“Reason, Observation, and Experience - the Holy Trinity of Science.” — Robert G. Ingersoll

Careers in Biology — Healthcare

This page provides a brief overview of career options involving hands-on health care. The information provided is adapted primarily from a brochure in the What can I do with this major? series from the Career Services office at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (© 1992 - 2009 The University of Tennessee). The short career descriptions provided are derived from much more complete pages available at StateUniversity.com's Health and Medicine Careers site (© 2010 Net Industries).

Listings:

Physician (M.D., D.O.)

Physicians diagnose and treat diseases, injuries, and other disorders. They also work to promote good health and prevent illness. Physicians often supervise other health-care workers, such as physician assistants, nurses, and technicians.

Potential Specialties

  • Allergology
  • Anesthesiology
  • Cardiology
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Family and General Practice
  • Gastroenterology
  • Internal Medicine
  • Obstetrics & Gynecology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pathology
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry
  • Radiology
  • Surgery
  • Research
  • Public Health

Potential Employers

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Private or group practice
  • Health networks
  • Nursing homes
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Mental health institutions
  • Federal, state, & local health departments
  • Government agencies
  • Armed services
  • Correctional facilities
  • Colleges or universities
  • Medical schools
  • Large corporations

Information & Suggestions

  • Test Required: MCAT
  • Schooling Required: After earning an undergraduate degree, the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) requires 4 years of medical school, followed by 3-8 years of internship and residency depending on specialization chosen.
  • Some physicians pursue the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. D.O.s emphasize the body's musculoskeletal system, preventive medicine, and holistic patient care and often work in family and general practices, although they may be found in many specialties.

Podiatry

Podiatrists are medical practitioners who specialize in the treatment of sore, badly shaped, diseased, or injured feet and ankles. Patients’ problems are treated by manipulation, massage, physical therapy, and surgery, and through the prescription of drugs, exercise, or special shoes.

Potential Specialties

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics
  • Primary Care
  • Sports Medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Dermatology
  • Radiology
  • Podopediatrics
  • Geriatrics
  • Diabetic Foot Care

Potential Employers

  • Private practice
  • Community health clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Residential and nursing homes
  • National Health Service
  • Sports clubs
  • Some specialty retail chains

Information & Suggestions

  • Test Required: MCAT or GRE
  • Schooling Required: After earning at least 90 hours of undergraduate course work, the Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) requires 4 academic years (last 2 years are clinical rotations). One year of postdoctoral residency is required in most states.

Optometry

Optometrists examine eyes and treat vision problems, usually by prescribing eyeglasses or contact lenses, vision therapy, or rehabilitation programs. They also prescribe medicines to treat some eye diseases and allergies.

Potential Specialties

  • Family Practice
  • Pediatric Optometry
  • Geriatric Optometry
  • Vision Therapy
  • Contact Lenses
  • Hospital-Based Optometry
  • Primary Care Optometry
  • Ocular Disease
  • Public Health
  • Research

Potential Employers

  • Private practice
  • Vision care centers
  • Hospitals
  • Physicians' offices
  • Armed services
  • Government organizations

Information & Suggestions

  • Test Required: OAT
  • Schooling Required: After earning an undergraduate degree, the Doctor of Optometry (OD) requires 4 academic years at optometry school.

Chiropractic Medicine

Chiropractors are alternative health care practitioners who diagnose and treat health problems associated with the muscular, nervous, and skeletal systems. Chiropracters treat patients primarily by manipulating parts of the body, especially the spinal column, to try to correct any disorders of the skeleton or spine that may interrupt the flow of nerve impulses to various parts of the body. They also treat patients with light, heat, cold, water, exercise, or other forms of physical therapy. They do not use drugs or surgery to treat patients.

Potential Specialties

  • Sports Injuries
  • Neurology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Nutrition
  • Internal Disorders
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Ergonomics

Potential Employers

  • Solo and group practices
  • Hospitals or health clinics

Information & Suggestions

  • Test Required: GRE or MCAT
  • Schooling Required: After earning at least 90 hours of undergraduate course work, the Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) requires 4 academic years at a chiropractic school.

Pharmacy

Pharmacists are health practitioners who specialize in dispensing prescribed drugs and providing information to patients and healthcare workers about drugs’ side effects and use. Pharmacists must understand the composition of medicines, as well as the laws that regulate their manufacture and sale.

