Doctorate Programs in the Medical Profession

Health care is a field full of educational possibilities, and some highly advanced training is available.If you are willing to commit to the time and study required, you can work toward a very fulfilling career tailored to the subjects that interest you most. By earning a doctorate degree in health care, you can take on a number of research possibilities, assume a leading role in a health facility, or even teach up-and-coming doctors more about their profession.

Doctor of Medicine (MD)

Medicine has been practiced in the United States since the country’s founding. Since that time, members of the profession have been viewed as an elite group. As the field has grown and evolved, so have physicians’ responsibilities and the scope of their training.


Physicians help improve or maintain the health of their patients. They treat illness or injury, and work to educate people on preventive health measures. To learn how to do this, you must be willing to undertake years of hard work and study, and also pass a series of exams to prove you have the skills and knowledge required to recommend treatments for others.A considerable amount of planning is required as you consider where you will study medicine and what training will best suit your interests and career goals.

Work as a physician is usually characterized by a lengthy amount of schooling.Generally, MDs spend four years in undergraduate work and four years in medical school. Depending on the specialty a student chooses, he or she may spend another three to eightyears in residency and fellowship training. The requirements are some of the most stringent around.

A Medical School Degree Doesn’t Guarantee a Medical Career

While successfully finishing medical school is a challenge in and of itself, new physicians must also pass state licensing exams to show their merits as a physician. In fact, medicine was the first profession to require that its members be licensed to practice. All states require that anyone who wishes to obtain an MD license be a graduate of an approved medical school and pass the different stages of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). Physicians who graduated from medical schools in other countries must also satisfy the requirements of the state in which they wish to practice.

Many physicians also choose to become board certified. Once an MD has finished residency training or one or two years of medical practice, he or she must then pass a final exam to become certified by a member of the American Board of Medical Specialists. Then, to become certified in a subspecialty, a physician may spend another year or two in residency.

Of course, more than practical training is required to become a physician. Doctors must possess certain valuable personal qualities, as well, such as strong self-motivation, the ability to endure stress well, and a desire to help others. Physicians must also be committed to learning and willing to keep studying and expanding their knowledge throughout their careers.

In medicine, career advancement generally comes by building experience in specialties and subspecialties and cultivating a good reputation among colleagues and patients. Some MDs further their work by starting their own practice. Others choose to teach residents and other new doctors. Still others move into supervisory and managerial positions in hospitals, clinics, and other settings.

Doctor of Osteopathy (DO)

An osteopathic physician (DO) is very similar to an allopathic physician, or MD. Both are qualified to diagnose and treat disease, and even to perform surgery. The care a DO provides, however, differs slightly in that osteopathic medicine places a special emphasis on the musculoskeletal system and the use of hands-on care to diagnose, treat, and prevent a problematic health issue.

Osteopathy: A More Holistic Approach to Medicine

The DO’s approach to health care is generally more holistic. Osteopathic physicians know how a body’s systems are interconnected and the effects each one has on others. Observation is important to a DO, as is a strong a bility to listen. As a physician, the DO helps his or her patients construct a lifestyle and attitudes that not only combat illness but also help prevent disease. This approach often appeals to many patients, who may choose to see osteopathic physicians for life.

Osteopathic medicine became a part of health care in the United States during the post Civil War era. At the time, many medicines commonly in use were actually toxic. Dr. A. T. Still, who was an MD, became concerned that these medicines were overused, and he founded a school that focused on preventive care and the integration of the body’s systems.

The United States has also influenced how osteopathic medicine is practiced around the world. DOs now have unlimited practice rights in approximately 50 countries and partial practice rights in several others. The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) has assigned responsibility for international osteopathic activities to the Council on International Osteopathic Medical Education and Affairs.

In many ways, osteopaths are the professional equivalents of traditional, allopathic physicians. Like an MD, a DO has typically completed a four-year undergraduate degree and emphasized the study of science courses. DOs then move on to complete four years of medical school and spend another three to eight years in graduate medical education, or in internships, residencies, and fellowships. Once this training is complete, DOs are prepared to practice a medical specialty.

Certification in certain specialties is also possible. The AOA has approved 18 specialty boards in areas such as anesthesiology, dermatology, orthopedic surgery, pediatrics, and surgery.

