While medical doctor degrees immediately come to mind when considering which healthcare degrees bring the highest pay, there are many other programs in the medical field that offer the opportunity to earn a great salary. From physician assistant to healthcare administration, many of these degrees can be earned online. Find out which healthcare degrees pay the most.
Timon Kaple, Ph.D., is a full-time writer and researcher. His work focuses on sociolinguistics, small-group folklore, the anthropology of sound, higher education, and student support services. He has experience as an ethnographer and enjoys conducting fieldwork and archival research.
Last Updated: 10/14/2020 ——
It’s no surprise that the highest-paying degree in healthcare is the M.D. While becoming a physician isn’t in the cards for everyone, there are many other healthcare degree programs that can bring opportunities for gratifying, challenging, and well-paying careers, and many of them are available online. Schools have created inventive ways of ensuring that students pursuing healthcare degrees online receive the same level of education and training as those who attend campus degree programs.
Graduates from online healthcare programs play vital roles in the healthcare system. Their job security and earnings projections look bright too, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting an expected 15% job growth from 2019–2029 and a 2019 median annual wage of $68,190 across all healthcare practitioner and technician occupations. Explore your degree program options and learn about the best-paying degrees in the healthcare field.
The Highest-Paying Online Degrees in Healthcare
Students interested in a career in healthcare are often able to find their desired degree programs in a hybrid, partially online format and perhaps even a fully online program. While some healthcare degree programs have hands-on training requirements, you may be able to satisfy some of those traditionally in-person requirements if you have work experience or previous coursework in those areas. In most cases, however, you can expect to have some online coursework and a required in-person clinical or on-campus component to earn your degree.
Physician assistants (PAs) work directly with patients in hospitals and clinics. They may also seek out positions teaching students in healthcare programs. Work as a PA typically consists of treating patients, conducting research, teaching PA students, making diagnoses, and prescribing medications.
Degree Earned You need at least a Master of Science degree in physician assistant studies to become a certified PA (PA-C). That means you’ll need a four-year undergraduate degree and a two-year graduate degree before sitting for the certification exam. If you want to pursue more academic or research-based jobs, you can earn a Doctor of Science in physician assistant studies (D.Sc.PAS). Some PAs may choose to pursue other degrees, such as the Doctor of Medical Science degree or a Ph.D. in clinical research and healthcare management.
Who Is This Degree For? Physician assistant programs are for students who have a keen interest in providing direct patient care at a high level and wish to work in fast-paced clinic and hospital environments.
People who pursue a PA degree are typically required to have completed college-level prerequisites in essential areas such as biology, physiology, anatomy, and chemistry. To be accepted as a student in a PA program, you might also be expected to hold an undergraduate degree in a related field like biology, with a 3.0 GPA or higher, and possess some clinical experience at the time you apply.
Time to Degree Completion Full-time students completing a PA program mostly online or in a hybrid format can expect to spend 24–27 months finishing the degree. You may also seek out a dual BS/MS accelerated PA program, which enables students to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree concurrently. Students in this program are able to move on to graduate PA studies more quickly and usually take five years to finish the program.
What Earning This Degree Entails
In a PA program, you can expect to take coursework in hematology, gastroenterology, organ systems, and cardiology. You will also need to complete clinical experiences and clinical rotations, which usually consist of around 2,000 hours in total. These hands-on training scenarios give you the opportunity to work in fast-paced, team-based environments.
PA programs are available in mostly online and partially online hybrid formats.
Mostly online programs combine online studies with onsite field internships and clinical rotations. Some classes may include a lab component, so you may have to go to campus for that aspect of those courses.
Partially online programs give you the chance to attend PA classes in person to get some facetime with professors and other students. You’ll still have to complete clinical and field experiences in-person, but will likely be able to do this close to home. These hybrid programs typically take as long to complete as on-campus and mostly online formats.
