Healthcare Education and Degree Creep
Most students understand generally that today’s dentists and physicians are “doctors” as a result of “doctoral” education beyond college.
Not everyone realizes just what that means in concrete terms, so here’s a useful visual of what happens after high school:
- Associate's degree: two years
- Bachelor's degree: four years
- Master's degree: two years
- Doctorate degree: four years
At the external websites we’ve recommended for “Choosing a Healthcare Career”, you’ll get a sense of which careers require which of the degrees displayed above.
Deciding on a degree for your career goals
For nearly every career, continuing education is a lifelong necessity to keep up with advances. But, every so often, a career simply experiences what I call “degree creep."
What was once a simple certificate after high school might turn into an associate’s degree; or an associate’s degree career might now require a bachelor’s degree; bachelor’s becomes master’s; and so on.
This process of degree creep is simply a sign that the knowledge base for competency has reached a critical level in the eyes of the professional organization that oversees the career.
Recent examples include the physical therapist profession, which went rather quickly from bachelor’s to doctoral; and Radiologic Technologist, which has gone from certificate to associate’s degree (and is reportedly poised to go bachelor’s).
A longer education costs more money, of course, and that usually translates to a higher professional salary.
There are two problems with this scenario:
- higher salaries raise the overall cost of healthcare; and
- a longer education makes a labor shortage even worse, because it takes longer to produce the necessary manpower to care for an ever-larger patient population.
Some professions actively work against degree creep (because they are already experiencing acute labor shortages), whereas others have “invented” new, less-educated professions so as to “extend” the practice of existing, high-level professionals.
- Dental hygienists (associate’s degree) act as “extenders” for dentists (doctoral degree).
- Physician assistants (master’s degree) act as “extenders” for primary care physicians (doctoral degree).
- Physical therapy assistants (associate’s degree) act as “extenders” for physical therapists (doctoral degree).
If you choose a healthcare career that currently requires “only” a certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree, you would be wise during your job shadows to keep your ears and eyes open for any signs of pending degree creep.
For many students, it’s easier to get a little more education than the minimum, now, then to return to school, later. “Extra” education can also mean the difference between advancing in the organization, or not.