Graduate tracks for Pre-Med majors

Surgeon

If you’re a pre-med student, between coursework, homework, volunteer activities, clinical experience and research, it becomes easy to neglect one of the most important parts of your academic career: graduate school applications.

There is no time like the present to begin considering what graduate program is best for you. The application process is very time consuming, so it’s best to get started while you’re still an undergrad. In the booming medical field, there are numerous programs to choose from. Here are five of the most promising:

1. Medicine (MD)

The requirements for becoming an MD in the United States vary depending on the field of medicine you want to practice. Generally, doctors must first complete a four-year undergraduate degree in an area like chemistry, biology, physics or genetics, followed by four years of medical school and three to seven years of residency training. After that, you’ll be eligible for medical licensing.

The length of residency training depends on your chosen specialty. For example, family practice, internal medicine and pediatrics require three years of training. General surgery requires five years. Doctors who wish to become highly specialized in a particular field such as gastroenterology or child and adolescent psychiatry may choose to do an additional one-to-three-year fellowship. Check the American Medical Association’s website for medical licensure information.

2. Physician Assistant (PA) Studies (M.S.)

Physician assistants practice medicine under the direction of physicians and surgeons. PAs are officially trained to examine patients and diagnose and treat injuries and disorders. Usually, physician assistants work full time in physician practices, hospitals and other healthcare settings.

Most physician assistants have a bachelor’s degree and about three years of healthcare experience before starting their master’s program. Master’s programs are generally full time for two years and include classroom time plus clinical rotations.

All states require PAs to be licensed, so they must take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.

3. Public Health (MPH)

A Master of Public Health degree empowers individuals to challenge complicated health issues, such as improving access to healthcare, controlling infectious diseases and addressing environmental risks, violence, injury and substance abuse.

Many public health graduates can find jobs in local, state or federal health departments as food safety inspectors, health educators, policy analysts and epidemiologists. Other public health professionals work as researchers at universities. Those interested in working for a non-profit organization can find jobs in health advocacy, policy or research for organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the Red Cross or a local non-profit that focuses on specific health issues. Public health professionals can also work in private sectors.

Undergrad coursework in biology or mathematics is recommended before beginning the master’s program. To search for public health-accredited schools, visit the Association of School of Public Health’s website.

4. Osteopathic Medicine (DO)

The only other type of “complete” physician in the United States, osteopathic physicians have the same privileges, rights and responsibilities as MDs. Like MDs, they are licensed by state and specialty boards to perform surgery and prescribe medication. The education requirements are similar as well: four years of basic medical education, a residency program and passing of a state licensing exam.

The main difference is the approach to health care. DOs practice a “whole person” approach, focusing on the entire person rather than treating specific symptoms. They also focus on preventative healthcare and have additional training in the musculoskeletal system for a better understanding about how one part of the body affects another. See The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine for more information.

5. Pharmacy (PharmD)

Pharmacists offer valuable health information and advice to individuals and the community. They administer medications and other services, refer patients, provide education and keep patient records.

To become a pharmacist is to be a specialist in the science and clinical use of medications. PharmDs must have extensive knowledge about the makeup of many common drugs and how they will work within the body. There are a few pharmacy programs you can enter directly from high school. These are usually referred to as 0-6 or early assurance. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you may enroll in a program that allows you to earn a master’s or doctorate while getting your PharmD. If you want to work in a clinical setting, you must complete a one-to-two-year residency.

Licensing is determined by each state, so you will have to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) for your particular state.

For more information about Pharmacy programs, visit The American Association of College of Pharmacy.

Sarah Fudin works in community relations for the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services’ online MPH program which provides the opportunity for students to earn a Master in Public Health from a top ranking university. In her free time, Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.

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