Registered nurses (RNs) work alongside physicians providing treatment for patients experiencing a wide range of medical conditions. RNs often develop a specialty area while they’re in school such as pediatrics, gerontology, neonatology, or critical care. Depending on their training and position, RNs can administer medication, educate patients and their families on health issues and post-treatment scenarios, and monitor patient progress and recovery. They usually work in doctor’s offices, clinics, or hospitals.
Degree Earned There are multiple education routes to becoming a registered nurse. In most cases, you need either a campus-based or online associate degree in nursing, or the more popular bachelor’s degree in registered nursing to be eligible to sit for the NCLEX nursing licensing exam.
Who Is This Degree For? Students pursuing RN degrees should look forward to working with patients and other healthcare professionals in a fast-paced career. If you’re looking for an entry-level role, an associate RN degree can be a solid start to getting into the nursing field, with the opportunity to go back to school later to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you want to take on a more advanced role right out of school with potentially higher earnings, the bachelor’s degree is a good choice.
Many nursing programs require applicants to possess satisfactory SAT or ACT scores, a competitive GPA in high school or prior college coursework, and a history of coursework in areas including geometry, biology, chemistry, English, and a foreign language. You will also need to take a nursing program entrance exam.
Time to Degree Completion Associate degree in nursing (ADN) programs offer one of the fastest paths to becoming an RN, which usually takes two or three years to complete. A bachelor’s degree in nursing is a four-year program, but incoming bachelor’s degree seekers who’ve already earned an associate degree in the field can enter an RN-to-BSN program that takes two-three years to finish. If you already possess a bachelor’s degree in another science-related subject, you may be able to enroll in an accelerated BSN program, which could take as few as one year to 18 months to complete. There are also LPN-to-RN bridge programs for those who already possess a licensed practical nurse (LPN) certificate, which take about 12–18 months.
What Earning This Degree Entails
Depending on your level of training when you enter school, you will take coursework in nutrition, microbiology, anatomy, nursing skills, and other essential areas. Upper-level courses for nursing students often include clinical hours that you’ll complete in person in a healthcare setting. Even if you take the majority of your classes online, you will need to satisfy all face-to-face requirements to finish the program.
Many nursing programs today offer required coursework entirely or mostly online. This includes listening to recorded lectures, attending a live online class, and participating in online discussions with fellow nursing students.
Depending on the online program, you might need to attend in-person labs or weekend-long intensives while completing coursework.
Remote learners also need to obtain several hundred in-person clinical hours at an approved healthcare facility.
Nurse practitioners (NPs), work in a variety of healthcare settings in advanced practice care roles. These professionals carry out a variety of tasks including treating patients face-to-face, prescribing medications, educating patients and their families about health concerns, creating care regimens, and diagnosing health issues.
Degree Earned You will need at least a master’s degree to become an NP, the master of science in nursing. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, 14% of nurse practitioners hold a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree. This is an option if you wish to pursue additional, more specialized education after completing a master’s program.
Who Is This Degree For? This degree is for RNs who want to pursue more specialized and advanced roles in healthcare. NP programs enable you to develop your skill in an optional specialized area, such as psychiatry, pediatrics, neonatology, or dermatology. There’s also wider-reaching specialty areas, such as the family nurse practitioner (FNP) track. Most applicants who apply for NP programs possess a bachelor’s degree in nursing and are a practicing RN with some work experience.
Time to Degree Completion There are a few common routes to becoming an NP including the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and the BSN-to-DNP program. The MSN takes two years of full-time study to complete. The BSN-to-DNP program, depending on the school’s requirements and your chosen specialty area, may take four or more years to complete.
What Earning This Degree Entails
Graduate programs in nursing typically include both core classes and courses from specific tracks. Available concentrations vary between schools. For the most part, you can expect core classes in areas such as advanced health assessment, health policy, nursing pharmacology, and clinical pathophysiology. You’ll also need to complete 500–1,000 clinical hours.
Online NP programs cover the same content as on-campus programs. The main difference is that remote students complete most required courses online.
