The Value of an Advanced Degree in Healthcare


Although policy makers lament the growing slice of the economic pie being consumed by healthcare, there is one group thrilled about it – people who work in healthcare. More healthcare means more opportunities for jobs, businesses and careers.

Dr. Nancy Muller is the Associate Dean of the School of Professional Studies at the College of Charleston, Director of the Lowcountry Graduate Center, and a public health educator of 13 years, and says that healthcare is ripe with rewarding opportunities that make you feel good about the work you do.

“There are infinite opportunities in healthcare because it’s always changing and there’s something for everyone – clinical, IT, cyber-security, social work, finance, project management and more,” said Dr. Muller. “Plus, it’s recession-proof.”

Additionally, the Charleston area, with four hospital systems including the state’s teaching hospital, is a hotbed of healthcare. More than a million people receive healthcare services in Charleston each year.

For many, the new year is a time for evaluating career goals and achievements. That often leads to the decision to return to school for more education.

For many jobs in healthcare, particularly clinical jobs, the entry point into practice is an advanced degree. Physicians of all types; physical, occupational and speech therapists; nurse practitioners and others are required by law to earn advanced degrees for licensure.

An advanced degree is not required to enter practice in many other clinical areas. With the raging nursing shortage, RN’s can name their position and earn a bonus doing it with just a bachelor’s degree.

To advance, whether along the clinical track or the administrative, requires more education, says Taylor Lee, public health director for DHEC’s Lowcountry region. Even nurses who want to rise into management, or become nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists, need master’s degrees.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people who earn master’s degrees earn, on average, $16,380 more annually than those with bachelor’s degrees in the same field.

Lee says master’s degrees offer more than just upward mobility, though that is obviously an important consideration. He says he can tell when he is speaking to someone who is continually educating themselves. They have a broader view of the healthcare landscape.

“The telltale signs are that they are able to accurately discuss current trends and talk about subjects like team building, creating consensus, and they know how to run a meeting. You can tell who is relying on old school rules and who is up-to-date on industry trends and leadership tactics and strategies.

The time, effort and commitment required to return to school, particularly mid-career, says a lot about the person, Lee believes. In fact, DHEC prefers job applicants with advanced degrees as much for the drive it demonstrates as for the added knowledge it confers.

Deciding whether to return to school, what to study and where to matriculate is a personal decision based on a variety of considerations. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch said he got a PhD primarily because he wanted his mother to be able to say her son was a doctor. Your determining factors might be more practical, like whether you can juggle work, school and home life.

One thing is clear: if you want to stay on the cutting edge of healthcare, and advance up the administrative ladder, advanced degrees are useful and generally worth the cost.

“It gave me a more holistic view of business and how to add value,” said Avona McHoney, a student at SC State’s MBA program with a concentration in healthcare management.

Courses for that program are taught at the Lowcountry Graduate Center, as are courses for The Citadel’s MS in project management and USC’s master’s of social work.