Along with the rigors of a lengthy medical education, osteopaths must also pass a series of exams to become licensed to practice medicine.The Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) assesses whether a DO possesses the knowledge and abilities necessary to practice medicine in an unsupervised setting.

Often, osteopathic physicians choose to practice in primary-care specialties such as general internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, or obstetrics and gynecology. Many work in rural or underserved communities to see that vital needs are filled. According to the AOA, members of this profession work toward “bringing health care to where it is needed most.

Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) / Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)

Dentists diagnose and treat issues involving the teeth and mouth,and provide instruction on health measures such as proper flossing, brushing, and other techniques that can help prevent problems in the future. Dentists are also responsible for straightening teeth, replacing fractured teeth, filling cavities, and much more. They perform their work with various types of equipment, including X-rays, drills, lasers, and digital scanners.

Dental Career Overview

Most dentists choose to start their own practices, and some employ a small staff. Others work with partners, and some are employed by another dentist as an ssociate dentist. The hours a dentist works can depend greatly on the individual. Those who are starting a new practice often work longer hours than someone who has spent greater time in thefield.

There are more workplace opportunities than just those in office settings, however. If a private practice doesn’t sound appealing, dental school graduates can also work in hospital emergency rooms or perform laboratory research. Some members of the profession teach future dentists or even travel internationally with health and relief organizations.

If you wish to attend medical school to become a dentist, there are more than 50 programs in the United States to choose from. Admission is competitive, and you will have to fulfill some important requirements before you will be ready to apply.Dental schools require a minimum of two years of pre-dental education, and most students actually have a bachelor’s degree before they start their dental training. Taking courses in biology, health, physics, and mathematics is also necessary, so many students often choose science majors.

Dental school generally takes four years to complete, starting with classroom and laboratory instruction. During the last two years of medical school, students start treating patients under a licensed dentist’s supervision. Once training is complete, a student will earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree or the equivalent degree of Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD).

The American Dental Association has recognized nine specialized fields of dentistry: dental public health, orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, endodontics, prosthodontics, oral and maxillofacial pathology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, oral and maxillofacial radiology, periodontics, and pediatric dentistry. To become a specialist, plan to spend two to four years in postgraduate training. You will most likely also be required to complete a special state exam and a postgraduate residency.

Outside the academic and other professional requirements for becoming a dentist,several personal qualities can also help you be successful in this field. A dentist requires good diagnostic ability, a strong visual memory, and excellent manual dexterity.If you are interested in private practice, business sense and solid communication skills are also essential.

As with other branches of medicine, licensure is required before a dental school graduate will be permitted to practice as a dentist. Most states require that a prospective dentist pass a written and a practical exam. The National Board Dental Examinations comprise the written part of the tests.

Doctor of Optometry (OD)

Optometrists provide primary health care for a person’s eyes. They examine the eye and diagnose, treat, or manage diseases, injuries, and other visual disorders. As a Doctor of Optometry (OD), you would also be responsible for prescribing medication, offering vision therapy, providing glasses and contact lenses, and even performing some surgeries. A certain amount of patient counseling regarding treatments for eye issues and other visual needs is also required.

Medical Training for an Optometry Career

An OD’s training includes undergraduate training at a college or university, and medical schools. To gain admission into medical school, prospective optometrists must complete courses in English, math, chemistry, biology, and physics. The strong science-based background that is necessary to work as an optometrist often encourages students to major in a science field for their undergraduate degree. Once this preliminary degree is complete, students will move on to four years at a college of optometry, where they will earn a Doctor of Optometry degree. As of 2009, the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric Associationhas accredited 19 colleges of optometry in the United States and one in Puerto Rico.

Once their medical school training is complete, many optometrists move on to work in general practices as primary-care optometrists. A few, though, choose to specialize in particular fields like contact lenses, geriatrics, vision therapy, or pediatrics. Sometimes, optometrists work together in group practices, with each member working in a particular specialty. Other optometrists choose to teach about the profession, conduct research, or offer consultation services.

The possession of certain personal traits can help make for a good optometrist. Someone interested in the field should be able to pay close attention to detail, deal with patients in a kind and tactful manner, and have good self-discipline. To even gain admission to medical school, colleges want to know that the students they are considering have a measure of empathy, deductive reasoning potential, and a dedication to performing well in school. Leadership, a strong work ethic, and a willingness to serve others are also qualities that can characterize a good optometrist.