Prospective NPs will need to complete in-person, hands-on training. Requirements vary between schools but expect to complete up to 1,000 clinical practice hours. These can often be completed where you already work as a nurse.
Online NP students can choose from several specialty areas, including public health nursing, nurse executive, nursing education, nursing informatics, and family nurse.
Every major healthcare facility and pharmaceutical company needs trained professionals who can oversee departments, medical staff personnel, and programs with specialized healthcare knowledge. Professionals with degrees in healthcare administration also work at nursing homes, insurance companies, and specific clinical departments depending on their training and level of education.
Degree Earned Students interested in healthcare administration degrees have several degree options to choose from. Online learners can pursue an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science in healthcare administration. There are also degree programs for the bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD in healthcare administration.
Who Is This Degree For? Associate degrees typically prepare healthcare administration professionals for entry-level jobs working in healthcare facility offices that handle medical billing, coding, and transcription. Bachelor’s degree programs help you develop more healthcare-focused management skills and prepare you for supervisory roles in the healthcare industry. Master’s degrees also prepare you for leadership roles but at a higher level, including positions such as healthcare administrator, healthcare executive, and health services manager level. The Ph.D. in healthcare administration is designed to train students to become top-tier researchers, scholars, and professors at the university level.
Time to Degree Completion Associate degrees typically take two years to complete, while bachelor’s degrees take four to five years of full-time study. Learners entering a bachelor’s program in healthcare administration who already possess an associate degree in the field can usually finish in another two years. Master’s degrees in healthcare administration will usually take you two years to finish. Requirements for doctoral degrees in the field vary greatly between programs but can require four or more years to complete.
What Earning This Degree Entails
In an online healthcare administration degree program, depending on your degree level and program, you’ll study topics such as operations finance, medical billing and coding, communication skills, high-level decision-making, academic research skills, and the fundamentals of strategic planning. You will also study healthcare laws and regulations extensively, especially in master’s and doctoral programs. There are no required clinical hours for these degrees, but many learners choose to complete an internship position.
Just about every online healthcare administration degree will allow you to complete requirements entirely online. Classes may be in a synchronous or asynchronous format.
Depending on the course structure, you will need to engage with other learners through message boards, live chats, and virtual classes. Much of your learning will come from live video or pre-recorded lectures and assigned readings.
Many healthcare administration programs also offer hybrid formats if you want a mix of in-person and online coursework.
Doctoral students may have some on-campus obligations, depending on their department’s guidelines and dissertation requirements.
Public health professionals are responsible for disseminating medical and healthcare information to the public. They may work for local or federal governments, schools and universities, or nonprofit organizations. Depending on your level of training and concentration area, a public health degree can lead to careers in public health education, public policy and administration, biostatistics and informatics, epidemiology and research, and global health.
Degree Earned You can find public health degrees at all education levels. Degrees include the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts, the Master of Public Health (MPH), the Ph.D. in public health, and the Doctorate of Public Health (Dr.PH) degree.
Who Is This Degree For? If you are interested in learning foundational-to-advanced concepts in policy planning and development, disease prevention, financial planning and management, health services management, and research skills, a degree in public health can be an excellent choice. Learners seeking entry-level careers in the field may consider an associate or bachelor’s degree. The higher-paying, advanced roles in public health typically require a graduate degree.
For the MPH, schools often expect applicants to possess a 3.0 or higher undergraduate GPA and competitive GRE scores. If you have advanced research or university-level teaching careers in mind and wish to pursue a doctoral degree, you will need a master’s degree.
Time to Degree Completion For full-time learners, associate degrees in public health typically take two years to complete. Bachelor’s degrees often require full-time students to spend at least four years in school, although sometimes online learners in self-paced programs can finish more quickly. The MPH is usually two years long, while doctoral programs can take four or more years depending on the departmental requirements.
