Female doctor pointing at box with basketball, braces, physical therapy icons

Career Spotlight: The Ultimate Guide to Unique Health and Medicine Careers

There are so many health science careers to pursue, and you may not have considered some of these unique options we're spotlighting. Learn more now!

When it comes to careers in health and medicine, there’s a vast and exciting world of possibilities out there. You may want to be a doctor, but have you ever considered becoming a geriatric doctor? Maybe you’re interested in how the body functions but haven’t thought about becoming a physical therapist before. Wherever you are in your health care journey, you have a bright future ahead of you personally and professionally. Here’s a look at some unique and often well-paying health careers to explore as you plan your future.

Sports medicine

When your passion for the game meets a passion for helping others through health care, you may find the perfect career in the field of sports medicine. This is a newer health concentration, as athletes once simply went to general practitioners to assess injuries. But those working in the field can attest to the unique issues athletes face, and with specialized training, you’ll be better equipped to help prevent, treat, and rehabilitate players recovering from sports-related injuries, guiding them on their journey back to top physical condition.

Field fast facts

What do sports medicine physicians do?

Sports medicine physicians work with athletes and coaches during practices and games to assess injuries on the field as they happen, such as concussions, sprains, bone fractures, contusions, and cardiac issues. Collaborating with physical therapists, they also recommend and facilitate rehabilitation methods and eventually clear players to return to playing.

Sports medicine physicians may also recommend exercise or diet regimens that are safe for patients and helpful in meeting their personal training goals. They also advise athletes dealing with chronic conditions, including asthma and diabetes, on how they affect performance. It’s important to note that sports medicine physicians don’t just treat professional athletes—they also care for recreational athletes and non-athletes alike.

Required training

According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, sports medicine specialists typically must study for four years of undergrad, four years of medical school, and an additional four to five years of residency and fellowships specific to sports medicine. They should also be board certified (like other physicians) in areas like physical, internal, or emergency medicine. Practitioners should pass a sports medicine certification exam as well. 

Source: Physicians and Surgeons: Occupational Outlook Handbook: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Physical therapy

The human body encounters a phenomenal amount of wear and tear. From people who suffer from chronic pain to recovering surgical patients, from the very young to the very old, those who deal with major and minor physical problems may benefit from the attention of a physical therapist, or a doctor who trains or retrains the body to normal working order. Whether a disability is temporary or permanent, physical therapists help patients overcome or manage it. While many physical therapists establish their own practices and provide care directly to patients, others work in a variety of settings, including nursing homes, home health agencies, public and private schools, hospitals, athletic and fitness centers, and research facilities.

Field fast facts

  • Required degree: Doctor of Physical Therapy
  • Areas of specialty: Community health, neurology, pediatrics, oncology, orthopedics, geriatrics, long-term rehabilitation, etc.
  • Number of jobs: 246,000+ as of 2022
  • Median salary: $97,000+ per year
  • Professional organization: American Physical Therapy Association 

What do physical therapists do?

The job of a physical therapist is to identify, prevent, correct, and ease physical disabilities caused by chronic or acute illness, major or minor injuries, or birth defects. Effective physical therapists require not just skills and knowledge but compassion to care for others. They use a variety of tests to measure the function of muscles, skeletal structure, and the nervous, pulmonary, and cardiovascular systems before developing treatment regimens, which may include the use of special equipment. Patients include amateur and professional athletes, pregnant women, children and adolescents, and people suffering from burns, chronic pain, stroke, cancer, and head or spinal injuries. A physical therapist’s specific work is determined by their practice specialty, and particular specializations generally have better job prospects as well.

Required training

Students interested in physical therapy should vigorously pursue science courses, from foundational classes such as biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology to specialized classes like biomechanics, neuroanatomy, and therapeutic procedures. Consider taking some humanities electives to supplement your studies and strengthen your communication skills. Students should also receive supervised clinical experience through internships, cooperative education, or residencies.

Source: Physical Therapists: Occupational Outlook Handbook: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Related: Exploring the Health Sciences: How to Find the Right Field For You

Orthodontics

Students who’ve ever had crooked or crowded teeth may already be familiar with orthodontists and the work they do. What they might not realize is that learning to apply braces can be as challenging as having to wear them. But the result is similar—extremely gratifying and well worth the time and financial commitment. Future orthodontists can look forward to promising employment projections, flexible work schedules, and high salaries. They may work in medical centers with a team of dentists or run their own private practices, in which good business management skills are essential. Orthodontists should also be excellent communicators and be able to work with people of all ages, especially nervous or unenthusiastic patients.

Field fast facts

  • Required degrees: BS and Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)
  • Number of jobs: 6,000+ as of 2022
  • Median salary: $216,000+ per year
  • Professional organization: American Association of Orthodontists

What do orthodontists do?

