Online degrees have become much more popular and well respected in recent years. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, studying from home became a necessity, and even most programs that had been designed to be taught in person had to quickly adapt and make the switch to online or hybrid delivery. Apart from the pandemic, however, many students are choosing to study from home because this way, they have much more flexibility to work while they gain their degree and to take care of their kids or of disabled relatives. Another reason why online degrees are becoming more popular is that they allow students to live with their parents or with other family members, thus cutting out rental costs.
When it comes to healthcare degrees, it is clear why studying online makes particularly good sense for many people. Those who work in healthcare are often extremely busy people who are used to juggling many responsibilities at once. Studying online enables them to keep their current job while studying, meaning that they can then use the qualification they have earned to advance their career without even needing to switch to a new workplace. Most healthcare degrees also require participants to complete supervised clinical work, often alongside other students, so even though you will be taking your classes virtually, you will still have plenty of interaction with other people in your field, which is one of the factors that often puts students in other disciplines off online programs. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your online healthcare degree.
1. Get to know the other people on your course
One of the main differences between studying online and studying on campus is that with online degrees, you don’t get shoved into a lecture hall with everyone else, with a coffee shop just a short walk away to retreat to after the lecture and socialize. As an online student, it’s up to you and your classmates to form and maintain relationships that go beyond being in the same Zoom calls. Your college might organize virtual hangouts for their students, but even if they don’t, there’s no reason why you can’t organize one yourself. Be proactive, keep at it, and remember that if you’re feeling awkward but eager to make new friends at the beginning of your course, there’s a good chance that everyone else is too. Who knows, your future best friends might be among this group of strangers, and you never know what professional opportunities might arise in the future from these connections!
A good way to move beyond the initial awkwardness is to organize a virtual activity, such as karaoke or a Netflix Party. There are even websites where you can play board games online—though, unfortunately, Operation! just isn’t the same without the tiny little plastic organs!
2. Network with the professionals you meet
College is a great time to start building up your professional network. If you come across healthcare professionals you admire, don’t be afraid of cold-emailing them—you never know, you might get some mentoring or even an internship out of it! While it might feel scary to you, receiving an email from someone who admires your work is sure to make the other person’s day. Most healthcare professionals will be enthusiastic about sharing their passion for their job with you, and many will be used to interacting with students in their workplace.
You should also network with your college professors, even ones who don’t actually teach you. If you have an interest in a particular subject or job role, don’t be afraid to ask an academic if they wouldn’t mind spending half an hour on Zoom talking about it with you. Always keep in mind the golden rules of networking:
- start and end the conversation by thanking the person for taking the time to talk with you;
- listen first, then speak, unless the other person makes it clear that they would like you to direct the conversation;
- don’t just focus on what you can gain from this interaction, but show genuine interest in the other person’s work;
- finally, follow the meeting up with an email thanking the other person for the opportunity—this is not only common courtesy but also a good way to subtly remind the person to connect with you on LinkedIn or follow you on Twitter by including these links in your email signature!
3. Keep your career goals in mind
If you are studying for a graduate degree, you will probably have chosen your program because you have a specific type of role in mind that you want to get qualified for. Even if you are only an undergraduate student, however, it’s never too early to start thinking about what you would like your career progression to look like.
If you are studying for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, for example, you are probably planning to work as a registered nurse for at least a few years after graduation, but what are you going to do after that? You may be happy working as an RN forever, but if you know that you are a good leader and enjoy using your own initiative, you will probably want to eventually become a nurse manager and lead your own team of nurses. In that case, find out if your college offers DNP executive leadership online programs and get to know the course leaders—it will stand you in good stead if you decide to apply for those programs in the future.
4. Give your all in your placements
One of the best features of most healthcare degrees is that they include not only a solid academic foundation, but also plenty of time spent working in real-life clinical settings under the supervision of experienced healthcare professionals. To make the most of your clinical placements, learn to manage your time effectively and schedule enough time off each week so that when you are on placement, you are alert and ready to learn and work effectively.
Keep an eye out for any internships or other professional opportunities that your workplace might be offering, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and make the effort to build a good relationship with your supervisors—it will all help your career.