Can you study medicine online? Higher ed is getting there!

In case you haven't heard, online learning is on the rise. Even some of the world's most famous institutes are integrating distance learning into campus-based programs, helping this innovative new mode of learning become part of the mainstream. What's more, subjects that were once seen as purely classroom-based are turning to virtual learning to meet student demand and encourage more young people into higher education. This includes medicine, and while you can't (or at least not yet) qualify as a doctor through online learning alone, there are plenty of other professional opportunities for virtual students.

There are currently around 300 online learning programs for nursing, including graduate and even doctoral programs. You can also enroll in online courses covering physiotherapy, nutrition, exercise science, healthcare administration, and highly specialized degrees like medical coding.  

Skipping class doesn't matter when everything is digital 

In 2017, a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges  (AAMC) found that almost 25% of second-year medical students rarely attended class during their first two years of pre-med school. At first glance, this might seem slightly concerning. After all, these are our future doctors and surgeons.

Lawrence Wang is one such student. When asked about his classroom attendance, the third-year M.D. student said, "There were times that I didn't go to a single class, and then I'd get to the actual exam and it would be my first time seeing the professor." So what were Lawrence and his classmates doing when they bunked off class? Were they lying around the student dorm in PJs watching Scrubs re-runs? Thankfully, the answer is no. Instead, these super-smart and highly motivated students had found a better way to learn. Lawrence continued, "I pretty much completely focused on studying outside materials."

And he wasn't the only one. According to the same study by the AAMC, the 'AWOL' students were using a collection of online resources for self-directed learning. These included online medical journals, instructional videos, and specially designed web apps for medical students. Moreover, researchers from the University of Central Florida found no correlation between the highest performing medical students and classroom attendance. In other words, online learning can be just as effective as traditional classroom methods, including lectures and seminars. 

Advantages of online courses

Apart from giving you the luxury of swapping the classroom for some self-directed learning, there are many more advantages to learning online. Would-be students are no longer put off by rigid timetables and deadlines and can now learn while keeping on top of other pressing commitments, like work or family. They can also learn in a way that suits them best.

For example, some people are early birds who wake up buzzing with energy and ideas; others need a few hours before they really get going; some find inspiration while the rest of us are nodding off to sleep; and some students may feel overwhelmed in the classroom environment, especially when it comes to expressing their thoughts to a large group of people. Online learning gives them the space to focus their minds in a pressure-free environment, ensuring they reach their full academic potential.

Generally speaking, fees for online courses are significantly cheaper than full-time campus-based degrees. Students can also save money on relocation costs, transport, and expensive learning resources like textbooks. It's also a great way to get the qualifications to take you up the job ladder without taking a lengthy (and very expensive) career break.

Administering the medical industry 

While medicine is all about helping people live healthy lives, today's hospitals and medical services would not be possible without a vast infrastructure of support staff and administrators. And while it might seem like the less glamorous side of medicine, these dedicated professionals play a vital role in maintaining and improving public and private healthcare services, helping everyone to live their best possible lives. What's more, the administrative side of medicine is packed with well-paid career opportunities that provide long-term job stability and satisfaction. These include medical transcription and medical assisting, which are both available as online associate degrees. 

Medical transcribers turn a doctor's daily notes and reports into official documents. This might sound straightforward, but the role requires first-class communication skills, a microscopic attention to detail, and the ability to turn complicated medical jargon into everyday language without losing any of its meaning. Medical assistants also offer some administrative support, but also help with minor clinical duties, including taking vital signs, giving injections, and administering medications. Again, this may sound simple compared to what some doctors do, but getting all the small things right on a daily basis is an essential part of running an effective (and life-saving) medical service.

What do medical schools think about it?

So what do some of the old school doctors and medical schools think about this innovative new approach to medicine? Unsurprisingly, some remain skeptical, and probably for good reasons. Medicine is about saving lives, so any significant changes in how it is taught require careful consideration. 

So make sure you do plenty of research on any schools you plan to apply for. Qualifying as a doctor can take as long as ten years. Forward planning is one of the best ways to make sure it doesn't take you any longer (or cost you any more money!).

Many other medical professions will accept online qualifications, including nursing, physio, lab technician, and home health aide. But again, checking with the program provider and any potential future employers is really important. Online learning is more mainstream than ever, but there's still a way to go before it becomes as 'credible' as traditional programs.

The student experience

One example is the online medicine courses from Harvard University, HMX. Created by a team of medical professionals, educators, and software designers, the courses include some of the most innovative and comprehensive online learning tools. They cover a wide range of subjects and use a combination of detailed visualizations, real-world scenarios, and real-life patient interactions. The HMX online courses are ideal for students preparing to enter medical schools, as well as medical professionals looking to expand their working knowledge or explore new career paths. They're also an excellent option for high-school students considering a career in medicine, providing useful and informative taster sessions before they make a decade long commitment to becoming a doctor. 

And that's precisely what Ellie Wiesler did. The high school student developed a fascination with medicine from an early age and decided to take an HMX course on immunology. She said, "I was reading something about immuno-oncology and not really understanding everything about what it was, and really wanting to understand. That's how I ended up choosing [to take] HMX Immunology." Ellie continued by saying, "it was perfect for my learning style, and I thought for the first time I was able to dive deep into the high-level subject matter, and fall in love with that subject matter, and enjoy every aspect of the learning process." After completing the course, Ellie reached out to an immunology lab and secured a valuable internship. She's now planning to go to college and then get her MD.

Studying medicine online can definitely be a massive step in the right direction for your medical studies and career. Just remember to do as much research as possible and make sure that your online courses are geared toward getting you a job in the 'real world' of medicine.