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Health and Medicine Majors and Potential Jobs

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The need for trained and qualified health care professionals today is crucial. From dentists to doctors to the other side of the spectrum of athletic trainers and physical therapists, spots are waiting to be filled. If you aspire to be the next Gregory House, take a look at these careers in health and medicine.

Dental Hygiene

Dental hygiene is the study of the principles, procedures, and practices of oral health. While two-year programs stress direct patient care under the supervision of a dentist, the bachelor’s degree is generally intended to prepare students with certificates or associate degrees in dental hygiene for employment as educators, researchers, or administrators. Students who want to become practicing dentists would not be advised to select this major, but rather seek to fulfill the requirements for dental school admission.

Education

As an upper-division specialty major following an associate degree or certificate program in dental hygiene, the plan of study includes topics in pharmacology, periodontal care, cariology, and current dental techniques. Courses in chemistry, microbiology, psychology, human resources administration, and sociology are included. Course work is supplemented by supervised practical experiences.

Possible careers

•    bacteriologist
•    dental assistant
•    dental hygienist
•    dental therapist
•    dentist
•    hospital administrator
•    laboratory technician
•    microbiologist
•    nurse
•    oral surgeon
•    pharmacologist
•    physician assistant

Exercise Sciences/Sports Sciences

Exercise sciences/sports sciences prepares students for a career as an athletic trainer or exercise instructor. It is important to have an interest in helping athletes and people with health issues stemming from physical activity. An extensive knowledge of human physiology and anatomy and the ability to work well with a variety of people are both essential for this profession. The fitness and wellness “industry” continues to grow substantially in the United States, so job opportunities in this field are good. It is important to decide upon an emphasis and take the course work that prepares one for the profession, including obtaining licensure for practice.

Education

The plan of study will begin with overview courses in biology and chemistry, athletic training, anatomy and physiology. Then the student will begin to specialize in one concentration. Concentrations include: athletic training, cardiac rehabilitation, fitness, personal training, strength and conditioning specialist. Internships are a key part of the major and should be pursued as early as possible. Students should research internship opportunities at colleges of interest.

Possible careers

•    aerobic instructor
•    athletic trainer
•    cardiac rehabilitation
•    corporate wellness leader
•    personal training

Health Sciences

Health sciences is the study of techniques and procedures that are used in assisting physicians and other health professionals to care for the sick, rehabilitate the injured, diagnose ailments, or conduct research in clinical labs. Concentrations include cardiopulmonary specialist, extracorporeal technology, nuclear medicine technology, and rehabilitation specialist. This major is an excellent preparation for graduate work in a number of different medical programs. Often the requirements for the health sciences major will prepare the student to apply to medical school.

Education

The plan of study begins with a core curriculum of biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus. The final two years are devoted to advanced work in the specialty, with emphasis on supervised clinical experience, direct patient care, or involvement in independent supervised research during the senior year.

Possible careers

•    cardiopulmonary specialist
•    clergy
•    dentistry
•    health science technician
•    management consultant
•    medical technician
•    medicine
•    nurse
•    nutritionist
•    occupational therapist
•    paramedic
•    pediatrician
•    physical therapist
•    physician assistant
•    rehabilitation specialist
•    teacher
•    veterinary doctor

Hospital and Health Care Administration

Hospital and health care administration is the study of the organization and delivery of health care systems. The focus of the study is the understanding of regulatory, technical, and fiscal considerations that make for the effective delivery of health care services. It is appropriate for students seeking a career in hospital administration, nursing home management, or operation of a large professional practice. Students interested in senior leadership opportunities in this field should consider pursuing a master’s of business administration (M.B.A.) as well.

Education

The plan of study includes a liberal arts core curriculum with electives in health science and business. The course work in the specialization during the junior and senior years may combine advanced work in hospital administration, understanding Medicare policy, and seminars in current topics, along with advanced accounting methods, financial analysis, and personnel management. Some programs may offer a dual major in health care administration and accounting, for example, to provide the student with more options for employment.

Possible careers

•    accountant
•    college professor
•    comptroller
•    consultant
•    department director
•    health care administrator
•    health care lawyer
•    health-related facilities manager
•    nursing home administrator
•    personnel manager
•    teacher
•    technical writer

Medical Records Administration

Also called “health record administration,” this is the study of the management and organization of health information gathering and retrieval systems in health care facilities. The best such programs are accredited by the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation (CAHEA) of the American Medical Association. At the conclusion of the undergraduate program, a registration examination is given by the American Medical Record Association; obtaining this credential is frequently required of those seeking positions of responsibility within the allied health professions.

Education

The plan of study requires a substantial familiarity with biological sciences. Courses in anatomy, physiology, psychology, and mathematics are supplemented by electives in the major. Upper-division course work consists of detailed examinations of specific topics in health record administration, hospital law, medical terminology, and computers in medical recording, as well as clinical or field experiences in a hospital setting and internships in hospitals.

