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Certification vs Degree Programs – What’s the Best Fit for You?

Follow your passion for a career in healthcare and make a difference.

Dental Assistant students assist dentist during a filing procedure on mock patient.
Dental assistant practice how to assist the dentist during many different types of procedures to prepare for the real-world in our certification program.

Returning to or just starting college can be an intimidating and exciting time. No matter your journey in higher education, making the decision on what program is right for you is crucial. Where you are in your education or career and what goals you have in place can also help you decide which path to take. Some colleges today, like Pima Medical Institute, offer certificate and degree programs for nontraditional students who are looking for flexibility, smaller classrooms and accelerated programs to begin working in their field quickly.

So, where should you start? The first step is to determine if a certificate or degree program is best for you and your goals.


What are Certificate Programs?

In general, certificate programs offer a curriculum that focuses on a specific field, industry or skill. They often cost less, take less time to complete than degree programs and help you learn new skills. Some certifications can also be applied to an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Medical Assistant students practice flushing out ears during lab.
Medical assistant students learn many different hands-on skills during their 9-month certification program.

Certificate programs are aimed at getting you working in your career quickly and are often entry-level positions. In some cases, they can add to your current credentials. For example, a radiologic technologist may take a certification course on how to take MRIs and CT scans. Certifications also allow you to take the incremental first steps toward a new career and give you an idea if you’d like to continue your education in that field. Many students at Pima Medical who complete our certificate programs use those as stepping stones to gain experience in healthcare then continue into a degree program with us.

Pima Medical’s certificate programs generally take nine months or less to complete. Some of the programs include Medical Assistant, Dental Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, Phlebotomy, Nursing Assistant, Veterinary Assistant, Health Care Administration and Sterile Processing Technician.


What are Associate Degree Programs?

Most associate degree programs take up to or less than two years to complete. They take longer than a certificate program as there is more curriculum required to learn in the field, such as nursing. The salary is also generally higher than a certification because graduates have a greater depth of knowledge from the education they receive. Associate degree programs at Pima Medical primarily focus on preparing students to enter the workforce and their chosen healthcare careers. The amount of hands-on training and clinical hours are usually much higher than a certification program with us.

Some of the associate degree programs that Pima Medical offers includes Dental Hygiene, Respiratory Therapy, Occupational Therapy Assistant, Physical Therapist Assistant, Surgical Technology and Veterinary Technician.


Surgical Technologist students perform mock surgery in lab with instructors.
Surgical technologists learn the skills necessary to be successful in assisting during a variety of surgeries during the 18-month associate degree program.

What are Bachelor’s & Master’s Degree programs?

A bachelor’s degree from a traditional college generally takes up to four years to complete. The curriculum includes general courses like math and science as well as courses specific to your chosen field of study. A master’s degree typically takes two years to complete and usually requires pre-requisites to get accepted into the program.

At some non-traditional and vocational schools like Pima Medical, a bachelor’s degree can take up to two years and does not require general study courses. All of our bachelor’s degree programs are 100% online and the majority require you to have a previous healthcare education and be registered or licensed in that field of study. Some examples of our bachelor’s degree programs include our Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy, Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapist Assistant and Bachelor of Science in Nursing. These programs are offered for students who would like to continue their education, advance their careers or do something different in their field like teach.

Pima Medical’s Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program is designed for those interested in pursuing an advanced degree who wish to enter a leadership role in their current career. Students can choose between a Health Care Administration or Public Health Administration track. Even though this degree has a focus on healthcare, it is broad enough to apply to multiple fields and industries.


When faced with a very important decision like this, it’s crucial to research your options. Do you want to start out in a certificate program to start working quickly and gain experience? Or would you like to go right into an associate degree program that takes a little longer to complete but, in the end, can get you a more advanced position.

One final note. Before making your choice, confirm that the school you are considering is an accredited college or university. Pima Medical is accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Pima Medical also has a number of state and program-specific accrediting and licensing bodies.

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January 27, 2023

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