Potential Specialties

  • Clinical Pharmacy
  • Intravenous Nutrition Support
  • Oncology
  • Nuclear Pharmacy
  • Geriatric Pharmacy
  • Psychopharmacotherapy.
  • Research
  • Public Health

Potential Employers

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Mental health institutions
  • Health clinics
  • Retail chains
  • Government agencies including:
    • Food and Drug Administration
    • Public Health Service
    • Department of Veteran's Affairs
    • Armed Services
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Health insurance firms
  • Universities

Information & Suggestions

  • Test Required: PCAT
  • Schooling Required: After spending 2 to 3 years in undergraduate coursework, or completing a Bachelor’s degree, the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) requires 4 academic years.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy involves treatment through physical means for people disabled by illness, accident, or congenital handicap. Physical therapy seeks to improve mobility, relieve pain, or minimize permanent physical disabilities.

Potential Specialties

  • Clinical Practice:
    • Acute care
    • Neuro-rehabilitation
    • Out-patient
  • Management
  • Education
  • Research
  • Consultation
  • Specialties Include:
    • Pediatrics
    • Geriatrics
    • Sports Medicine
    • Orthopedics
    • Neurology
    • Cardiopulminary

Potential Employers

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Home healthcare agencies
  • Nursing homes
  • Sports medicine facilities
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Doctors offices, particularly orthopedic
  • Schools
  • Group or private practices
  • Universities and colleges
  • Federal and state government:
    • Armed Forces
    • Public Health Service
    • Veterans Administration

Information & Suggestions

  • Earn a master's degree (MPT, MSPT, MS) or doctorate (DPT) in physical therapy from a program accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association. Programs include supervised clinical experiences. The field is moving toward the DPT as the standard degree by 2020.
  • Obtain a doctoral degree for teaching and research positions.
  • All states require licensure which includes passing an examination.
  • One third of physical therapists work in hospitals and one quarter are employed in physical therapy offices.
  • Attain superior grades in pre-physical therapy course work due to intense competition for admittance to physical therapy programs.
  • Obtain knowledge of several basic sciences including anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, and physics.
  • Volunteer for a physical therapist in a hospital or clinic to gain experience and improve chances of acceptance into a program. Many programs require volunteer experiences and a good understanding of the field for admission.
  • Develop strong interpersonal and communication skills. Must possess patience and a desire to help individuals of all ages with disabilities. A positive attitude is important when working with patients.
  • Manual dexterity and physical stamina are important in succeeding in physical therapy work.
  • Some physical therapists specialize in an area after gaining several years of general experience.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is the treatment of people who are unable to function independently due to an injury, illness, or disability. Occupational therapists utilize activities with specific goals to enhance the quality of life and increase the independence of individuals who have a mentally, emotionally, or physically disabling condition.

Potential Specialties

  • Screening
  • Evaluation
  • Treatment:
    • Physical
    • Psychosocial
    • Social
    • Vocational
  • Follow-up
  • Administration
  • Teaching
  • Research

Potential Employers

  • Hospitals (including psychiatric and rehabilitative)
  • Schools
  • Group or private practice
  • Nursing homes
  • Community mental health centers
  • Adult daycare programs
  • Job training centers
  • Residential care providers
  • Out-patient rehabilitation facilities
  • Home healthcare agencies
  • Federal and state government:
    • Armed Forces
    • Public Health Service
    • Veterans Administration
  • Universities and colleges

Information & Suggestions

  • Earn a master's (MOT, MA, MS) or doctoral (OTD, less common) degree in occupational therapy to gain entry in the field.
  • All states regulate O.T. licensure. Requirements include passing a certification exam given by the American Occupational Therapy Certification Board and a supervised clinical internship. Those who have passed the exam become Occupational Therapists Registered (OTR).
  • Doctoral degree is often preferred for university teaching and administrative positions.
  • Occupational therapists may choose to specialize in a particular age group or type of disability.
  • Build a solid foundation in physical, biological, and behavioral sciences.
  • Develop excellent communication skills which are important when interacting with patients and their families.
  • Volunteer in an occupational therapy or related healthcare setting to experience the field firsthand and improve chances of program admittance.
  • Individuals working in occupational therapy should possess patience and a true interest in helping people with disabilities reach their full potential.
  • Learn to work well within a team. O.T.'s work with many other professionals, including physicians, physical therapists, and social workers in the rehabilitation of patients.

Dentistry

Dentists are health professionals who take care of the teeth, gums, and supporting bones of the mouth. They help their patients keep their teeth and gums healthy. They also treat diseased teeth and gums. Dentists often supervise dental assistants and dental hygienists working under them.

Potential Specialties

  • Endodontics
  • Oral Pathology
  • Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology
  • Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Orthodontics
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics
  • Public Health
  • Research

Potential Employers

  • Private practice (80% of dentists)
  • Armed services
  • Federal, state, & local health departments
  • Correctional facilities

Information & Suggestions

  • Test Required: DAT
  • Schooling Required: After earning an undergraduate degree, the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) requires 4 years of dental school (last 2 years are clinical rotations).

