Should I get a health science degree or a nursing degree?

A career in health care is extremely rewarding in being able to help patients and their loved ones, as well as earning a comfortable salary in doing so. There are many paths to take to begin a career in health care, although two of the main ways is obtaining a degree in health science or a nursing degree. Depending on your goal career in health care, you may want to learn the differences in the two degrees and what jobs they can help you obtain.

Health Science Degree

A health science degree can be an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or master’s degree. With no prior health care experience, a health science degree will give you a foundation in both clinical and non-clinical skills by taking courses such as psychology, ethics, biology, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, statistics, medical terminology and microbiology. Students who enroll in health science degree programs can go on to obtain further education and training to become health care professionals like chiropractors, pharmacists, ultrasound technologists, occupational therapists, physician assistants, pharmaceutical salesmen, care managers and patient advocates.

If you hold an associate’s degree in health care already, such as a respiratory therapist or physical therapy assistant degree, earning a bachelor’s degree in health sciences will expand your skills and give you the credentials needed to apply to many graduate schools in different fields of health care, like physical therapy or physician assistant programs.

Nursing Degree

Like health science degrees, there are several levels of nursing degrees, ranging from certificate programs for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to doctorate programs for doctors of nursing practice (DNP). The amount of training you receive as a nurse dictates your duties, the types of settings in which you can seek employment and the amount of leadership you can exercise. For example, LPNs are limited to working mainly in hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient clinics, where they perform basic patient care duties like changing bed linens, drawing blood, minor wound care and helping patients with daily life activities. A nurse who holds a master’s degree in nursing can diagnose medical conditions, order medical tests, perform in surgery and prescribe medications. Nurses with higher degrees are more specialized and typically cannot change their specialty without requiring further education, whereas nurses with certificates, associate degrees and bachelor degrees can change their specialty (such as changing from medical/surgical to the emergency department) with little issue.

Although the two degrees will both land you a fulfilling career in health care, they are two completely different paths. One path, a health sciences degree, opens the doors to working in both clinical and non-clinical settings in a variety of positions, from eventually attending medical school to reviewing patients’ insurance claims. A nursing degree opens many doors in the field of nursing, from directly helping patients with their needs to supervising other nurses or teaching nursing students in the classroom. Regardless of the path you choose, you are bound to find a position that fits your personality as a health care provider.


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