There are a large number of medical professions for people who are interested in the service and helping professions. Read through this partial list of less-commonly considered medical professions (presented by interest area), and you might find something that fits well with your particular interests and strengths. If one of these sounds interesting, talk with one of the pre-health professions advisors.
One of these medical professions may become your "backup plan" if you are not accepted to your choice of medical school, but many students make these professions their first choice. Please be aware that if you do select one of these as a "backup," some of the programs require a very specific set of pre-requisite courses that are often not a part of the standard pre-med curriculum, and some have even lower acceptance rates than medical schools (25 - 30% acceptance vs. 40% acceptance). Be sure to check with a pre-health professions advisor or professional admissions requirement books for more information of pre-requisites.
Doctors of Chiropractic (D.C.s) treat health disorders that are linked to problems with a patient's muscular, nervous, or skeletal system. Physical manipulation and holistic approaches to health are hallmarks of this field. D.C.s are certified following graduation from a four-year program at an accredited chiropractic college (post-baccalaureate).
Podiatrists (DPMs) are doctors who specialize in disorders and injuries of the foot and leg. Their patients range from athletes to children with foot deformities They use a wide variety of treatment mechanisms ranging from orthotics to surgery and emphasize preventive care. DPMs must attend a four-year college of podiatric medicine (post-baccalaureate).
Audiologists diagnose and treat hearing disorders. Their activities range from diagnosing hearing loss and fitting a patient with a hearing aid to teaching lip-reading techniques to people with severe hearing loss. Some audiologists work in large hospital or clinic settings while others work as private contractors to smaller hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. Audiologists must complete a masters degree (although there is a movement to require a doctorate degree in the near future) and a clinical internship in order to obtain certification.
Occupational therapists (OTs) work with people who are disabled, for a variety of reasons, to (re)gain the skills needed for everyday life. Their activities range from teaching basic skills to children with developmental disabilities or providing job skill training to adults with mental disabilities to helping stroke patients relearn how to perform simple tasks. OT certification requires completion of a two-year masters degree program (although a number of bachelors degree, non-certification programs do exist).
Physical therapists (PTs) work with a variety of patients to help them regain muscle control and function lost through illness or injury. Treatments include a wide range of therapeutic activities (e.g., water, electric, massage), exercise, and use of prosthetics or other support equipment. As of 2002, all PT programs ended in a post-baccalaureate degree (masters level); however, the trend since 1996 has been increasingly towards the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and by 2006 the majority of PT programs were offering the DPT as their terminal degree.
Speech pathologists work with patients to diagnose and treat a variety of communication problems ranging from stuttering and lack of voice control to speech control center damage due to stroke or disease. Many speech pathologists work in schools, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes. Most certified speech pathologists must complete a masters degree and a clinical internship.
This field suits those who want a fast-paced career, who can think quickly (and accurately) on their feet, and who have excellent people skills. EMTs work in fire departments, ambulance services, and hospital emergency rooms. Depending on the state of residence and the level of certification desired (basic through paramedic), an EMT must complete 100 - 2000 hours of training.
Combining counseling skills with a background in medical genetics, genetic counselors provide information to families about birth defects and genetic disorders. They investigate a family's problem or disorder, interpret options and possible treatments, analyze inheritance patterns, and review risks of recurrence. A masters degree is required to practice in this field, followed by a certification examination and a minimal amount of work experience/training.
NPs are registered nurses with specialty training (masters degree) allowing them to perform many day-to-day health care services that have traditionally been performed by physicians. Unlike PAs, NPs are not required to work under a physician's supervision; therefore some NPs run their own health clinics (especially in under-served rural or inner-city areas). Most NPs work in primary care, but some specialize (e.g. pediatrics, gerontology, or women's health).
Nutritionists and Registered Dietitians (RDs) work with the public to increase awareness of the link between diet and health. They work to promote/maintain good health via appropriate diet, to use diet as one part of a comprehensive medical therapy regimen, and to educate medical professionals and patients about the links between poor nutrition and the onset of various diseases. RDs and nutritionists may have either a bachelors or a masters degree, as long as the degree is from an accredited program. A certification exam is required to become an RD.
Optometrists (ODs) specialize in providing eye care services to the general population. They diagnose vision abnormalities, provide a variety of corrective vision measures, and treat many eye-related illnesses. Many ODs are generalists, but they have the opportunity to specialize if desired. ODs are required to complete a four-year (post baccalaureate) program at an accredited optometry school before being licensed.
Pharmacists (PharmD (or RPh for previously licensed pharmacists)) dispense prescribed medications and provide drug education both to patients and to medical professionals. A few states are beginning to look at granting licensed pharmacists limited prescription rights. The PharmD degree requires completion of a six-year combined bachelors/post-baccalaureate program.
PAs work under the direct or indirect supervision of a physician to provide much of the day-to-day care of patients in a medical practice or hospital: physical examinations, diagnoses, treatments, and counseling. PAs are also able to prescribe medications, depending on state licensing laws. Many PAs are generalists, but a significant number specialize in pediatrics, emergency medicine, etc. PAs must complete a two-year course of study before certification, but there is a wide range of ways this can be achieved: associates, bachelors, or masters degree. Significant patient care experience receives major consideration from the admissions committees of most PA programs.
Clinical psychologists and counselors assess and treat a variety of mental disorders. They work with individuals, families, and therapy groups depending on their specialty. There are a wide variety of subspecialties in the psychology field (e.g. health, school, sports, and industrial psychology. Licensed psychologists must complete a masters or doctoral degree (two to six years of study) depending on the subspecialty desired.
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