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Stackable Credentials: The Newest Trend Emerging in Health Sciences

Imagine you work for a small medical facility. They need employees but staffing is a delicate balance. The facility isn’t really busy enough to warrant staffing a full-time phlebotomist or EKG technician but those tests still need to be performed. The solution: Hire one person with multiple specialties or credentials.

Stackable credentials are an emerging trend in the health sciences – a trend you should be aware of if you want a healthcare career!

Let’s address the first question: What are stackable credentials? You can look at them two ways. First, if you already have a degree and decide to earn a certificate later, you’re stacking the certificate onto your degree. Or, if your education started with a certificate, you can stack on more courses and skills to earn a degree.

How stackable credentials work in the health sciences.

Let’s be clear: Although stackable credentials are just gaining popularity now, they’ve been around for a while, says Iqbal Atcha, a career consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in the healthcare industry. But, he says, some people have been reluctant to pursue them.

“It means having to go through more schooling, investing more money and more time which, for some individuals, is impossible given their family situation,” Atcha says. “The current economy, however, has changed things and more professionals are looking at what other degrees and certifications they can obtain in order to help them get promoted or find a better job.”

According to a Georgetown University report, certificates can serve as a gateway to a degree. The research shows that 33 percent of workers with a certificate and a degree earned the certificate first. The report also notes that stackable credentials are already common in Australia, Canada and Austria.

Benefits of stackable credentials

One particularly valuable benefit of earning a certificate over a degree is the time investment. For example, a student with a medical assisting Associate’s degree can go on to earn an EKG technician certificate and be eligible to take the EKG Technician Certification exam in as little as two additional quarters.

On the other hand, a student could choose to earn a certificate first. If you started with the EKG tech certificate, it would three quarters – but then you’d spend less time earning an Associate’s degree.

For adult learners, earning a certificate is a way to get reacquainted with the educational process, says Tammy Renner, Rasmussen College’s national medical lab technician program director.

Another benefit of stackable credentials is the flexibility to make the right choice. Earning a certificate is a good way to figure out if a specific healthcare career is right for you without having to invest a large amount of time and resources.

If, for example, after just two quarters you realize that phlebotomy isn’t the right career for you, you can easily choose another path. With a two- or four-year degree, students are limited to their field of study unless they want to change majors and risk losing credit for courses that don’t transfer.

Extra credentials can also be beneficial to a job search. They can help you stand out from countless others who have the same baseline education. Think about it. When will all of those other students in your class hit the job market? Probably about the same time you do and, according to Renner, employers want as much “bang for their buck” as they can get.

“Those with higher credentials are often selected for an interview over a candidate with the basic qualifications and sometimes even above a candidate with 1-2 years of experience,” Atcha says.

Besides cost, employers are interested in hiring people who want the job and already know they like doing the work involved, Renner says. “[That way] the employer doesn't have to worry about … attrition as much.”

Final thoughts

The emerging trend of stackable credentials has benefits for both employers and employees. As a potential employee, you can be confident that a resume highlighting multiple credentials will help you stand out and may lead to more job opportunities.

If you’re still unsure how stackable credentials can benefit you and help you get a better job, be sure to check out available certificate options.

Have you earned credentials above and beyond your degree? Have they helped you? If you haven’t earned extra credentials, do you think you will in the future? Tell us in the comment section below!

Elizabeth Xu

Elizabeth is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys writing engaging content to help former, current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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