Online Associate Degrees in a Medical Field: Learning Options

Dec 04, 2019

Learn about online associate degree programs with courses in the medical field. Get an overview of the program types, requirements and course descriptions available for this field.

Essential Information

Fully online associate's degree programs in surgical technology are rare to nonexistent due to the nature of the work; some hybrid programs allow for coursework to be completed online while the student completes an in-person practicum or residency. Pharmacy technician associate's degree programs are available in a fully online format. Online associate's degree programs in nursing are available, but relatively rare. Be aware of state-specific licensing requirements before choosing an educational program. Some programs require a nursing license.

Associate's Degree in Surgical Technology

An online surgical technologist associate's degree program provides comprehensive training that enables students to function competently as a supporting member of a surgical team. Clinical internships give students direct experience with patient care, surgical procedures and operating room procedures. Class assignments and lab courses familiarize them with medical terminology and concepts integral to successful medical treatment. Although a high school diploma or GED is the minimum enrollment requirement for an associate's degree program, schools may give preference to applicants who emphasized the natural sciences in their studies and maintained a high grade point average.

Program Information and Requirements

Academic coursework may be completed online or in a hybrid mode in a surgical technologist program. Lab courses and clinical internships need to be completed on site and at an affiliated medical facility, respectively. Online access to course materials is available 24 hours a day, but assignments must be sent in by specified deadlines. A personal computer, broadband Internet access and word processing software are the minimum requirements to participate.

Course Topics

General education courses are usually part of an associate's degree program, whether online or traditional. However, surgical technologist programs may substitute preparatory courses in composition, health terminology and computers.

Operating Room Procedures

Steps in the preparation of an operating room, the specific duties of technologists during surgery and the clean-up procedures after surgery are broadly covered in this course. Scrubbing, gowning and gloving, positioning patients, instrument handling and monitoring of vital signs are among the topics covered.


This course surveys the microbiota that are of particular concern during surgical procedures and how to protect patients from them. Topics covered include cellular chemistry, cell interactions and modes of infection.

Patient Care

Students learn common hospital procedures and practices for informing, handling and moving patients in this course. Coursework covers pre-operative, operating room and post-operative care procedures.

Pharmacy Technology Associate's Degree

An online associate's-level program in pharmacy technology covers the procedures used in the day-to-day operation of pharmacies and the specific knowledge and skills pharmacy workers need to serve patients. Pharmacy equipment, medical terminology, medical math and medical record-keeping are among the areas in which students gain competence. A high school diploma or GED is the minimum academic requirement to apply to a pharmacy technology program. Applicants whose studies included courses in the natural sciences and mathematics may receive admissions preference.

Program Information and Requirements

The purely academic portion of an online associate's degree program in pharmacy technology may be completed entirely online or as a hybrid of online and traditional instruction. Lab courses have to be completed on site, and clinical internships are held at a participating pharmacy or medical facility. Although courses have deadlines, course content is accessible at all times from a school's website for the scheduling convenience of students. Interactions with instructors and other students take place in online forums, chat sessions and e-mail.

Minimum technical requirements for participation in an online course include a relatively recent personal computer, word processing software and Internet access. Students may have to familiarize themselves with a content management system such as Blackboard.

Course Topics

Liberal arts courses in the arts, humanities and social sciences are often part of associate's degree programs. A pharmacy technology associate's degree program may also require support courses in biology and chemistry.

Pharmacy Technology Introductory

This course reviews the duties of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, along with the organization and function of pharmacies. Topics covered include dosages and abbreviations commonly used in dispensing medications, medical terminology and health insurance systems.


Standard procedures in drug preparation, storage, distribution and record-keeping are the primary focus of this course. Coursework examines pharmacy operations as they are practiced at inpatient and outpatient facilities, as well as the care and use of pharmacy equipment.

Pharmaceutical Calculations

Students in this course learn standard units, measures, dosages and mathematical formulas commonly used in drug preparation. Interpretation of prescriptions, formula adjustments, concentration and dilution is also covered.

