When it comes to providing quality care to patients, it’s not only the public faces of medicine like doctors and nurses who are responsible. Behind the scenes, patients have a vast network of support, whether it be a friendly physician’s assistant, massage therapist or someone troubleshooting a newly implemented health information technology system. For this wide range of health professions, an allied health or health sciences degree is essential—and veterans may be uniquely suited for them.
According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report from December 2013, “Occupations and industries related to health care are projected to add the most new jobs between 2012 and 2022. Total employment is projected to increase 10.8 percent, or 15.6 million, in the next decade.” This is because of the aging baby boomer generation, the new health information management requirements, the Affordable Care Act and new technology requirements. Seventeen of the 30 job positions that are expected to grow are related to health care, including home health aides, diagnostic medical sonographers, physical therapist assistants and medical secretaries.
“It’s clear that health care is one of the most rapidly growing and evolving fields, with change occurring on a daily basis,” said Keith Smith, Kaplan University’s vice president of ground health programs and the dean of the School of Health Sciences. “Many veterans bring extensive experience as leaders and team members, especially in very dynamic settings. Whether you’re caring for a patient, educating and training others, or directly involved in health care administration, having excellent leadership and teamwork skills can be very useful—and marketable—in a health care setting.”
Kaplan University offers online degree programs from the associate level to the master’s level and can “prepare veterans to become front line care providers to senior level administration,” said Smith.
In Kaplan’s course catalog, prospective students will find Associate of Applied Science degrees in medical assisting, medical office management and health information technology; Bachelor of Science degrees in health science, health and wellness, health care administration, health information management, and nutrition science; master’s programs in public health, health information management, health informatics and health education; and a medical coding and billing certificate. Many of these degree programs incorporate subjects like anatomy and physiology, pathology, pharmacology, epidemiology and health care administration.
The Associate of Science in health science program was designed especially for veterans wanting to get a jumpstart on their next career. It could potentially reduce credits by 75 percent, as many veterans are eligible to receive credit from related military service. “In many cases … an associate degree can be earned in as few as five courses. Additional credit may also be applied toward the bachelor’s program once the associate degree has been completed,” said Smith. This is achieved by reviewing a student’s prior coursework, military occupational training and experiential learning.
With a Kaplan degree in health sciences, there are three general paths a student can take: patient care, health care administration, or public health/health education and promotion.
Through the online classroom, students can apply their knowledge in clinical simulations, and become familiar with interfaces and software that they might encounter in the work environment. Students in the health information technology program, for example, will develop familiarity with information management systems in simulated environments.
“They will be expected to navigate health information management systems, so they will work with electronic medical records, move them around, update information about patients, and do projects based on analysis and reporting,” said Sean Tibor, director of marketing for Nursing and Health Sciences. “We do a lot of simulations in a simulated hospital information system that they’d be working with. Obviously there are a lot of different platforms out there, but using one of these systems gives students the confidence they can learn how to use other systems to manage health information records without having to acquire a lot of additional training when they enter the workforce.”
“As the population continues to age, there are growing opportunities in each arena for well-educated professionals,” Smith remarked. “Having military experience and higher education is a significant advantage in competing in these fields.”
Unlike degrees related directly to nursing, medicine or pharmacy, health sciences or allied health degrees aren’t constrained to clearly defined roles and responsibilities. “In a medical setting, the nurse might do the initial assessment and triage, the doctor diagnoses and prescribes, and the pharmacist fills the prescription,” said Laurencia Hutton-Rogers, the chairperson of the Department of Health Science at Towson University in Towson, Md.
But it’s less intuitive to pin down what exactly the hardworking folks behind the scenes do. That’s because health sciences is a broader science degree with a focus on core sciences. Towson University, which also has online programs, offers a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science in health science, with concentrations in community health and school health—and a combination of the two, known as the dual concentration. The university also offers a Master of Health Science with concentrations in administration, community health, school health education and dual concentrations.
In addition to preparing a student for a variety of health- and science-related fields, such as nursing, occupational therapy, public health and social work, a health science degree gives students career flexibility. Students tend to seek employment as physicians’ assistants, middle or high school health teachers, health educators in a hospital setting, or work for community, health department, state and federal health agencies, nonprofit organizations, corporations, fitness centers, and corporations.
“Our degrees are encompassed within a public health model, and therefore train professionals to take a population approach to their work,” Hutton-Rogers explained. “While these professionals certainly do work with individuals, we tend to engage in a much broader scope with communities, systems and health policy.”
Before moving on to an internship at an approved health agency, undergraduate students can expect to learn about diverse subjects: nutrition, food safety, human sexuality, first aid and CPR, international health, U.S. health care policy, mental health and stress management, women’s health, environmental health, chronic and communicable diseases, substance use, geriatric health, the foundation of health education, curriculum and planning, health education instructional methods, program management, and evaluation and epidemiology.
Graduate students will learn about these topics in deeper detail. “They will cover additional topics including issues in school health; qualitative and quantitative methods in health; health administration, leadership and financial management; public health research methods; systems of care for chronically ill and physically dependent populations; workplace health; program planning and evaluation; planning and marketing health; health advocacy; managing volunteers; and managing conflict, violence and abuse in health settings,” said Hutton-Rogers.
