Health Professions Options
A great number of health professions offer the opportunity to serve patients, apply your science knowledge, collaborate with intelligent, dedicated colleagues and make a difference. This list will help you get familiar with the options.
Many career options are available for allopathic physicians and new opportunities emerge regularly. Responsibilities include diagnosing disease, supervising patient care, prescribing treatment, and helping improve the delivery of care. Although most physicians provide direct patient care, some concentrate on basic or applied research, become teachers or administrators, or combine various elements of these activities.
Once matriculated, medical students study for four years to earn their MD degree. This is followed by residency training of at least three, and up to 12 years to become certified in a field of practice.
Allopathic physicians work in a private offices, group practices, managed care systems, clinics, hospitals, laboratories, industry, military, universities, government, or combinations of the above. Allopathic medicine is one of two routes to a medical career, the other being osteopathic medicine.
Students who graduate with advanced degrees in the biomedical sciences have traditionally gone on to careers in research and teaching in universities, medical schools, hospitals, government or industry. Some graduates combine their training in science with other disciplines to prepare for careers in consulting, management, biotechnology, communications, law, or other professional areas. Many universities offer MS, PhD, and combined MD/PhD degree programs.
If you want to prepare for a career in research, you need to complete prerequisite courses, which vary depending upon the discipline you choose. Research experience is also an important preparation for graduate school. In addition to possibly improving your chances of admission, it can also help you to decide if this is an appropriate career choice for you.
Among health care providers, clinical psychologists are mental health professionals most highly trained in the science of psychology and psychological measurement. While the clinical psychologist carries out many of the same functions as other mental health professionals, for instance, social workers and psychiatric nurses, the clinical psychologist is particularly expert in psychological testing and in research in mental illness.
You need a doctoral degree in clinical psychology to become a clinical psychologist. The doctoral training involves both coursework and clinical experience for a minimum of four years of graduate work.
In addition to private practice, clinical psychologists work in a large variety of settings including hospitals, clinics, schools and business organizations.
Tufts has a unique undergraduate major that emphasizes the clinical aspect of psychology. We do this to give our students a better understanding of the field before applying to graduate school.
Dentists are scientists dedicated to the highest standards of health through the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of all oral diseases and conditions. Dentistry is concerned not only with healthy teeth and gums but also the other hard and soft tissues of the oral cavity.
Dentists have a variety of career options. They may elect general dentistry or one of eight specialty areas; they may establish private practices or work for other dentists, clinics, hospitals, dental schools, private agencies, or government. With an increasing awareness of the importance of oral health, and new mechanisms for people to finance their dental care, demand for dental care is increasing.
U.S. dental schools accept students who have successfully completed the prerequisite undergraduate science courses. These dental schools offer either Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) or the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degrees.
Environmental health is an area of increasing activity that looks at the intersection between the environment and health. While the field has traditionally focused on human health, there is a growing interest in ecological effects on non-human species and ecosystems.
Practitioners within this broad discipline include engineers, toxicologists, epidemiologists, chemists, biologists, ecologists and nurses. Given the proliferation of the regulatory authority of local, state, and federal governments, members of the legal profession and economists have become involved in environmental health issues.
There are a number of environmental health programs at the master’s and doctoral level. Undergraduate courses in the sciences or engineering can help prepare you for graduate-level training in environmental health.
For more information, visit the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) or the Tufts Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.
Genetic counselors provide information to individuals and families who have questions about genetic conditions or birth defects. They also help those receiving the information process and understand it. To support individuals and families as they adapt and cope with genetic conditions, genetic counselors integrate short-term psychological counseling with their knowledge of the principles of human genetics.
Most genetic counselors hold a master's degree in genetic counseling. Graduate education includes training in the hard sciences and social sciences, bioethics, public policy, and health education. Genetic counselors work in prenatal settings, pediatric settings, and adult genetic clinics.
For more information, visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors.
Health administration, also known as health management, has a great deal in common with business administration, except that managing health care services require specific management talents and knowledge. Health administrators can find opportunities in medical group practices, hospitals, nursing homes, health insurance companies, some governmental settings, and trade associations.
The graduate-school path to health administration is typically narrower than general study of health policy or public health. High-quality programs require courses in health finance, labor relations, and organizational behavior, in addition to other areas. Many also require a residency component, in which the student serves in an administrative capacity in a healthcare setting.
To prepare for graduate-level study in health administration, take a broad range of health-related courses as part of your college curriculum. This will help you verify that the field is interesting to you professionally, and demonstrates to graduate schools that you have a familiarity with health and health care.
For more information, visit the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA).
Health communication is the art and technique of informing, influencing and motivating individuals, institutions and large public health audiences about important health issues based upon sound scientific and ethical considerations. Its scope includes disease prevention, health promotion, health care policy, and business.