What Earning This Degree Entails
Your program in public health will cover several essential topics that relate to the general well-being of the public and the active roles that public health professionals take on in their health area. Essential areas of study include biology and public health, research skills, behavioral health in sociology, health behavior, and anatomy and physiology. Common concentrations of study for the popular MPH degree usually include epidemiology, health policy and management, global health, biostatistics, and community health.
You’ll be able to find public health degree programs in both fully online and hybrid formats.
Depending on your concentration area and department’s requirements, there’s the possibility that there will be some in-person requirements, but not always.
Many programs in public health today offer a combination of self-paced and synchronous classes. In other words, you will be attending some classes in real-time using video conferences as well as completing coursework on your own schedule.
Students who complete a degree in dental hygiene typically work in dental offices, though some may work in other clinical settings. Depending on your interests and training, you can seek out a career as a dental hygienist, pharmaceutical or dental supplies sales rep, dental hygiene educator or professor, dental researcher, or a community clinic administrator.
Degree Earned If you’re interested in pursuing a dental hygiene degree, you’ll choose from an Associate of Science, a Bachelor of Science, or a Master of Science in dental hygiene. Students should seek out programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
Who Is This Degree For? Most degree programs in this area will require you to have a competitive GPA, most likely 2.5 or higher. You’ll also need a successful course history in subjects including anatomy, chemistry, sociology, and biology. You don’t need an associate degree in dental hygiene to apply to a bachelor’s program, but you usually need a bachelor’s degree to apply to a master’s program in dental hygiene.
If you think you might have an interest in becoming a dentist one day, a dental hygiene degree is a good place to start. You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene to enter a four-year doctoral program to earn a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree.
Time to Degree Completion Full-time students usually need about two years to complete an associate degree in dental hygiene, which includes supervised clinical experience. The bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene normally takes at least four years to complete. Many incoming degree-seekers with an associate degree complete a bachelor’s completion program. These two-year programs are for students who already have a dental hygiene license and want to further develop their skills for more specialized care while finishing a bachelor’s. The master’s in dental hygiene is a two-year program.
What Earning This Degree Entails
Most dental hygiene degree programs offer a wide range of courses in the same essential areas of the field. Depending on the program, you will likely find classes in restorative dentistry, community dentistry, pharmacology, periodontology, dental office practice, biochemistry, and oral radiology.
In order to practice as a dental hygienist, you will need to earn state licensure. For licensure, you’ll need at least an associate’s degree to sit for the exam. You must also get your degree from a school that’s approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) in order to be eligible.
Schools with dental hygiene programs accredited by the CODA will offer curricula that cover all the essential concept areas including general education classes, biomedical sciences, dental science, and dental hygiene science.
Dental hygiene students who have completed entry-level education in the field usually have the option to enroll in a fully online program. This includes licensed dental hygienists who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree completion program.
Many schools offer a master’s of dental hygiene online with no on-campus obligations. They are often designed for students who are licensed dental hygienists and already possess a bachelor’s degree.
You may also be able to find four-year bachelor’s programs in dental hygiene that have no on-campus obligations. Fully-online master’s programs are more common in this field.
Graduates of occupational therapy degree programs typically work alongside other health practitioners, including nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, and physical therapists, to help patients regain mobility and go about their daily activities after a debilitating illness or injury.
Degree Earned Occupational Therapists (OTs) are required to complete a master’s in occupational therapy degree. You might also see OT degrees listed as a Master of Science or Master of Arts in occupational therapy. Although less common these days, colleges and universities may offer a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, but you’ll likely see them listed as “pre-occupational therapy” or as a combined bachelor’s and master’s program. To prepare students for entry-level positions as an OT aide or assistant, some schools might also offer an associate degree in occupational therapy.
Who Is This Degree For? Most students pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy to become a licensed occupational therapist. Some schools prefer that applicants possess about 150 hours of clinical experience and some related volunteer work at the time of their application. Since associate and bachelor’s degrees can prepare you for entry- and mid-level careers and various support positions in the healthcare field, there are usually no special prerequisites for these degrees outside of a competitive GPA and desire to learn the trades of the field.
