcare to my patients?” a doctorate aligns better with your goals. Meanwhile, if you are wondering “How can I facilitate better healthcare?” a PhD is likely the right path for you. The former looks at the situation from the lens of a provider, while the latter considers it from the position of a given specialized member of support staff.

Graduation Requirements

A good deal of the coursework and graduation requirements for both online health science degree programs look identical at first glance. The primary differences you’ll encounter are in approaches to subject matter (required PhD courses typically involve more discussion of theory or management, while doctorate courses tend to focus on practice and implementation). Additional differences come down to the quantity and duration of work to be completed.

Lastly, beyond requiring more credit hours on average, PhD programs involve dissertation components, which often constitute an entire year of study on their own.

Online Health Science PhD & Doctorate Programs at a Glance

Now that we’ve addressed some of the functional differences between available programs, let’s take a deeper dive into what it takes to get into, pay for, and successfully complete the right online PhD in health sciences for. Let’s take a closer look and break down the details.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for these kinds of post-graduate programs can be steep. Some will be slightly more flexible than others (for example, programs focused specifically on administration will usually have lower GPA requirements). In general, though, you should expect to see some variation of the following:

  • A master’s degree or higher from an accredited institution in a relevant field.
  • A cumulative GPA minimum of between 2.5 and 3.0 — or higher — on a 4.0 scale.
  • Verifiable professional experience relevant to both the program and your desired future career.
  • Letters of recommendation from both former instructors and supervisors.

Cost & Financial Aid

Between variable tuition costs, financial aid opportunities, scholarship potential, and reimbursement arrangements with healthcare employers, it can be hard to hone in on an average cost for online PhD programs in health sciences. That said, you should expect to pay roughly $1,000 to $2,000 per semester in tuition fees on the low end and as much as $1,000 (or more) per credit hour on the higher end.

Financial aid can also be a little difficult to estimate beyond standard FAFSA support. Unfortunately, many universities offer far fewer financial aid options for post-graduate programs than their undergraduate counterparts. That’s why we developed a separate guide on available scholarships and online resources for health science students to help fund their academic pursuits.

Delivery

These days, you can choose to earn your PhD in health sciences in one of several coursework delivery formats: online, hybrid, or in-person. There are many online programs available, but not all of them are labeled the same way (despite covering much of the same material). While most on-campus doctorates and PhDs in health science are referred to as such, many of their online counterparts are broken directly into their subordinate specialties.

Some of the most common program names include:

Health Science Specializations at the Professional Level

Let’s wrap things up with a closer look at some program specializations and the estimated earning potential for associated professions. Remember, there will be a lot of common ground between these specialties, so you’re bound to gain a broad understanding of a large swath of niche topics and how they relate to the subject you decide to pursue in-depth.

Clinical Research

Programs focused on clinical research teach students about laboratory science, diagnostic efficiency, and research leadership. Much of the coursework centers on leveraging laboratory services to support, enhance, and improve clinical outcomes for providers and patients. Graduates can use their degree to pursue roles in laboratory science, medical research, and leadership roles for non-clinical teams.

Epidemiology

In a post-COVID environment, few areas of specialty feel as critical as those that attempt to prevent further global pandemic events. That’s where epidemiology comes in. Students in these programs learn about how diseases spread through a population; how they can be researched and monitored; and how data and technology can provide the tools to more effectively steer the ship out of troubled waters.

Health Policy and Management

Programs in public health, health policy, and healthcare administration focus heavily on the monitoring, analysis, and prediction of — and response to — trends in a given demographic. Depending on the area of specialization, this may be as narrow a focus as a single clinic or facility, or as broad as an entire nation. Regardless of the scope, the goal is the same: use data to identify areas of potential risk and/or opportunity and leverage policy and organizational efforts to pursue more positive outcomes for the population(s) in question.

Nutrition Science

Nutrition programs instruct students on nutrition; dietary science; human metabolic processes; gastrointestinal functions and health concerns; the impact of exercise on nutritional outcomes; and more. After graduation, you’ll be prepared to pursue roles as a dietitian, public health dietitian, registered dietary nutritionist (RDN), and more.

Rehabilitation Sciences

Practitioners in the rehabilitation sciences help patients return to their normal lives and routines after receiving treatment for an illness or injury. From helping athletes recover full range of motion after a sports injury to facilitating prosthetic fittings for patients recovering from an amputation, this path will allow you to research, develop, and implement methods and treatments that lead to more positive patient outcomes. Depending on the specialization, graduates may either become clinicians (e.g. Doctor of Physical Therapy), or focus more heavily on research and management (e.g. PhD in Rehabilitation Science).

Career & Salary Outlook

Your career options as a graduate of a PhD program in health sciences are boundless, but for now, let’s take a closer look at your prospects if, like many of your peers, you pursue a career in epidemiology. Obviously, helping people live healthier lives is rewarding, but job satisfaction doesn’t pay the bills. Luckily, the salary of an epidemiologist does. In addition to seeing significant growth year over year, epidemiology offers a competitive salary, with median earners bringing home nearly $80,000 per year and top earners easily clearing six figures. So, consider the data below as you begin considering your academic and professional future.

AreaOccupationBaseProjectionChangePercent ChangeAverage Annual Opennings
United StatesEpidemio-logist7,80010,2002,40030.8%900

Source: Projections Central

AreaOccupation10th PercentileMedian90th Percentile
U.S.Epidemiologist$50,100$78,830$130,050

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics