Guide to College Majors in Health Services

Health can be squandered, but not stored up.
--Mason Cooley

What is Health Services?

A college major in health services can lead to many different opportunities in the fast-growing healthcare industry. Health services degree programs provide a solid foundation of general knowledge about health and applied science. As the degree program progresses, students supplement this general knowledge with a healthcare specialty of their choice, such as healthcare management, emergency services, counseling and more. Many students gain first-hand experience by engaging in extensive field study in their specialization.

Health services degrees are available at nearly every level of study, from associate degrees all the way up to PhD programs. Today, more and more healthcare professionals are choosing to earn their health services degrees online, in order to complement their existing career development. Since many health services degrees are non-clinical in nature, online degree programs have become a popular way for healthcare specialists to broaden their career prospects without giving up valuable income or office seniority.

Career Education in Health Services

The field of health services offers many different educational and professional concentrations. The degree program that you choose will depend largely on your interests and qualifications. Most health services college degree programs require students to complete a core curriculum of general education courses in mathematics, the humanities and social science. This coursework will provide you with a solid educational foundation for the advanced courses in your health services concentration.

As a health services major, you will take courses in:

  • Biology
  • Anatomy
  • Sociology
  • Economics
  • Accounting
  • Public Health
  • Health Policy

Areas of Concentration Within Health Services

If you enter a health services degree program at the certificate or associate level, you will gain skills in a specific health services field. You may, however, choose to continue your education to obtain a bachelor's or master's degree, which will expand your career potential. Some common health service specialties include:

  • Health Services Administration
    Many health services majors, particularly those enrolled online, choose to concentrate their studies on health services administration. These degree programs usually combine coursework in liberal arts, management theory, and applied health services information. You will study:
    • Healthcare administration
    • Health law
    • Health finance
    • Epidemiology
    • Health care economics
    • Health planning
    • Health regulation
    • Health science ethics
    This coursework prepares students to handle the finances of health organizations, to deal with health services personnel, and to manage the many state and federal departments covering the health services profession.
  • Mental Health Services
    The field of mental health services is growing as our society increases its knowledge about mental disorders. Many people have finally come to accept mental illness as a true physical illness rather than a character defect, and as such, funding and research in the field has increased considerably.

    Many health services students concentrate their studies on mental health. As in health services administration, a mental health services major must complete liberal arts curriculum requirements as well as extremely specific coursework.

    Mental health services professionals combine science and social work. Students who major in mental health services usually complete specialized courses such as:
    • Case management
    • Health research methods
    • Neuroscience
    • Wellness and community development
    • Clinical reasoning
    • Evaluation and research methods
    • Aging and mental health
  • Nursing
    Nursing rewards professionals by combining compassionate nurturing with state-of-the-art medical technology. The demand for nurses is enormous and continuing to grow.

    Nursing students must complete a rigorous course of medical study. In the second year of undergraduate study, most nursing majors will enter the field through an internship or other school-related program. Hands-on experience is of extreme importance in the education of nurses. Most of the coursework will provide students with classroom and field experience.

    Nursing students complete specialized courses in:
    • Microbiology
    • Human anatomy
    • Sociology
    • Nutrition
    • Abnormal psychology
    • Foundations of nursing
    • Nursing care of children and older adults
    • Nursing care of the childbearing family
    • Clinical rotations
    This curriculum provides nursing majors with strong theoretical and traditional medical science backgrounds, while also offering in-depth knowledge about the nursing field. Before nursing school graduates can become registered nurses in the United States, they must complete the national standardized test known as the National Certification Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX).

If you are interested in a degree program in health services, you should familiarize yourself with the different programs and specialties offered by a variety of colleges and universities. By obtaining this information, you will be better equipped to choose the one that is right for you.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Health Services?

Careers in health services are among the most important and the most in demand of any professional careers in the country. Health service providers combine basic human compassion with some of the most innovative and highly developed medical technologies available today. Health services professionals maintain the wellness of our human community.

10 out of 20 occupations expected to develop the fastest are in the healthcare field. Some jobs in the field do not require more than a high school diploma, while others require at least a bachelor's degree. Increasingly, master's degrees are required for upper-level positions in healthcare management and related services.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 518,000 establishments in the United States provide jobs in the health services industry. Most are small offices of dentists, physicians, or other health services professionals. These smaller businesses may employ only a handful of staff members while much larger establishments, like major hospitals, employ hundreds or thousands of health care workers.

