Doctorate of health degrees for leadership in medical services

By Ysobel Croix

Medical doctors with stethoscopes and stereotypical bad handwriting aren't the only doctors in the health care field, which also includes professionals with academic degrees such as a doctorate of health. With the growing number of health-related careers, thousands of new professionals will be joining the field, whether in private or public health care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that one of every four new jobs created in the United States between 2008 and 2018 will be in the health care and social assistance industries.

That kind of growth coupled with changing health care laws should create the need for leaders, teachers and top-level thinkers with advanced training such as doctorates. Numerous health specialties offer doctorate degrees, and many of those degree-holders pursue careers in research, policy making and post-secondary education. These degrees can also prepare graduates for positions in government or community-based public health organizations.

Doctorate of health degree programs

Doctors of medicine, dentistry and other medical specialties have earned degrees that require medical school and are considered professional degrees, not academic degrees. For academic degrees, a doctoral degree is the most distinguished degree available. Very common among these academic credentials are doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D., degrees--despite the name, these do not imply that the graduate studied philosophy.

Doctorate of health degrees may be offered as doctor of philosophy degrees or other types of programs, such as the following:

  1. Doctor of Health Administration or DHA
  2. Doctor of Health Sciences or DHS/DHSc
  3. Doctor of Public Health or DrPH
  4. Doctor of Health Care Education or DHCE

Some schools have joint degree programs, while other schools may offer an extended doctoral program to prospective students who have only completed a bachelor's degree instead of the master's degree that is typically required for admission.

Online doctorate of health degrees

Unlike professional medical degrees, many academic degrees in health can be completed online. Prospective students interested in the flexibility and convenience of online classwork should be aware that some schools have a residency or a teaching requirement. Some institutions do not have these requirements and offer fully online doctorate of health degrees, which allow professionals to study while continuing their career.

Coursework for a doctorate degree in health

No matter the specific program, a doctorate degree in health is a major investment of time and talent and typically takes a minimum of four years to complete. Doctorate programs range anywhere from 60 to 75 semester credits, though roughly one-quarter to one-third of these credits account for research leading to the required doctoral dissertation. Some doctoral health programs require students to complete a number of prerequisite courses that may be waived depending on a student's grades in previous graduate-level courses.

Because of the number of health doctorate programs available, the required coursework varies widely by degree, specialty and institution. These classes are a sample of those included in specific doctorate of health degree programs:

  • A Doctorate of Health Care Administration program may include globalization of health care, health care marketing or risk management in complex organizations.
  • A Doctorate program specializing in Information Systems would cover health care informatics.
  • A Doctorate of Health Science degree could cover community health promotion and disease prevention, conflict resolution in health care, and health care policy.
  • A Doctorate of Public Health might include biostatistics, public health ethics, and theory and practice in health and prevention.

Careers and salaries with a doctorate degree in health

Leaders and thinkers are needed in boardrooms, higher education classrooms, government agencies, and advocacy and health organizations around the world. Here are some examples of positions that a professional with a doctoral degree may qualify for. Also shown are the mean annual salaries for these careers and the growth rate from 2008 to 2018 that the BLS projects:

  1. Medical and health services manager jobs are expected to grow faster than average, at about 16 percent. In 2010, these professionals earned $93,670, with the top 10 percent of managers earning $144,880.
  2. Post-secondary teaching jobs should grow by 15 percent, and the BLS expects that health specialties professors will be in demand. Health specialties professors earned a mean wage of more than $100,000 in 2010.
  3. Health educators work with health education programs. Such jobs are projected to grow 16 percent, and the mean salary for this occupation was about $50,000 in 2010.

The names and coursework for doctorate of health, medical and public health programs vary widely, but they have at least one thing in common: These degrees are meant for the top leaders and thinkers of the field. Those completing a doctoral degree sooner, rather than later, can take advantage of the projected job growth in health care services through 2018.

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