Dental Hygiene

Dental hygienists help people of all ages maintain optimal oral health by working with dentists to prevent and treat tooth decay, periodontal disease, oral cancer, and other conditions that affect oral function.

Potential Specialties

  • Community health
  • Education
  • Administration
  • Management
  • Research
  • Marketing
  • Community health

Potential Employers

  • Private dental offices and dental clinics
  • Government health departments
  • Hospitals and nursing homes
  • School districts
  • Private business and industry
  • Correctional facilities
  • Private and public community health centers
  • Managed care organizations

Information & Suggestions

  • Associate's or bachelor’s degree are required to enter the field in nearly all states.
  • A passing score on the Dental Hygiene National Board Examination and state or regional clinical examination is also required for licensure, RDH (Registered Dental Hygienist).
  • A master’s degree in dental hygiene is available at some institutions.
  • The scope of practice for dental hygienists is determined by individual states.
  • Opportunities for practice are available throughout the world, particularly with the military, the US government, and US owned corporations.
  • Dental hygienists with bachelor's or master's degrees may work in teaching, research or administrative positions.

Veterinary Medicine

Veterinarians provide medical care to pets, farm animals, and in some cases more exotic species. They study, treat, and control animal injuries and diseases. They immunize healthy animals against disease and inspect animals and meat products to be used as food. Veterinarians also perform surgery, set broken bones, establish diet and exercise routines, and prescribe medicines for animals.

Potential Specialties

  • Small Animal Care
  • Large Animal Care
  • Food Safety
  • Preventative Medicine
  • Surgery
  • Laboratory Animal Medicine
  • Research

Potential Employers

  • Group or private practice
  • Federal government including:
    • Department of Agriculture
    • Department of Health and Human Services
  • State and local government
  • Colleges of veterinarian medicine
  • Medical schools
  • Research laboratories
  • Animal food companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Zoos

Information & Suggestions

  • Test Required: GRE, VCAT, or MCAT
  • Schooling Required: After earning an undergraduate degree, the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) requires 4 academic years at a college of veterinarian medicine. Veterinarians who plan to specialize will spend additional years in internships or residency programs.

General Suggestions

Gaining Admittance Into Professional Programs

  • Choose an appropriate undergraduate major and include prerequisite courses required by the professional program, e.g. biology, chemistry, and physics, if they are not a requirement of the chosen major.
  • Meet with a pre-health advisor periodically to discuss curricular decisions.
  • Maintain a high grade point average, particularly in the sciences, to improve chances of admission to graduate or professional school.
  • Develop strong computer, mathematics, and verbal and written communication skills.
  • Build strong relationships with professors and/or employers in order to secure strong recommendations.
  • Join related student organizations, such as Alpha Epsilon Delta, and assume leadership roles.
  • Obtain summer jobs, volunteer positions, or internships to test fields of interest and gain valuable experience.
  • Develop a back up plan in case admission to your preferred program is denied.
  • Look at entrance requirements for desired institutions. Be aware of any standardized test requirements, minimum grade point averages, and prerequisites.
  • Talk to professionals already in your desired field regarding their backgrounds. Arrange a shadowing experience.
  • Join professional associations and community organizations to stay abreast of current issues in the field and to develop networking contacts.
  • Read scientific journals related to your area of interest.
  • Research accredited institutions. Check graduation rates, success rates on licensing exams, cost, location, etc. If possible, speak with current students.

Addiitonal Advice & Information

  • Develop a desire to help people of all backgrounds and ages including various races and socioeconomic groups.
  • Gain an understanding of the rigorous education and training required in the medical professions to ascertain your willingness to complete the required experiences.
  • Study the demands required by each of the medical fields. Many physicians and veterinarians work very long, irregular hours. Consider your tolerance for such a schedule.
  • All fields require licensure that is generally regulated by the state of residency.
  • Plan for a lifetime of learning to stay abreast of new trends in the field and to fulfill continuing education requirements for licensure.
  • In some medical fields, additional training is necessary for advanced research and administrative positions, university teaching, and independent research.
  • Some medical fields offer the opportunity for post doctoral experiences which can allow one to gain additional training or specialize in a particular area.

This page is taken mainly from brochure(s) in the What can I do with this major? series, prepared by the Career Planning staff of Career Services at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. © 1992 - 2009 The University of Tennessee

Additional material from StateUniversity.com's Health and Medicine Careers site. © 2010 Net Industries