Where to Find Health Services Jobs

  • Hospitals
    Hospitals provide a wide range of medical care, such as surgeries, consistent nursing care, and medical diagnostic services. Some hospitals provide specialized medical services, focusing their strengths on specific areas such as mental illness, cancer, or pediatric care. Most hospital patients require outpatient care, meaning that they will be in the hospital for less than a day, while others need inpatient treatment, requiring a stay in the hospital overnight. Many hospitals attempt to administer outpatient treatment when possible. The arrangement of workers needed to staff a hospital depends upon the hospital's size, location, funding, management style, mission, and philosophy. Hospitals employ the largest number of health services workers because of their need for workers with a diverse range of skills and educational backgrounds.
  • Nursing and Residential Care Facilities
    Nurses and nursing aides provide the most direct care of all professionals in the health services industry. Nursing care facilities administer nonstop personal nursing attention and treatment to patients who cannot care for themselves at home but do not require the breadth of services provided by hospitals. Residential care facilities include establishments like drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers and assisted-living homes. Workers in residential care facilities provide attention and care for the residents other than routine medical care. Most nursing and residential care facilities workers have educational backgrounds in nursing and psychiatry, and are trained to work as home health aides.
  • Physicians' Offices
    Many physicians and surgeons set up group practices, which enable them to reduce expenses and to afford expensive malpractice insurance. Though group practices tend to be small and therefore do not employ large numbers of health services providers, one-third of all health services establishments are group practices. This segment of the health services industry is a strong employer of health services providers. Many employees of physicians' offices work as physicians, surgeons, and registered nurses. Some offices employ aides and administrative staff.
  • Dentists' Offices
    Most dentists' offices are small and employ only a few health services providers-but there are many of them. One out of five health services establishments are dentist's offices. Dental health services professionals provide dental care and assist with dental hygiene or dental surgery. Larger dental offices may employ managers and administrative staff, though most employees in dental offices work at an assistant level.
  • Home Healthcare
    Home healthcare is one of the fastest-growing segments of the health services industry. Some patients prefer to be cared for at home, and may save money by hiring a home healthcare provider. Most home healthcare providers work under a physician's supervision and have access to new medical technologies. Most are trained as personal or home healthcare aides, though many providers have an educational background in nursing.
  • Offices of Specialized Medical Practitioners
    Many practitioners of other specialized forms of healthcare may have a private practice or may work through contract with a hospital. These include podiatrists, speech pathologists, dieticians, physical therapists, optometrists, chiropractors, and others. Also in this category are alternative medicine practitioners such as acupuncturists and hypnotherapists. Many workers in specialized medical practitioners' offices are professional-level employees, though some offices also hire aides and administrative support.
  • Outpatient Care Centers
    Many patients are in need of medical care that can be provided on an outpatient basis. There are many specialized facilities that offer this care, such as substance abuse centers, kidney dialysis centers, emergency centers, and mental health centers. Many outpatient care centers employ a large number of social workers and registered nurses.
  • Ambulatory Healthcare Services The ambulatory healthcare services segment of the industry is small, but includes vital medical services such as ambulance services and blood and organ banks. Many employees of ambulatory healthcare services have backgrounds in ambulance driving and ambulance attendance.
  • Diagnostic Laboratories Workers in diagnostic laboratories provide medical testing services for larger medical outfits such as hospitals. Some labs provide service directly to an individual patient. Medical diagnosis is a very specialized field in which workers use the newest technologies to perform blood analysis, take X-rays, or conduct other important tests. Diagnostic laboratories perform a vital medical service but employ the smallest number of workers in the health services industry. Many professionals in the diagnostic laboratory segment of the health services industry have specific training as X-ray technicians or medical equipment preparers.

Salary Expectations for Careers in Health Services

Health services salaries depend upon the size, location, and mission of the employee's health care establishment. The particular service provided by the worker will also affect earnings. Health services providers who work in major hospitals, for instance, usually earn more than professionals working at a residential care facility or as a home healthcare provider. Earnings for hospital staff are typically higher because hospitals generally require their employees to have higher levels of training and education. The average annual salary for most hospital workers is usually greater if the hospital is large.

Those who wish to work in a health services management position will generally need to have a higher level of education. Management positions usually pay more than other positions in the health services field, but the earnings depend upon the duties and responsibilities required by the job and upon the levels of experience and education held by the manager.

Health services establishments that must be continually staffed, such as residential care facilities and hospitals, often offer their employees premiums for overtime, weekend, and holiday work, and hours spent on call. Many health services establishments offer tuition reimbursement to encourage employees to receive more education in the field.

Health Services Career Outlook

The employment rate for those working in the health services field is expected to increase. According to the BLS, salaried employment in the industry is projected to grow by 16 percent through 2016 - a higher growth rate than the national average. Employment growth in hospitals is expected to reach 13 percent by 2012 and 56 percent growth is projected for the home healthcare services sector.

There are many reasons for this projected massive growth in the health services industry. The aging baby boomers are expected to increase the general demand for healthcare. This is especially true for the home healthcare, nursing, and residential healthcare sectors. Continuing developments in medical technology will also add to employment opportunities in the field, because these improvements will increase the survival rates of severely ill or injured patients. These patients will require additional therapy, nursing, and medical care. Medical technologies will also enable physicians to diagnose and provide services to patients suffering from illnesses and injuries once thought to be untreatable, thereby increasing the number of surviving patients in need of medical attention.

There are also financial reasons for the projected increase in employment opportunities in the health services industry. Group medical practices are expected to become larger, more common, and more diverse, thereby increasing staff needs. Outpatient care facilities are also expected to become more common, a projection that is based on improvements in medical technologies and the desire of hospitals to create less expensive outpatient opportunities for appropriate treatments.

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