When Michael Dawar interviewed for his current job in the health care industry, the fact that he pursued his degree online wasn’t viewed as a negative.
The 27-year-old believes employers valued the self-discipline he demonstrated throughout his health care administration master’s program at Colorado State University—Global Campus. Shortly after graduating in March, he received a job offer for a project lead position at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, a health insurance provider in Missouri.
“It showed that I had taken the initiative to continue my education outside of working hours and continued performing at a high level at all of the jobs I had worked during that time,” the Kansas resident says.
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Dawar might be on to something. Experts say employers overall have become more accepting in recent years of accredited online degrees for nonphysician careers in the health care industry, which may include administrative, nursing, technical and allied health roles – though some are still a bit wary given the often hands-on nature of certain positions.
Recruiters say employers hiring for health care jobs that involve regular interaction with patients or others may ask a candidate why he or she decided to complete the degree program online and whether there were opportunities for face-to-face interaction. Both questions came up during Dawar’s interviews, he says.
“Health care is very much hands on, personal, must make the person feel safe and give them a lot of comfort; the bedside manner, if you will,” says Jim Wilhite, co-founder of the National Coalition of Healthcare Recruiters. That’s why, he says, “You’re not going to see an online degree for physicians. They have to have a residency and so forth.”
While some medical schools incorporate elements of online learning into their classes, there currently aren’t any accredited, fully online options offering an M.D. or D.O.
At the undergraduate level, 31 percent of ranked online colleges that submitted data on majors cited health and related professions as the most popular during the 2015-2016 school year, according to U.S. News data. There are also many online graduate programs in the field.
Steven Snyder, director of talent acquisition for the University of Virginia Health System, says he encounters online degrees fairly regularly from potential employees – more and more each year.
“An online program is really treated as any other program,” says Snyder, who recruits for nonphysician roles. “We don’t hold it against anyone; I think we consider it to be a viable option. We then consider a person’s entire background that goes along with it, so I would say an online degree is not going to negatively reflect on someone.”
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Oftentimes, experts say, health care employers won’t instantly realize that a job candidate earned a degree online, unless the school is highly recognizable as a primarily online academic institution, such as the for-profit University of Phoenix. Otherwise, the subject may come up during a job interview or follow-up conversation.
“I think if they’re made aware of it, there may be still some negative connotation to it. I think the bottom line is, as long as it’s an accredited degree, they really don’t care where they come from, has been my experience,” says Robert Eskridge, president of the health care staffing firm Eskridge & Associates in Texas.
Whether employers will accept an online health care degree also depends on the position they are hiring for, recruiters say.
Travis Dommert, president of Jackson Health IT, a health care tech staffing firm with offices in Seattle and Atlanta, says recruiters at the company are generally more open to hiring IT professionals who have online degrees than he personally may be when hiring recruiters in the field.
“I think it’s considered more neutral for our IT consultants because education is generally less of a consideration in their candidacy, because their experience is so important,” he says. If he sees a job candidate for a health care recruiter role earned a degree online, “It’s going to cause me to want to go deeper and understand: Where have they worked with people directly? Where have they been on teams?”
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AnnMarie Papa, vice president and chief nursing officer at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery in Pennsylvania, says she encounters nursing applicants who earned graduate degrees online daily. But for aspiring nurses, very few schools provide online prelicensure programs. Experts recommend checking whether a desired health care job requires that a specific degree be earned face to face.
“I would say a majority of your secondary degrees, like your master and your doctoral degrees, have at least some component of online,” she says.
Snyder, of the UVA Health System, recommends that prospective online students thoroughly research their options before choosing a program and select the degree format that works best for them.
“When you look at the preference of our own workforce towards online programs, it’s really mixed – you don’t have a strong preference for that,” he says. “It meets certain individuals’ lifestyles and interests; in others it doesn’t.”