Medical and Health Professions Studies

There are many career options for people who are interested in medicine. If you would like to prepare to become a doctor, nurse or allied health professional, read on to discover the educational requirements you'll need to fulfill to begin your journey in healthcare. Schools offering Health Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Overview of Medical and Health Professions Studies

The level and type of education you'll need to complete to pursue this type of career depends on your area of interest and the extent to which you want to advance in a given position. In order to build a substantial career in certain medical professions, you will need to earn at least a master's degree. In some cases, you'll also need to complete doctoral and postdoctoral studies.

Important Facts About Some Medical and Health Professions

Registered Nurse Healthcare Administrator Family Doctor or General Practitioner
Mean Salary (2014) $69,790$103,680 $186,320
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 16%17%10%
Licensure/Certification Nursing license required; certification is not mandatory Licensure required for nursing home administrators and sometimes for other positions Medical license required; board certification is not mandatory
Key Skills Taking patient histories, working with doctors, teaching patients how to take care of conditions and diseases Managing employees, handling a facility's budget, improving quality of healthcare Treating patients, ordering diagnostic tests, answering patient questions

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Earn Your Associate's or Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some entry-level positions in the healthcare field require only an associate's or bachelor's degree ( If you want to enter one of the allied health professions, which the American Medical Association broadly categorizes as non-physician medical positions, the BLS reports that you may only need a high school diploma or a certificate for a handful of positions; however, you may choose to enroll in a degree program to increase your opportunities. For example, if you want to work as a dental hygienist, the BLS indicates that you'll need an associate's degree to work in a private practice. Educational requirements and the length of programs vary depending on your specialty, but associate's degrees generally take at least two years to complete, while bachelor's-degree programs last at least four years.

To work as an entry-level nurse, you'll need to earn at least a certificate in practical or vocational nursing, or an associate's degree (ADN). The BLS reports that many registered nurses choose to enroll in bachelor's (BSN) programs once they've spent several years working in the field. If you pursue a certificate, ADN or BSN, you'll take courses that will expose you to basic nursing practices, including:

  • Anatomy
  • Health assessment
  • Ethics and legal issues
  • Pharmacology

You'll also be required to complete clinical hours so as to obtain hands-on, supervised nursing experience. Your program may also offer courses on specific types of nursing such as geriatric care or midwifery.

Enroll in the Pre-Med Track

If you want to work in a healthcare profession that will require graduate education in medical science, you may choose to enroll in your school's pre-med track or program. While medical schools and other graduate programs won't require you to major in a specific discipline, your school's pre-med track may offer academic advising and test-preparation courses for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The services and requirements of your pre-med track or program will depend on your school.

Earn Your Master's Degree

Even if you don't want to work as a physician or nurse, many administrative and specialty-oriented healthcare fields will require you to earn at least a master's degree. For example, the BLS reports that if you want to work as a medical administrator, in some cases, you'll need a master's degree in business administration (MBA) or a related field. If you pursue an MBA, you'll take courses in finance, economics, marketing and operations management. If you pursue a master's degree in health services administration (MHSA), you'll take courses in health information technology, economics and biostatistics.

Other healthcare careers that will require advanced education include epidemiology, physical therapy and occupational therapy. Generally, such programs can be completed in about two years.

Enroll in a Doctoral Degree Program

If you want to pursue a career as a physician, surgeon or other doctor, you'll need to attend medical school, which will take four years to complete. You'll spend the first two years in the classroom. Courses will focus on anatomy, pathophysiology and the foundations of medical science. You'll spend the last two years completing clerkships, also known as rotations, which are designed to give you hands-on experience in the major medical fields. During your clerkships, you'll rotate through different hospitals and medical facilities to learn the basics of neurology and psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, family medicine and emergency medicine. These clerkships will also prepare you for a medical residency.

If you pursue a career in nursing, you may eventually choose to enroll in a Ph.D. program in a specialty nursing field. You'll conduct original research, receive hands-on practice in your nursing sub-discipline and complete a dissertation using research from your field of study.

Pursue Postdoctoral Opportunities

If you're planning on becoming a physician once you've completed your doctoral studies, you'll usually need to complete a postdoctoral residency. While residency requirements will vary with your program and field of study, the BLS reports that residencies generally last between three and seven years. During this time, you'll be paid to receive additional on-the-job training in your medical specialty. Your residency will also help prepare you for state and national licensure examinations.

Once you've finished the residency, you may also choose to apply for a fellowship in your field of study. Although what is expected of you will be specific to your fellowship, you will generally be required to conduct research, complete clinical experiences and participate in medical conferences. Fellowships typically last 1-3 years, although the length of your specific fellowship will depend on your program sponsor.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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