Orthodontists identify and treat teeth, bite, and jaw abnormalities to help improve a patient’s personal appearance, speech patterns, and facial function. After taking X-rays, creating plaster molds, and examining dental records, orthodontists devise customized plans to correct any malocclusions (misalignments). They design, fit, and apply dental appliances such as braces, retainers, spacers, and headgear with the help of assistants. They also supervise periodical check-ups to track individual progress and make adjustments until a patient’s treatment is complete.

Required training

Prospective dentists often study sciences like Biology or Chemistry as undergrads, but dental schools accept students of all majors. However, many schools have prerequisites like certain science courses, so it’s important to research all requirements before applying. Students must also score well on the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which can be taken multiple times. Once admitted to dental school, you’ll spend four years gaining hands-on experience while treating patients in dental clinics during the last two years. Graduates then go on to pursue Orthodontics in a specialized residency program that lasts two to three years and often spend additional years in a postgraduate residency before passing written and clinical exams to become licensed orthodontists.

Source: Orthodontists: Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nurse midwifery

Midwives are known for offering a more personal approach to women’s health care than what a traditional obstetrician may offer, supporting patients before, during, and after childbirth. A Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) is a registered nurse with specialized training in Midwifery. Related paths include Certified Midwife and Certified Professional Midwife, which don’t require Nursing degrees. However, these health care providers are less prevalent and licensed in only a few states—unlike CNMs, who are allowed to practice anywhere in the country.

Midwives are skilled in pre- and postnatal care, newborn health, and women’s health from puberty to menopause. Depending on where they practice, CNMs may act as primary caregivers or as part of a team under a physician’s supervision. They work in a variety of settings, from hospitals and private practices to birthing centers and patients’ homes.

Field fast facts

  • Required degree: Any level bachelor’s or higher with Midwifery certification
  • Number of jobs: 7,900+ as of 2022
  • Median salary: $122,000+ per year
  • Professional organization: American College of Nurse-Midwives

What do midwives do?

Nurse midwives primarily work with healthy women and low-risk pregnancies. They look after patients throughout gestation, during delivery, and up to 28 days after a baby is born. Midwives spend a lot of time getting to know their patients at appointments, helping them make decisions, developing birth plans, and addressing their specific needs and concerns. They focus on more traditional labor and delivery methods—as CNMs cannot perform caesarian sections like an OBGYN—encouraging natural experiences with minimized medical interventions such as induction or epidurals. But the job isn’t limited to delivering babies; CNMs also provide reproductive and general health care. They conduct exams, order and interpret tests, and prescribe medications. They educate women in areas such as nutrition and exercise and provide emotional counseling, often developing close bonds with patients.

Required training

Majoring in Nursing is the most efficient way to become a CNM, but students will benefit from a solid background in the sciences in general, including biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology. Sociology, nutrition, and women’s studies courses are also useful. After earning a bachelor’s degree and acquiring ample field experience, Registered Nurses can pursue CNM training through a Nurse Midwifery graduate program. Two to three years of advanced coursework and hands-on clinical experience in obstetrics and women’s health help prepare students for the certification exam required to become a CNM. Graduates then take a national exam to earn a certificate in Nurse Midwifery. Recertification is required every five years.

Source: Nurse Midwives: Occupation Employment and Wage Statistics: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Related: 4 Great but Unexpected Health and Medical Career Paths

Gerontology

With the advances of modern medicine, people are living longer than ever before. A field with enormous potential, gerontology is the study of the biological, social, and psychological needs of the elderly. People aged 65 and older require unique medical and social services, and a vast array of industries cater to them. Though there are many health care specializations for the elderly, gerontology is about much more than medical care. Gerontology comes with a high return of career satisfaction, as workers can improve their quality of life and learn from the wisdom of their elders.

Field fast facts

  • Required degree: Careers attainable at all degree levels
  • Areas of specialty: Research, psychology, medicine, home health, etc.
  • Number of jobs: 3,715,500 home health aid positions as of 2022
  • Median salary: for home health aids, $30,000+ per year; for geriatric doctors, $229,000+ per year (physicians in general)
  • Professional organization: Gerontological Society of America

What jobs can gerontology students get?

Gerontology can lead to many career paths in human service organizations, health and long-term care facilities, assisted living communities, and government agencies. Gerontology graduates address societal needs like housing and retirement; marketing and advertising for older consumers; and treatments for diseases associated with aging, like Alzheimer’s disease. Assisted living facilities also need nutritionists, activities managers, psychologists, assisted living nurses, doctors, and physical therapists. Higher degrees can lead to jobs in administration, research, and clinical practice.

Required training

Students can major specifically in Gerontology, or you may choose to specialize in Geriatrics within another major. Depending on the field you wish to pursue, this could include Biology, Economics, Psychology, Public Policy, or Sociology. For those who wish to become geriatric doctors, the traditional med school path is required after undergrad. For any role in the field, volunteering with the elderly also provides necessary experience for some degrees and is a great way for students to experience the work they may do as professionals.