Possible careers

•    admitting clerk
•    college instructor
•    data processor
•    health care supervisor
•    health insurance officer
•    health record administrator
•    health statistician
•    hospital comptroller
•    personnel administrator
•    programmer

Nuclear Medicine/Medical Technology

Nuclear medicine/medical technology is the study of the use, research, and applications of nuclear (i.e., radioactive) materials in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases in humans. Technologists administer nuclear substances, called radiopharmaceuticals, to patients, then observe the responses as they flow through the tissues and organs. The major is a highly skilled and growing specialty within the health sciences, requiring intensive preparation and rigorous screening process. A national certification examination must be taken prior to actual employment or graduate study.

Education

The plan of study requires the completion of a series of courses in biology, chemistry, and physics, along with advanced college algebra and calculus. Courses in anatomy, physiology, and nuclear theory also are included during the first two years of undergraduate study. The student then proceeds to intermediate and advanced course work in the technology, together with intensive practicum experiences in hospitals or medical centers. The curriculum concludes with the National Certification Examination.

Possible careers

•    college instructor
•    consultant
•    laboratory technician
•    medical supervisor
•    nuclear technologist
•    oncology physician
•    radiologist
•    research scientist
•    teacher
•    technical writer

Nursing

Nursing is the study of the procedures for caring for the disabled and the sick and for the promotion of good health practices. Many two-year colleges and schools of nursing offer a course of study that leads to eligibility to take a licensing exam. The baccalaureate major is intended to prepare leaders in the field—nurses who are not only skilled technicians in the health sciences but who also have developed extensive management skills. Specialties include obstetric, pediatric, gerontological, emergency room and operating room nursing, as well as nurse, midwife, and physician assistant concentrations.

Education

The lower-division plan of study involves a solid foundation in the sciences, especially biology, physics, chemistry, and advanced mathematics, and in social sciences such as psychology and sociology. A performance review by an admissions committee may be required prior to upper-division study. The final two year focus on specialty courses in nursing and selected topics in medicine and culminate in a practicum or clinical experience under close supervision.

Possible careers

•    clinic manager
•    consultant
•    dietician
•    food/drug inspector
•    freelance nurse
•    laboratory technician
•    nurse educator
•    nurse supervisor
•    physician assistant
•    researcher
•    school nurse
•    technical writer

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is the study of methods used to help people recover or replace the basic skills needed for daily living. The study is not limited to the rehabilitation of job skills but extends to helping patients regain their social, physical, or psychological ability to live independent, effective lives. With psychiatric patients, this may include the control of behavior, the discovery of a job skill, and overcoming moodiness. With the severely handicapped, it may include developing the ability to care for themselves or learn a skill. New in 2007, a master’s degree is required to qualify for the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy examination. Most states have their own licensure expectations as well.

Education

The plan of study at the lower-division level emphasizes physical and social sciences such as psychology, sociology, biology, anthropology, physiology, and anatomy. The major study at the upper-division level includes neuroscience, biomechanics, kinesiology, treatment techniques, prosthetics, and orthotics. Since licensure is necessary to pursue a career in this field, internship or field work will be required in most strong programs.

Possible careers

•    counselor
•    health care administrator
•    home attendant
•    laboratory technician
•    nursing instructor
•    occupational therapist
•    occupational therapy aid
•    physical therapist
•    prosthetist
•    public health educator
•    recreational therapist
•    rehabilitation therapist

Pharmacy

Pharmacy is the study of the preparation, packaging, distribution, and storage of drugs or other medical prescriptions. Understanding the effects of chemicals on living beings is at the heart of this discipline. This knowledge is used in medical research as well as in clinical medicine. This science has applications for diagnosis and prevention of illness as well as for relief from the symptoms of illness and the cure of disease.

Education

The plan of study for the undergraduate degree, often called “pharmaceutical sciences,” is usually five years long. Lower-division study emphasizes basic science and electives in the major, together with supplementary study in physiology and sociology to prepare the student to work with patients in health care settings. Upper-division work, the final three years, is taken in the college of pharmacy and consists of specialized advanced work in topics of pharmacy. Admission to the college is usually based upon student performance on the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). When evaluating colleges of pharmacy for admission, be sure that the college is accredited by the American Council of Pharmaceutical Education.

Possible careers

•    biochemist
•    chemical engineer
•    chemist
•    entrepreneur
•    laboratory assistant
•    pathologist
•    pharmacist
•    pharmacologist
•    physician
•    research scientist
•    technical writer

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is the study of the treatment of physical disabilities and disorders through the use of natural means (heat, radiation, electricity) and therapeutic techniques (exercise and massage). The therapist evaluates the problem and designs and implements a treatment plan. It is practiced in hospitals and other clinical settings, with the practitioner licensed by the state in which he or she wishes to work. To become a licensed physical therapist, a master’s degree is required.