To become a licensed optometrist, a person must have his or her Doctor of Optometry degree from an accredited institution and pass both the written National Board exam and a national, regional, or state clinical test. Generally, a student takes the written and clinical exams of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry during school. In addition, several states mandate that a candidate pass an exam about pertinent state laws. An optometrist must also renew his or her license every one to three years and maintain necessary continuing education.

As the population continues to age, optometrists are expected to have positive job prospects during the next several years. As people age, they are likely to start encountering problems with conditions such as glaucoma or cataracts. Optometrists are also finding more employment because of a growing recognition of the importance of vision care, as well as an increase in employee vision-care plans.

Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)

Pharmacists play a direct role in helping patients get well. Because there is often more than one medication available to treat a condition, a pharmacist chooses the one that provides the desired relief with the fewest side effects. Part of a pharmacist’s job is working with the person who prescribed a medication to determine which drug and non-drug therapies will best suit a patient’s needs.

Often, a pharmacist is viewed as one of the most accessible members of a health-care team. Pharmacies are frequently found in grocery stores and in other places in residential communities. Patients do not need appointments to meet with a pharmacist, and at a pharmacy patients can also obtain other important services, such as cholesterol screening, diabetes disease management, osteoporosis screening, and smoking-cessation help.

If you are looking for a wide variety of career possibilities and enjoy working directly with patients, pharmacy school could be the right career for you. When pharmacists work together with other health-care providers, they can help ensure that patients take their medicines properly and that the risks of harmful drug interactions are reduced. Pharmacy also provides a healthy measure of job stability as the aging population experiences a rising need for medications and the advancements in health care call for increased monitoring to ensure that patients stay safe.

Medical Training for a Pharmacy Career

To become a pharmacist, you will need to earn your PharmD degree from an accredited college or pharmacy school. Admittance to a PharmD program requires that a student have finished two years of course-specific studies such as mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics. Courses in humanities and social sciences are beneficial, as well. Most individuals have completed at least three years of college before starting a PharmD program.

Pharmacy school generally takes four years. You will be required to learn about all aspects of drug therapy, and about how to communicate with both patients and primary-care providers. Your classes will also address matters of professional ethics, public health, and business management, and you will spend time working with other licensed pharmacists in multiple practice settings. Upon graduation, some PharmD students enter a one- or two-year residency or fellowship. Residencies often involve the completion of a research project, while fellowships are individual programs designed to help a person become prepared to work in a specialized area of pharmacy.

To gain a pharmacy license, you will need to pass at least one major test, the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination(NAPLEX), and possibly the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), depending on the state in which you wish to work. The NAPLEX tests a pharmacist’s competence, as well as his or her abilities to provide correct health-care information, determine the safest ways to prepare and dispense medicine, and keep the best interests of a patient in mind. The MPJE tests a pharmacist’s knowledge of pharmacy law, and is used by 44 states and the District of Columbia. There are states that have still other tests a pharmacist must pass that are specific to that jurisdiction’s requirements for practicing pharmacists.

Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM)

During the course of a day, a person’s feet may be subjected to a force equal to several hundred tons. This exposes the feet to great injury potential. In fact, 75 percent of Americans have issues with their feet at some point in their lives. As a podiatrist, or Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), you will be responsible for helping diagnose and treat problems involving the foot and lower leg.

The scope of issues a podiatrist may address is lengthy and ranges from ingrown toenails, bunions, and heel spurs to ankle and foot injuries, deformities, and foot complaints stemming from diabetes. DPMs are authorized to prescribe medication and physical therapy, perform surgery, fit orthotics, and design corrective equipment such as custom-made shoes and plaster casts.

Training to Become a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine

To become a podiatrist, you will need to complete three or four years of undergraduate training and then four years of medical school in a podiatric college program. Your undergraduate classes should include at least eight semester hours each of biology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics, as well as six semester hours of English. Once you are in medical school, you will engage in a traditional training experience. The first two years will include classes such as anatomy, pathology, and pharmacology. In the second half of your program, you will start clinical rotations in hospitals, private practices, and clinics.

