Written by Ashley Murphy

The global healthcare industry is booming, and it isn't showing any signs of slowing down. Aging populations, a rise in the number of chronic diseases, and more health conscious societies are driving innovations in technology, public health policy, and education. There's also a growing number of job opportunities within established medical fields and emerging healthcare professions.

The healthcare industry relies on a well educated and highly skilled workforce, and while many students opt for traditional routes into medical professions, others are looking for a more flexible approach to their learning. This has led to a big demand for online learning, and there's certainly no shortage in supply. A large number of higher education institutions now offer accredited remote courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level.  

Let's take a look at seven medical disciplines you can study online. 

Nursing

Nursing is the third most popular choice for online students studying at undergraduate and postgraduate level

Online learning is an attractive option for nurses looking to gain additional qualifications or for mature students who want to make a career change. Rather than being restricted to a rigid timetable, online students can take a flexible approach to their learning, allowing them to balance their career ambitions with other responsibilities, such as caring for a young family. Steven Litteral is nursing program director at Ameritech College of Healthcare. He studied his bachelor's and master's degrees online to maintain this crucial work/life balance.

“Online programs give you the opportunity to work and go to school,” he said. “When the kids go to bed or my wife goes to bed, I go to the computer. That’s my time to go to school, versus going to a night class and spending four or five hours in a classroom.”

There are numerous online nursing resources, and you will need to research them carefully before committing to a course of study. An online qualification will not disqualify you from applying for nursing roles, but potential employers may have some additional questions about the programme. For most of these employers, accreditation is critical. So opt for courses that are accredited by an established third party. In the USA, this is the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

Health Information Management

Health information management is a vital administrative role that organizes and manages patient data. This data can include anything that relates to a person's medical history, such as test results, x-rays, symptoms, previous treatments, and clinical notes.

Information specialists must be organized and conscientious, but also flexible and open-minded. In today's digital world, data protection laws are always being updated and refined, so it's crucial that staff can adapt to new ways of working. This fluid approach to workflow processes ensures the right information is available when needed while maintaining the highest standards of data protection.  

Proper information management means patients receive the right treatments, but it also protects their rights to privacy and dignity. Poor information management can lead to serious data breaches which can then result in severe penalties and a loss in confidence.

Staff will be familiar with the latest information management systems. They will also receive additional training throughout their careers to keep up to date with changes in IT systems, government regulation, and general best practice.

Most undergraduate courses in health information management take two years to complete, while accelerated learning options mean you can qualify within 18 months.

Medical Laboratory Technology

A medical laboratory technician performs important tests that support the work of other healthcare professionals. These tests are used to diagnose and assess disease, providing vital information which is used to decide on the best form of treatment or care. Technicians often work in small labs within a hospital or healthcare facility, while more extensive labs will have specialist departments, including histotechnology, immunology, microbiology, and cytogenetic technology.

Laboratory technicians require a bachelor's degree that combines academic study with practical lab assessments. And while many qualify through traditional, on-campus programs, more and more students are opting for online education. There are several online medical lab technician degrees available from reputable institutions and associate degrees take two years to complete.

It's important to note that remote students must still complete practical modules in a university lab or an approved medical setting. Online course providers will always try to find locations close to the students home.

Again, finding an accredited course is crucial to making the transition into a professional setting. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) is a trusted organization that ensures courses meet the highest educational standards.

Public Health

Public health bodies are a bridge between the medical community and government policymakers. Those working within the field play a crucial role in directing legalization, raising public awareness, and ensuring the survival of future generations. Public health programmes have increased life expectancies, reduced the numbers of infant mortalities, and helped irradicate many diseases.

Although it makes many practical recommendations, public health is primarily academic. It collates research and analysis from healthcare experts and presents the best possible arguments.

As such, public health degrees tend to be less practical than other healthcare disciplines making it an ideal choice for online study.  Undergraduate degrees take two to three years to complete and students will need to be on campus around 20 percent of the time.

The online course is structured around pre-recorded lectures, student forums, chatrooms, and virtual seminars.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Physical and Occupational therapy courses offer opportunities for students interested in distance learning. Students will learn about the muscular, skeletal, and nervous systems. Much of this can be taught online, but it also requires a significant amount of practical experience and assessment. Subsequently, online students must also complete placements within campus facilities, hospitals, or healthcare centers.

Many schools use the term hybrid to explain their PT and OT courses, and the balance between online learning and face-to-face study can vary quite dramatically. On some programmes, the split can be as close to 50-50, while others will heavily weigh toward online educational resources. Those looking to study online should research prospective courses very carefully to ensure they match your expectations. OT Program Director at Shenandoah University, Deborah Marr, says, “One should not assume that having an online component means the students spend less time on campus.”

Nutritional science

Nutritional science is an exciting new field that helps people make better food choices. As well as contributing to a greater sense of well-being, specialist diets can also treat specific health issues including allergies, depression, and inflammation.

A healthy diet can significantly reduce the chances of strokes, heart problems, and even cancer. New research data has led governments and health bodies to put a strong emphasis on encouraging people to make positive food choices,  which has raised the demand for qualified nutritionists. Many schools are now offering programmes in health and nutrition, many of which can be studied online.

A bachelor degree will take between two and three years and, like many online health courses, it will require some practical assessment. This is usually a two-week placement near the end of your studies,  

Once qualified, a nutritionist will have plenty of career options. A nutritionist can work within hospitals or private clinics, while others operate independently by advertising their services to the general public, who are more health conscious than ever.

Another career option is athletic and sports performance. Almost every professional sports team or athlete works with a nutritionist to help improve athletic performance. The right nutrition can help an athlete react half a second quicker or jump a few inches higher. At the very top levels, these marginal gains are often the difference between winning and losing.

Mental health

The majority of online mental health programmes are offered at the postgraduate level, although some schools provide undergraduate courses in counseling and psychology.

Again, while most of the coursework is done remotely, students may be required to attend some physical lectures for clinical studies. Many courses will also include placement within a mental health facility or clinical practice. Placements can last between a few days to six weeks. If you are planning to balance your study with full-time work or raising a family, do as much research as possible on the placement requirement of your course.  

Students can opt for courses that provide a broad introduction to mental health or more specialist programs that focus on a particular disorder, such as alcohol and drug abuse.

Mental health is a fascinating and rewarding area of study, but it can be emotionally challenging. Students are exposing themselves to some of the most distressing and disturbing aspects of human behavior. Studying online offers flexibility and independence, but it can also be an isolating and lonely experience. Students are advised to make the most of student forums and chat rooms and should take advantage of any opportunities to meet or interact with their virtual classmates. Sharing your experiences, or simply listening to someone else talk about theirs, is an essential tool in maintaining your emotional wellbeing.

These are just seven of the options available for students looking to study online. There are many more remote undergraduate and postgraduate courses that cover a diverse range of subjects, including dental hygiene, wellness, pharmacy technician, and hospital administration.

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