Professionals have been working as health communicators for many years; however, the designation of health communication as a field of graduate study is a relatively new phenomenon: Tufts established one of the nation’s first programs in the 1990s. The rapidly changing healthcare industry and the success of existing health communication programs suggest that this field will continue to grow. Health communicators work in a wide range of sectors, including federal agencies, hospitals, health departments, biotech companies, foundations, publishing firms, and nonprofit organizations.
For more information, visit the Tufts Health Communication graduate program.
Health education offers a wide array of professional opportunities.
- Many states require health education classes in grades K-12 and need trained educators to teach them.
- Many universities need faculty to teach health education to their teachers in training.
- Colleges need health educators to coordinate programs in health and wellness and drug/alcohol awareness.
- States and local governments with tobacco control initiatives need health educators to educate people about the use of tobacco.
- Health educators are also sought to work for hospitals, community health centers, and various agencies.
Health educators are trained in a wide range of health issues, including nutrition, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, HIV/AIDS, eating disorders and body image, stress management, and first aid.
For more information, visit SHAPE America.
Health policy encompasses the design of health programs, formulation of recommended legislation, and conduct of health research.
Careers in health policy span the public and private sectors. The governmental health policy positions are found at the local, state, national and international levels. Private foundations and lobbying or advocacy groups, particularly those that devote significant attention to health issues, also offer employment opportunities for health policy analysts.
The critical component for acquiring a health policy concentration in graduate school is the presence of faculty members who have established expertise in the field. With that in mind, there are a number of ways to pursue an academic degree in health policy. You could pursue a graduate degree in public health or public policy with a specialization in health. Alternatively, several traditional disciplines, economics, political science, sociology, law or philosophy, can prepare you for a career in health policy. Obviously, these various routes will produce different perspectives on policy and research design.
Tufts offers a health policy track within its Public Health graduate program.
Today's rapidly expanding and technologically driven health care environment has created many new career opportunities for professional nurses. Nurses provide direct patient care in birthing centers, outpatient clinics, wellness centers, nursing homes, home health care agencies, and of course, hospitals. Beyond these roles, many nurses hold administrative positions, teach and do research in businesses, insurance companies, employee health programs, community and public health agencies, pharmaceutical companies, schools and fitness centers.
There are a significant number of baccalaureate nursing programs for non-nurse graduates to earn a second bachelor's degree. There are also entry-level master's programs for non-nurse graduates. Some nursing careers, such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse midwife and other specialty designations, require additional education. There are also doctoral programs for nurses who wish to pursue teaching and research or assume senior-level administrative roles.
Many people trained in nutrition work in biochemistry, physiology or other labs or go into dietetic counseling but the field offers a wide range of options.
At Tufts, the School of Nutrition offers courses of study on topics such as health communication and social marketing, nutrition policy/program design and implementation, primary health care, the food industry and government regulation, domestic hunger, world hunger in relation to international development, and the management of famine and other humanitarian disasters in places like Ethiopia, Somalia, and Rwanda. We also offer courses on agriculture, food, and the environment.
Graduates work in the areas of child survival, community development, agriculture and food security, and famine mitigation internationally and, on the domestic front, in the food industry, government agencies, congressional committees, and public organizations. Most careers assume at least a Master's degree.
For more information, visit the American Society for Nutrition.
Occupational therapy is based on the use of everyday activities as the means of helping people achieve independence after injury, illness or disability.
The first focus is on performing critical daily activities, such as dressing, grooming, bathing, and eating. Once a patient has mastered these skills, occupational therapists work with patients on developing the skills they need for their daily lives, such as caring for a home and family, participating in education, or seeking and holding employment.
Occupational therapists can also work with patients with mental illness. The objectives in this case center on the ability to function independently. In treating mental or emotional problems, occupational therapists typically work with patients to practice time management, working productively with others, and enjoying leisure.
Entry-level master’s programs in occupational therapy are designed for the non-OT college graduate and typically are two year programs that include didactic and clinical training. The more recent addition is the Doctor of Occupational Therapy (DOT) that requires an additional year of study.
Doctors of optometry (ODs) diagnose, manage, and treat conditions and diseases of the human eye and visual system. They are the major providers of visual care in America today.
Optometrists provide treatment by prescribing ophthalmic lenses, contact lenses or other optical aids, and provide vision therapy when indicated to preserve or restore maximum efficiency of vision.
The program that leads to the OD is a four-year graduate program involving didactic science courses and clinical training. Upon completion of the OD degree, most optometrists begin practice.
For more information, visit the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO).
Osteopathic medicine is one of two routes to a medical career, the other being allopathic medicine. Its philosophy states that health is a matter of the entire body -- each system interdependent with the others.