Why might a degree related to health science appeal to a veteran? “Soldiers and veterans are a unique population. One of the issues we consistently talk about in health is the need for diversity and cultural competence. It would be awesome for veterans to pursue this career option so they can inform the delivery of health education and promotion within the [veteran] population,” she said. “They would be critical in identifying the needs of this population, developing strategies for reaching them, developing appropriate health messages and addressing policy and system issues. “Of course, the veterans who choose this career are not limited to working with the military/veterans, but this an area where they could continue to make a significant impact.”
“People who enter the armed services tend to be individuals who care deeply about not only their country, but the protection of its citizens,” reflected Maria Leonard, the academic manager of allied health programs at Globe University. “The allied health sciences area is all about putting the needs of others first and doing everything you can to help them to become and stay healthy. I think veterans also find that working in the allied health sciences area is cathartic; helping others can help you to heal yourself.”
At Globe University, which has campuses in Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota, and online degree programs, veteran and military students can apply their training to credit for some general education requirements according to American Council on Education guidelines. For students who served overseas, credit is awarded for interpersonal relations, global citizenship and intercultural communications.
The university offers several allied health-related programs, including a massage therapy diploma, an Associate in Applied Science in massage therapy, an Associate in Applied Science in medical administrative assistant, an Associate in Applied Science in medical assistant, an Associate in Applied Science in health fitness specialist, a Bachelor of Science in health fitness specialist, a Bachelor of Science in nursing, and a Bachelor of Science in health care management. Many students aspire to be massage therapists, medical assistants, medical administrative assistants, health fitness specialists, nurses, or clinical support.
“In the past 10 to 15 years, we have seen an increase in the number of massage therapists working in medical settings,” Leonard revealed. “The public and medical and health insurance industries have learned of the important contributions massage therapy can make in a patient’s recovery from many injuries, medical conditions, and emotional or psychological conditions.
“The health industry is changing, and you will find that the United States has developed a health care system that brings together many different skills to help the public achieve maximum benefits toward their health goals,” she continued.
The Globe University allied health program recognizes the importance of a whole body or holistic, approach toward health care. “Some of the core classes we offer are medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, applied ethics, professional communication courses, and then courses specific to the program area.”
Students pursuing a massage therapy concentration will learn how to give Swedish and Thai massages, myofascial releases (a soft tissue therapy that improves skeletal muscle immobility and pain), deep tissue therapy and craniosacral therapy. Aspiring medical assistants will learn about coding and billing, electronic health records, patient care and pharmacology, while students learning about nursing—which is not traditionally an allied health area—will learn about holistic care, nursing pharmacology, behavioral health care, pediatric care and research. Most allied health programs at Globe University also require students to complete externships, where they will get field experience in their area of expertise.
South University, which has its founding campus in Savannah, Ga., and 10 other brick-and-mortar locations, offers an associate degree in allied health sciences and a Bachelor of Health Sciences on campus and online. Required courses, such as biology, chemistry and a rounded general education, “serve as a foundation for the scientific degree,” said Charles Hossler, R.N., Ph.D., the interim dean of the College of Nursing and Public Health, an associate dean of Online Programs, and an associate professor in the program.
“Veterans have the discipline and dedication to complete complex degrees such as the Bachelor of Health Sciences,” he said. “They often come with experience in several of the fields that health sciences is designed to promote. This allows him or her to build upon their current expertise rather than start over in a field unrelated to their past experiences.”
Graduates with this degree often go into scientific research, pharmaceutical sales and public health. “They often use the degree to apply for graduate programs including medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy or even direct entry nursing programs,” Hossler said. “Virtually any career that a student may want to pursue in the health sciences is possible with a bachelor’s in health science.”
DeVry University offers several degree programs related to health sciences. At the associate level are degrees in electroneurodiagnostic technology and health information technology. There are bachelor programs in clinical laboratory science, biomedical engineering technology, health information management, and health services management. Students can also earn master’s degrees in health services management, health information systems, biomedical engineering and health information technology.
DeVry offers many tailored modes of support to veterans throughout their enrollment, including transition assistance, academic support and peer veteran support. A veteran himself, Scott Stratton, DeVry University’s military liaison and senior executive advisor, has observed several traits that could make veterans a natural fit for this versatile industry. “After the student commits to the program and earns the degree, the soft skills they built [while in the military] are what employers value: leadership, the ability to deploy knowledge gained, problem solving, competence under stressful conditions, attention to detail—the focus required to execute those tasks—and their proven record of trainability. When someone has success in the military, they will have completed both their basic training and their technical training, which shows that this person is adaptable. Deploying skills in a stressful environment translates well into the health sciences careers.”
While different universities have varied allied health/health sciences programs, one aspect remains consistent: These degrees provides a solid foundation for other health and health-related fields, so students can choose from many different careers. “Veterans appear to be under represented in the health care field, which doesn’t make sense given the significant training many have,” mused Kaplan’s Smith. “We want to change that.” ♦
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- Volume: 9