Time to Degree Completion A master’s degree is the minimum required education to become a licensed occupational therapist which takes 2–3 years to complete. The bachelor’s degree takes full-time learners four years, while the associate program takes two. If you choose a combined bachelor’s and master’s program, you will likely need at least five years to finish.
What Earning This Degree Entails As a student in occupational therapy, you’ll take a broad range of classes that focus on functional anatomy, physiology, gerontology, medical terminology, and human development and function. You will also likely need to complete some in-person field education or clinical hours. These requirements vary between programs.
Accredited programs in occupational therapy usually require some in-person training like field education or clinical hours. The majority of your requirements for the degree, including any general education and specialized classes you’ll take, can often be done remotely.
You will most likely see occupational degree programs advertised as hybrid programs, featuring instructional formats that are both online and in-person.
Many master’s programs in occupational therapy cater to the needs of working adults, so there’s often a lot of online, asynchronous work to accommodate busy schedules.
An advanced pharmacy degree can lead to well-paying careers in retail pharmacies, medical institutions, the pharmaceutical industry, education, home healthcare, and local and federal governmental agencies. Most professionals with an advanced pharmacy degree work as community pharmacists or clinical pharmacists, dispensing prescription medications and offering patients advice on the safe use of prescriptions. Pharmacies in hospitals and retail stores also need trained professionals to handle day-to-day tasks and various assistive duties. This work is often carried out by a pharmacy technician.
Degree Earned If you would like to become a pharmacist, you will need to complete the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) program at an institution that holds accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and pass a licensure exam. Pharmacy technicians need to earn their diploma, certificate, or associate degree from an accredited institution and pass a separate certification exam.
Who Is This Degree For? You might be surprised to learn that students who have at least a couple of years of college coursework can pursue the doctor of pharmacy degree. You don’t need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in order to apply to most pharmacy schools. According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, “Most students enter a pharmacy degree program after completion of three or more years of college.” To apply for a certificate or associate degree program for pharmacy tech, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED.
Time to Degree Completion A Pharm.D. degree typically takes about three years of the appropriate pre-professional coursework in your undergraduate studies, followed by up to four academic years in a professional pharmacy program. Having a bachelor’s degree in a related field doesn’t necessarily put you on a fast track to finishing this degree earlier. If you’re interested in pursuing a pharmacy tech certificate or associate degree, you can complete those programs in about 10 weeks or two years, respectively.
What Earning This Degree Entails
To earn a Pharm.D. degree, you will need to complete a four-year professional curriculum along with approximately 1,700 hours of clinical experience. For most schools, the pharmacy curriculum helps learners obtain advanced skills in patient-centered care, drug therapy, molecular pharmacology, and biological and medicinal chemistry.
Pharmacy tech students develop useful knowledge in dosage calculations, drug classifications, medical terminology, and inventory control. Pharmacy tech certificate holders often seek out an externship to get some hands-on experience before applying for full-time positions.
Most Doctor of Pharmacy programs offer classes in a hybrid format.
Training includes more traditional studies and coursework that you’ll complete online paired with clinicals or rotations that are in person.
Some schools offer clinicals or rotations in a live online setting, but you will likely still need to attend multiple in-person training sessions at your school or a nearby approved facility.
Aside from an externship, pharmacy technician students can usually complete their requirements entirely remotely.
Most professionals with a physical therapy degree move on to careers as licensed physical therapists (PTs), working alongside other healthcare professionals to rehabilitate patients suffering from physical injuries, diseases, and other limitations. Other learners interested in this field can pursue careers as physical therapy assistants (PTAs).
Degree Earned There are a few physical therapy degrees available, the most common of which are the PTA associate or bachelor’s degree and the Doctor of Physical Therapy. Bachelor’s-level programs are usually coupled with another four-year major that includes a pre-physical therapy track. There are also Master of Science in physical therapy programs that allow students who already possess entry-level PT training to further develop their skills in a specialized area.