Sources: Home Health and Personal Care Aides: Occupational Outlook Handbook: US Bureau of Labor StatisticsPhysicians and Surgeons: Occupational Outlook Handbook: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Genetics

The role of genetics in medicine, biotechnology and pharmaceutical research, forensics, agriculture, and animal biology is growing rapidly. Genetics can lead to many career paths and fields, including counseling or treating patients with inherited diseases, solving crimes, researching plant and animal evolution, and peering into the fundamental processes of life through basic laboratory research. The news is full of stories involving the dilemmas and controversies around prenatal testing for mutations and inherited diseases, discrimination and privacy issues, gene therapy, and stem cell research, but it’s certainly fascinating to be on the cutting edge of the field.

Field fast facts

  • Required degree: Any level bachelor’s or higher
  • Areas of specialty: Human genetics, animal genetics, forensics, plant genetics, etc.
  • Number of jobs: 3,500 genetic counseling and 119,000+ medical scientist jobs as of 2022
  • Median salary: for genetic counselors, $89,900+; for medical scientists, $99,900+
  • Professional organizations: Genetic Society of America; National Society of Genetic Counselors

What do genetic counselors and geneticists do?

Of the many jobs available in genetics, one of the more prominent is genetic counseling. Counselors work with patients and families whose members are at risk for birth defects or genetic diseases. They identify and research the problem, interpret information for the family, and discuss their options. In a job with less face-to-face interaction, laboratory geneticists work on pharmaceutical or clinical medicine applications, usually for biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies. Some geneticists work in forensics analyzing samples for law enforcement purposes and in agriculture studying the genetic modification of foods and seeds.

Required training

Genetic counselors typically need an undergraduate degree in Biology, Genetics, Nursing, Psychology, Public Health, or Social Work before pursuing a two-year master’s degree in Genetic Counseling. For other positions in the field, students generally study Biology, Genetics, or one of the physical sciences as an undergraduate and become research technicians or go on to pursue a PhD.

Sources: Genetic Counselors: Occupational Outlook Handbook: US Bureau of Labor StatisticsMedical Scientists: Occupational Outlook Handbook: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Related: Thinking About a STEM Major? Your Financial Future Looks Bright

We hope this guide has given you a better idea of where you may want to take your future career. The health sciences cover a vast array of fields, positions, and academic backgrounds. It may seem like there’s a lot of learning ahead of you, but it will be well worth your time in the end when you land an amazing career that truly allows you to make a difference.

Explore all our featured health colleges to start planning for your future in health care!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Jeannie Borin, MEd

Jeannie Borin, MEd

President and Founder, College Connections

I frequently visit CollegeXpress to answer questions from students and parents. There are countless hot topics in admissions that need to be addressed. I enjoy reading what my colleagues post and gain additional insight from different perspectives.

Melanie Kajy

Melanie Kajy

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously during my senior year of high school. I started off using the college search to find more information about the universities I was interested in. Just this tool alone gave me so much information about a particular school. It was my one-stop shop to learn about college. I was able to find information about college tuition, school rank, majors, and so much more that I can't list it all. The college search tool has helped me narrow down which college I want to attend, and it made a stressful process surprisingly not so stressful. I then moved to the scholarship search tool to find scholarships to apply for because I can't afford to pay for tuition myself. The search tool helped me find scholarships that I was eligible for. The tool gave me all the information I could ever need about a particular scholarship that was being offered. The CollegeXpress scholarship search tool is so much better than other tools offered, like the Chegg scholarship search. Thanks to CollegeXpress, I was able to apply to tons of scholarships in a relatively easy way!

Sierra Carranza

Sierra Carranza

High School Class of 2022

I had absolutely no idea where I wanted to go to school; I was considering colleges in almost every state. CollegeXpress was an amazing resource and helped me compare all of my top schools. Without the help of CollegeXpress, I probably wouldn't have made such an informed and confident decision.

Alexandra Adriano

Alexandra Adriano

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2016

I've used CollegeXpress quite a bit as a senior, particularly for colleges and scholarships, so it's been a very big asset in that respect! I would recommend it to anyone looking to pursue a college education, especially seniors! This scholarship will help me achieve my goals in ways I couldn't have before, and I know that there are opportunities like that for everyone on the website and in the magazines!

Daniel Ogunlokun

Daniel Ogunlokun

High School Class of 2022

When I started looking at colleges in the beginning of my senior year, I was conflicted about which ones I wanted to attend based on safety, tuition costs, location, academic rigor, and prestige. Searching the internet and getting more questions than answers, I came across CollegeXpress, which made all the steps I had taken look like a minor issue. Everything was summarized and detailed, and I couldn't be more thankful and appreciative.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD

Grace College

Winona Lake, IN