Education

The plan of study requires the completion of a very specific body of course work during the first two years of college: chemistry, physics, advanced mathematics, comparative anatomy, psychology, and mammalian biology as the minimum. Admission to the upper division, where the student will specialize, will depend upon satisfactory completion of these courses and evaluation by a screening committee. A clinical internship of up to 18 weeks of full-time practice will also be included in the accredited undergraduate program.

Possible careers

•    chiropractor
•    gerontologist
•    home health aide
•    massage therapist
•    occupational therapist
•    physical therapist
•    physician
•    physician assistant
•    physiologist
•    rehabilitation therapist
•    research scientist
•    resort manager

Pre-dentistry

Most dental health professionals will require a graduate degree in an area of specialization before being licensed to practice. A pre-dental undergraduate program is designed to prepare a student for entry into dental school. Approximately one to one-and-a-half years before admission to dental school, students must take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). Baccalaureate studies should be directed toward introducing the student to the knowledge expected on these exams.

Education

Strictly speaking, pre-dentistry is not a major program of study. Rather, it is an advisement program for pre-graduate study. After declaring a standard major, such as biology or chemistry, the student completes requirements for that major, along with the courses applicable toward dentistry school admission. The student must examine and compare programs carefully to discover the one that is most suitable. While students must take the courses prescribed by dentistry schools in order to be admitted to this graduate program of study, undergraduate students can choose to major in any subject, science or non-science. Students must do well in the designated pre-dental courses to be admitted into dental school.

Possible careers

•    anesthesiologist
•    dental hygienist
•    dental surgeon
•    dentist
•    microbiologist
•    neurosurgeon
•    pathologist
•    physician
•    physician assistant
•    research scientist
•    urologist
•    veterinarian

Pre-medicine

Pre-medicine is, as its name suggests, a program intended to prepare students to enter one of the health service fields. At the undergraduate level, it is an advisement program only. A health professions advisor or other similarly designated faculty member assists students in establishing the program of courses best suited for entry into an appropriate professional school, and aids students in preparing to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Many students planning to enter medical school major in biology, chemistry, or another life science. Medical school is demanding, as is the work of a medical doctor, but there are many opportunities for students who can meet these expectations.

Education

Medical schools are quite specific about what courses are required for admission. Because medical school admission is competitive, it is quite important to do well in these prescribed courses in mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics. As long as a student meets these requirements, the student may choose to major in any field of interest. Most students choose a science major. The MCAT is an important part of the medical school admissions program, so students should prepare well for it and take it in their junior year of college. If a student is pursuing a pre-medical program but is not interested in continuing on to medical school, the student should work closely with a faculty advisor to develop a program that prepares them well for their chosen profession.

Possible careers

•    anesthesiologist
•    biochemist
•    chiropractor
•    extracorporeal tech.
•    medical illustrator
•    midwife
•    optometrist
•    osteopath
•    pharmacist
•    physician
•    physician assistant
•    podiatrist
•    surgeon
•    veterinarian

Public Health

Public health is concerned with protecting and improving the health of the community rather than that of the individual. Municipal, county, and state health departments employ public health workers to inspect food-related industries to ensure healthful produce, meat, milk, and other consumables. On a broader level, the federal government maintains the Public Health Service which works within the Department of Agriculture, Labor Department, and the Food and Drug Administration. Other titles for this major include public health laboratory science, public health nursing, and community health.

Education

The plan of study at the undergraduate level requires course work in the biological sciences and chemistry, with electives in applied mathematics, sociology, and psychology. Later, courses in health care administration are supplemented by advanced healthcare related science courses such as epidemiology and biostatistics. Finally, advanced seminars in independent research projects and internships complete the program.

Possible careers

•    alcohol counselor
•    college professor
•    customs inspector
•    director, community organization
•    field officer
•    food/drug inspector
•    lawyer
•    public health educator
•    public health officer
•    social worker

Speech Pathology

Speech pathology is the study of the evaluation, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of communication disorders. Usually found within the health sciences department, the major is intended for students preparing for work in schools and medical and paramedical facilities. Students electing this major usually must demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing, and oral communications and be free of voice, hearing, and speaking problems. A graduate degree is the minimum requirement for competency and certification by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and for state licensure in speech pathology or audiology.

Education

The plan of study emphasizes on physiology and anatomy as well as the study of therapeutic modes for specific pathologies. Because this is a direct patient-care health service, extensive experience through practicum or internship in a health care facility is required during the senior year.

Possible careers

•    audiologist
•    clinician or clinical supervisor
•    college professor
•    early intervention specialist
•    hearing/speech therapist
•    laboratory technician
•    psychologist
•    speech pathologist
•    speech teacher

Adapted from Major Decisions: A Guide to College Majors, by Terry Ward. Used with permission from Wintergreen Orchard House, 2012. For the full breakdown of these majors, check out the book, available in paperback and for the Kindle!

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