Who Is This Degree For? PTA programs usually require applicants to submit their high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. Competitive applicants typically possess a 2.0 or higher GPA. Additionally, admissions committees may require PTA applicants to possess at least 10 hours of relevant volunteer experience and a course history in biology, psychology, medical terminology, anatomy, and statistics.
For doctoral programs, prerequisites include GRE scores, about 100 hours of observation experience in a physical therapy practice setting, and history of coursework in areas such as anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, general physics, chemistry, and applied statistics.
Time to Degree Completion PTA programs usually take two years to complete, including coursework and clinical training. Bachelor’s programs with the pre-physical therapy track often take four years. While master’s programs usually take full-time learners two to three years to finish, most DPT programs will take you about three years to meet all of the requirements.
What Earning This Degree Entails
PTA classes include a mixture of communication and critical thinking classes, along with field-specific courses such as kinesiology, disabilities in pathology, clinical practice and discussion, anatomy and physiology, and medical terminology. PTA programs usually require 50–150 hours of hands-on field training, as well.
DPT learners engage in a more rigorous curriculum focusing on areas such as pharmacology, metabolic systems, clinical reasoning, endocrine systems, ethics in the workplace, and lab sciences. DPT students will also need about 110 hours of clinical training and participate in approximately 36 weeks of in-person clinical rotations.
Many students interested in completing a physical therapy associate degree remotely can do so by taking online classes and completing virtual training modules.
Remote students at all levels engage in interactive training laboratory projects, web seminars, and group discussions with other online students and their professors before engaging in any in-person clinicals for credit.
DPT students typically pursue degrees in hybrid formats, with online coursework and clinicals.
Nuclear Medicine Technology
Learners with training in nuclear medicine technology may find well-paying, tech-heavy jobs as nuclear medicine technologists (NMTs), radiation safety officers, MRI technologists, or nuclear medicine supervisors. These professionals work in hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices and use medical imaging technologies, X-ray machines, and other diagnostic imaging equipment to assist radiologists and care for patients with potentially serious illnesses.
Degree Earned Most careers in nuclear medical technology require learners to earn at least an NMT certificate or Associate of Arts in nuclear medical technology. It is increasingly common for aspiring NMTs to earn a Bachelor of Science in nuclear medicine technology to gain more specialized knowledge and better prepare for the state and national NMT certification exams.
Who Is This Degree For? If you’re interested in pursuing training in nuclear medicine technology, you’ll need to finish high school or earn a GED. Admissions committees might expect you to have a course history in precalculus, chemistry, biology, anatomy, English composition, and physics. Additionally, you’ll want to have a competitive GPA, proof of immunizations, a letter of recommendation, and, if possible, some relevant volunteer or work experience.
Time to Degree Completion An associate’s degree in nuclear medicine technology often takes 18 months to complete. Depending on the school, a bachelor’s degree in this field will take 3–4 years to finish all of the requirements. If you have previous coursework from a certificate or associate degree program, some of those credits may transfer toward a bachelor’s degree and help you finish more quickly.
What Earning This Degree Entails
In both associate or bachelor’s programs in nuclear medicine technology, you can expect to complete specialized coursework in areas including radiopharmacy, nuclear medicine science, medical equipment diagnostics, and positron emission tomography (PET). While many of these types of courses can be completed remotely, you’ll have to participate in some in-person clinical experiences as well. Major colleges and universities often have partnerships with local and regional healthcare facilities, which can make it easier for you to find an approved location to get this hands-on experience.
American Association of Nurse Practitioners AANP provides a long list of resources for NPs looking for help starting their careers, as well as certification information, continuing education opportunities, and financial resources.
American Occupational Therapy Association AOTA provides students and young professionals with great job searching tools, advice for recent graduates, continuing education opportunities, and field education workshops.
American Pharmacists Association The APhA’s career center page lists board certification resources, career advice, an active job board, and postgraduate opportunities.