We live in a highly specialized age. New industries and professions spring up as the established sectors break down into smaller categories. Driven by the wealth of detail in an increasingly complex world, employers and clients prefer to hire specialists rather than generalists. That decision is often based on cost-effectiveness. And with so much more to know about everything, it pays to specialize in your areas of interest.

This is particularly true in the medical profession. As society becomes more health conscious, the general awareness of cause and effect is bringing health issues into the mainstream of daily life. Medicine no longer happens entirely within the walls of a hospital. Nurses find themselves in other settings, playing the roles of social workers, detectives or attorneys. These new career paths offer an expanding range of professional benefits, including career advancement, job security, and even self-employment opportunities. So, how can you get there from where you are now?

Kaplan University’s Health Care Pathways Programs
This is where a school like Kaplan University enters the picture. As an institution with almost 70 years’ experience in preparing adults for rewarding careers, Kaplan offers Health Care Pathways, an online program for nurses, therapists, social workers, and anyone whose professional life is moving into the convergence of these fields.

There are five certificates available through Health Care Pathways, each addressing a growing need within or related to the medical profession.

Geriatric Care Management Certificate
A Geriatric Care Manager (GCM) arranges health and human services for senior citizens whose self-care abilities are in decline. A GCM will assess his or her patient’s needs, coordinate the services required, and monitor the situation for ongoing effectiveness. If you have a passion for helping the elderly and are trained as a registered nurse, medical doctor, physical or occupational therapist, social worker, case manager, or psychologist, you can easily enter this profession with Kaplan’s GCM certificate. Although AARP statistics put the average hourly rate at $74, this could vary widely depending on your background, the number of cases you choose to handle, and whether you work for a government or insurance agency, home health care or long-term care service, social service agency or as an independent consultant.

Life Care Planning Certificate
A Life Care Planner (LCP) is committed to helping people with catastrophic injuries or chronic health problems. As an LCP, you’ll develop and implement plans to improve the quality of life for medically dependent people. You’ll locate and coordinate all necessary care and treatment. RNs and qualified rehabilitation professionals are needed in this field, particularly if you have a Kaplan University LCP certificate. According to the Certified Life Care Planners association, the salary range for this profession is $80 to $150 per hour. This reflects the diversity of LCP work environments, such as government agencies, law firms, insurance companies, HMOs and independent practice.

Forensic Nursing Certificate
Forensic nursing is a field open to RNs with a deep interest in the investigative sciences and a passion for victim advocacy. This can be exciting work if you’re comfortable offering medical assessments at crime or accident scenes. Certified forensic nurses examine and provide care for survivors of assaults, disasters, abuse and negligence. You’ll be called in to determine the causes of injuries and deaths, discover or help decide who’s responsible for a victim’s care, and make appropriate referrals and follow-ups. A membership survey of the International Association of Forensic Nurses indicates that you could earn from $55 to $300 per hour. Job opportunities for forensic nurses exist primarily with hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and independent practice.

Legal Nurse Consulting Certificate
A Legal Nurse Consultant (LNC) might be the RN who handles data collected by a forensic nurse, without actually handling the patients. Thorough and timely information is just as important as hands-on care. You’ll thrive as an LNC if your nursing education and clinical experience are a natural fit with your research skills and interest in the legalities of health care. Through your ability to identify standards of care, review medical records and interview witnesses, you’ll be a valuable team member in malpractice lawsuits, medical insurance claims, and workers’ compensation cases. Completing this certificate program will qualify you to work in law firms, insurance companies, HMOs, government agencies, or independent practice. A compensation survey by the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants shows its members earning hourly fees ranging from $70 to $200.

Case Management Certificate
Case Managers play a similar role to GCMs and LCPs, assessing and coordinating health and human services for patients with a wide range of needs. With your Kaplan certificate you’ll plan and manage patient care, research cost-effective options, be the point person on the team of specialists that you assemble, and support your client’s family with information and suggestions. RNs, therapists, rehabilitation counselors and social workers are a natural fit for this career. Based on a survey by the Case Management Society of America and ADVANCE for Providers of Post-Acute Care, starting salaries in this growing profession might be $55,000 for government agencies and insurance carriers, and at least $75,000 for home health agencies or through independent practice.

Education on Your Terms
These Health Care Pathways certificate programs can be completed in about 12 months of online self-study. The pace is up to you, and this flexibility leaves room for the healthy work-life balance already so critical to busy professionals with family and other personal commitments. You can participate in these programs from anywhere in the world with a personal computer, email and Web access, and the ability to handle MS Word documents.

To find out whether Kaplan University is right for you, or to learn more about the Health Care Pathways program, visit http://kaplan.searchforclasses.com . For other programs and online courses visit http://www.searchforclasses.com