Osteopathic physicians (DOs) are fully-licensed and recognized physicians and surgeons who stress the unity of all body systems. They place special emphasis on the musculoskeletal system, holistic medicine, and proper nutritional and environmental factors. While DOs practice in every medical specialty, many are in general practice, with special emphasis placed on preventive medicine and service as family practitioners.
Colleges of osteopathic medicine offer a four-year post-baccalaureate program leading to the DO degree. Graduates go on to do residency training in their chosen area of specialization. Prerequisites for study in an osteopathic school are the same as those for allopathic medicine.
For more information, visit the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM).
Pediatric psychologists aim to prevent or mitigate illness and injury in children with psychological and behavioral problems. They use a variety of interdisciplinary assessment, intervention and management techniques to tend to the mental and emotional needs of children with chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities.
There is no single path to becoming a pediatric psychologist. Most practitioners have completed doctorates in clinical psychology or clinical child psychology. There are a limited number of formal doctoral training programs in pediatric psychology.
For more information, visit the Tufts Child Study and Human Development Department.
The pharmacist is an essential member of the health care team with expertise in the science and clinical use of medications. In addition to the traditional role of dispensing medications, today's pharmacists actively participate in direct patient care. Pharmacists work in community pharmacies, hospital and other institutional settings, the pharmaceutical industry, in government agencies, and academic pharmacies.
As of 2002, the first professional degree that will qualify the graduate for licensure examination will be that leading to the doctor of pharmacy (PharmD.).
For more information, visit the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP).
Physical therapists work in conjunction with other health providers to meet the individual health needs of their patients. A physical therapist's duties may include the rehabilitation of accident victims, educating in schools or the community on health issues, sports-related assessments, conditioning and preventive medicine.
Many physical therapists work in hospital settings. Increasingly, however, they are found in private offices, corporate health centers, schools, community health clinics and nursing homes, as well as other settings. While many are employees, some start their own businesses.
Physical therapy is now a strictly post-baccalaureate degree program. There are many entry-level master's programs for students who have graduated with a liberal arts degree. Emphasis is placed on a broad-based undergraduate curriculum with coursework in biology, chemistry, physics and psychology.
For more information, visit the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
Physician assistants (PAs) provide services that would otherwise be provided by a physician. PAs are qualified to take medical histories, counsel patients, order laboratory tests, perform physical exams, determine treatment, assist in surgery, set fractures, among other health care activities. While PAs practice medicine with the supervision of a physician, their role has become more and more important over the past decade as the profession has grown.
Physician assistants work in hospitals, HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations), community clinics, nursing homes, physician offices, public health agencies, and any other setting where physicians work.
A physician assistant degree is a master’s level degree.
For more information, visit the American Association of Physician Assistants (AAPA) or the Tufts Physician Assistant Program.
Podiatric medicine is a branch of the medical sciences devoted to the study of human movement with a primary focus on medical care of the foot and ankle. A doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of foot disorders resulting from injury or disease. A DPM makes independent judgments, prescribes medications and performs surgery when needed.
Prerequisites for study in a podiatric medical school are the same as those for allopathic or osteopathic medicine. The DPM degree is awarded after four years of study. Graduates can pursue residency training to specialize.
For more information, visit the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine (AACPM)
Public Health deals primarily with community-based, population-oriented aspects of health care. Grounded in epidemiology and closely allied with preventive medicine, public health stresses health promotion and disease prevention and seeks to understand and control many of the non-medical aspects that influence disease and human well-being. Public health involves many aspects of curative health care but is taught as a separate discipline in schools of public health and in numerous programs in public health at other institutions.
Often (but not always) a master of public health (MPH) is the primary credential sought by those wishing to enter a broad, health-oriented career. Core courses in public health include basic biology, epidemiology and biostatistics, health planning and management, environmental health and social behavior. These courses can be augmented by advanced work in nutrition, population health, environmental health, health law and a number of other areas. A thesis and/or practical experience is often required.
For more information, visit the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health or Tufts Public Health Programs.
Looking at health from the perspective of comparative medicine, veterinarians work to help animals and people live longer, healthier lives. They serve society by preventing and treating animal disease, improving the quality of the environment, ensuring the safety of foods, controlling diseases transmitted from animals to humans, and advancing medical knowledge.
The Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree can lead to diverse career opportunities and different lifestyles--from a solo mixed animal practice in a rural area to a teaching or research position at an urban university, medical center, or industrial laboratory. The majority of U.S. veterinarians are in private practice, although significant numbers are involved in preventive medicine, regulatory veterinary medicine, military veterinary medicine, aquatic animal medicine, avian medicine, laboratory animal medicine, research and development in industry, and teaching and research in a variety of basic science and clinical disciplines.
For further information, visit the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges or the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.