Associate's Degree Program in Nursing

Compared to programs at the bachelor's and master's level, online associate's degree programs in nursing are relatively rare. Online programs provide an introduction to medical concepts, treatment approaches and care procedures, particularly those that are the responsibility of practical nurses and registered nurses. Students also gain direct experience caring for patients by working as an intern at a participating hospital, clinic or other institution.

Admission to an online associate's degree program requires, at minimum, a high school diploma or GED. However, many of these programs are designed for working licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who want to advance from a certificate to a degree, so a current nursing license may be required as well.

Program Information and Requirements

Clinical internships in an online associate's degree program in nursing have to be completed at a medical care facility, but academic coursework may be completed entirely or partially online. Lectures, presentations and readings may be accessed through a school's website at a student's convenience around the clock. Assignments are returned via the school's website and must be completed by specified deadlines. Students need a personal computer and Internet connection to participate.

Course Topics

Although associate's degree programs often include a liberal arts component, online nursing programs may emphasize preparatory courses related to but not specifically about nursing. Chemistry, psychology, anatomy and physiology are among the possible subjects in this category.

Nursing Basics

This course provides an overview of a nurse's duties as care provider, coordinator and manager. Communication with patients, symptom identification, care procedures and professional ethics are among the topics covered.

Nursing and Pharmacology

Students in this course receive an introduction to the various pharmaceutical substances nurses commonly administer to patients in a care regimen. Coursework emphasizes drug effects, interactions, contraindications and safety protocols.

Long-term Care

This course prepares students to meet the needs of patients who are dependent on long-term care or living in long-term care facilities. Topics covered include observation, reporting, rights of the disabled, communication, patient comfort and patient safety.

Career Information

Students who graduate from an online associate's degree program in surgical technology are qualified to work as surgical technologists. Most work in hospital surgical care units, but some work for physicians who perform outpatient surgery, ambulatory surgical centers and surgeons who have their own surgical teams. Employment of surgical technologists was projected to grow 9% over the years 2018-2028, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( As of May 2018, the median salary of surgical technologists was $47,300.

Graduates of an online associate's degree program in pharmacy technology are prepared for entry-level positions as pharmacy technicians. Pharmacy technicians work in any facility that maintains a pharmacy, including hospitals, nursing homes and retail stores. Over the years 2018-2028, employment of pharmacy technicians was projected to increase 7% (faster than average), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( The median salary of pharmacy technicians as of May 2018 was $32,700.

Graduates of an online associate's degree program in nursing are qualified for positions as licensed practical nurses (LPNs), licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) and possibly even registered nurses (RNs). For all of these positions, candidates must pass the appropriate National Council Licensure credentialing exam (NCLEX) to gain their nursing license or registration.

A variety of entities employ nurses, including hospitals, nursing homes and residential care centers, hospice care services, government agencies and private physicians. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( projected employment of LPN and LVNs to increase 11% from 2018-2028, a much faster rate than average compared to other job categories. As of May 2018, the median salary of LPNs and LVNs was $46,240. RNs had a projected job growth rate of 12% and a median salary of $71,730.

Continuing Education Information

Surgical technologists who pass an exam offered by either the National Center for Competency Testing or the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist can become certified, which may improve their employment prospects. Maintaining certification requires earning 60 hours of continuing education credits or passing the exam again every four years.

Experienced pharmacy technicians can sometimes advance to supervisor roles in their pharmacies. Some pharmacy technicians may choose to go back to school and work toward a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) in order to become a pharmacist; however, it's important to note that there isn't much parity between a pharmacy technology program and a Pharm.D. program, so students will need to start their studies anew. Credits are unlikely to be transferable between a pharmacy technology and Pharm.D. program, except for general education coursework.

A bachelor's degree in nursing provides better prospects for employment as a registered nurse, and a master's degree in nursing enables advancement to supervisory positions. Programs at both degree levels are offered online. Master's degree programs in nursing are also available in a number of specialty roles, including clinical nurse specialist, health systems manager and family nurse practitioner.

There are a variety of associate's degrees in the medical field available either as a fully online or hybrid format. Examples of programs would include coursework in surgical technology, and associate's degrees in pharmacy tech or nursing.

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