Majoring in health or medicine? Here’s What You Should Know

It’s well known that doctors are well respected, make good money, drive expensive cars, and take great vacations. You rarely, if ever, hear of a doctor who is broke or out of work. That is not going to change any time soon. With people living longer and the daily discovery of new treatments along with better understanding of the role genetics play in life and health, there will be even more work for doctors and related medical specialists in the future.

But medicine has also never been more specialized than it is today. If you are seriously considering a medical degree, it pays to know the different pathways that a medical career can take. Even as an undergraduate, you can be preparing yourself for the perfect medical career by taking the right classes and doing relevant summer internships.

Say you want to be a doctor or a surgeon. Do you want to work in a hospital or own your own practice? Do you want to be a primary care physician who is more or less a generalist? Or would you rather specialize in neurosurgery or cardiology? It pays to know what kind of doctor you want to be early in the game so that you can research and apply to the best medical schools for that speciality.

Being a doctor requires many, many years of university education. First, you must earn an undergraduate degree with a major in biology or chemistry, and that generally takes four years. Then you must attend medical school for a minimum of three years. Medical school is another four years, and then you have to complete a three-year residency. Residents are paid a salary, but it is nowhere near the kind of glamorous salary that people associate with doctors. Because residents often put in eighty-hour work weeks, their actual per hour earnings may look similar to minimum wage. After the residency, those who wish to specialize must complete a fellowship.

If you don’t want to spend that much time in school and if you are hoping to start making good money in just a few years, you may want to consider one of the many other career paths in medicine:


Licensed Practical Nurse

Nurses are always in demand, so you can go anywhere you want and get a job as a nurse. As is the case with doctors, there are many different kinds of nurses, and the requirements vary significantly. Here are the most common types of nursing jobs:

Licensed practical nurse

The LPN is by far the easiest nursing job to get so far as education goes. Most LPNs only need a one-year training programs which they may be able to take at the nearby community college. At the conclusion of their training, would-be LPNs must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses. With a median salary of approximately US $42,000, LPNs are by no means the most highly paid medical professionals, but they have great job security. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a twenty-five percent growth of this field by 2022.

Physicians Assistant and Advanced-Practice Nurse


The PA or advanced-practice nurse has to undergo educational requirements similar to those of doctors: four years of undergraduate education and two or three years of nursing school. Physicians assistants and nurses see patients, give shots, draw blood, and conduct physical examinations. PAs may diagnose an illness and prescribe medicine. In some practices, the PA does most of the work of dealing with patients.



Dieticians help people control illnesses, such as diabetes, through careful selection of what they eat and drink. With the obesity epidemic in America raging, there is more work for dieticians than ever before, and this field is expected to continue growing. If you absolutely know this is what you want to do, you need to get into a college that offers a bachelor’s degree in dietetics or nutrition. If you don’t yet want to lock yourself into this career, however, you can major in science and then pursue a master’s degree in nutrition leading to the same goal.

Speech pathologist

Speech Pathologist

This specialist helps people with stutters and other speaking disorders. In general, the speech pathologist may major in any subject as an undergraduate, then pursue and complete a graduate degree in speech pathology.

Physical therapist

Physicians Assistant

This specialist helps people who are disabled or injured overcome their disability through targeted movement and exercise. A master’s degree in physical therapy is required.

Occupational therapist

Occupational Therapist

These specialists help a wide range of people to cope with disabilities or age. For instance, one occupational therapist might work with an autistic child to help him integrate himself socially at school, while another such therapist might work with a group of elderly people to help them stay self sufficient. Occupational therapists need a master’s degree and state licensure.

Art therapist

Art Therapist

The art therapist helps people with emotional disabilities or traumas process their experiences and deal with them through art. The most common types of art therapy are dance therapy and music therapy, but many professionals have also experimented with helping people by having them draw and paint. An undergraduate degree in science or psychology is most useful, and a master’s degree in a specific therapeutic field is recommended.

Medical technologist

Medical Technologist

Medical technologists perform a wide array of different functions, often within a hospital or major clinic. Med techs take x-rays, perform ultrasounds, analyze blood work, and assist with both major and minor surgical procedures.

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