Doctorate Programs in the Medical Profession

Upon earning their DPM degrees, many podiatrists move on to postgraduate residencies, which take from one to three years to complete. The field has several specialty options to pursue: primary care, orthopedics, sports medicine, surgery, podogeriatrics (treating lower extremity disorders for the elderly), and podopediatrics (treating lower extremity disorders for children).

The requirements for obtaining a podiatry license can vary from state to state,but many states have reciprocal recognition of professionals who have fulfilled another state’s standards to practice. Usually, an applicant must have graduated from an accredited institution and pass relevant written and oral exams. Some states will allow an applicant to substitute the test from the National Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners for all or part of the state exam.

The job prospects for podiatrists look bright, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. The population is becoming more active and sustaining more injuries, and more Americans are experiencing foot injuries due to obesity and diabetes problems. Board-certified podiatrists may find more job opportunities than others because certification is often required to work at many managed-care facilities.

Podiatrists usually work in small offices or clinics, and may spend some of their time working in nursing homes or performing surgery. Those who run their own practices set their own work schedules, with work hours usually ranging from 30 to 60 hours a week. In general, a podiatrist does not treat as many emergencies as other physicians.

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)

Physical therapists (PTs) help people of all ages who have problems or injuries that hamper their body’s ability to move and function properly. Physical therapists examine patients and develop specific plans to help restore movement, reduce pain, and hopefully prevent disabilities. They also offer preventive measures to help patients become physically fit and have healthier lifestyles. In some cases, patients receive physical therapy instead of surgery.

PTs often work in a variety of settings. In fact, more than 80 percent of practicing PTs perform their work somewhere other than a hospital. They serve clients in extended care or other nursing facilities, outpatient clinics, schools, hospice settings, military health centers, and even in workplace or industrial environments. The job is a physically demanding one, requiring that a person be able to stand for long periods; help move patients; and stoop, kneel, and crouch without difficulty.

As with other medical fields, physical therapy has several specialties. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, a PT does not have to be certified to practice in these specialties, which include cardiovascular and pulmonary, geriatrics, neurology, pediatrics, and clinical electrophysiology. If a PT desires certification, however, it may be obtained through the American Board of Physical Therapy.

Physical therapy is a field with several educational degrees. At the postprofessional level, students may choose to pursue a Direct Entry Doctorate in Physical Therapy or a Transitional Doctorate in Physical Therapy. The Direct Entry option is usually one year longer than a Master of Physical Therapy option, while the Transitional degree is for a physical therapist who graduated with a bachelor’s in physical therapy. The Transitional Doctorate can help professionals continue their training while making progress toward the DPT designation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, there were 212 accredited PT programs in 2009. Of those, 12 awarded master’s degrees to their students and 200 awarded doctoral degrees. Master’s degree programs lasted between two and two-and-a-half years, and doctoral degree programs lasted three years.

Medical Training for Physical Therapy Careers

Medical school training for physical therapists includes a heavy emphasis on the sciences. Fundamental courses such as biology, anatomy, and physiology will be a major component of your study. Behavioral science courses like evidence-based practice will also be important. Students can also expect to take clinically based courses such as diagnostic process, therapeutic interventions, and practice management. Classroom work, laboratory teaching, and supervised clinical practice will all be part of a PT’s education, as well.

PTs must be licensed to practice their profession in any state. While state requirements for licensure are varied, some common standards include passing the National Physical Therapy Examination, graduating from an accredited medical school, and meeting jurisprudence exam and other state-specific requirements.

Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD)

Occupational therapists help their patients function better in their living and working environments if they are experiencing a mentally, physically, emotionally, or developmentally disabling problem. The occupational therapist is charged with helping his or her client to improve motor function and reasoning abilities, and to learn how to compensate for any permanent loss of function.

Several types of patients could benefit from the services an occupational therapist provides. Those with a permanent condition such as spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy may require instruction from an occupational therapist to help them learn how to perform daily tasks. Or, the therapist may help people in their work environment, arranging work stations so the patient can perform his or her job as well as possible. Occupational therapists must also be diligent record keepers, as they must continually evaluate a clients progress and report to physicians or other health-care providers.

An occupational therapists work can vary according to the type of people he or she works with. Some help children in classroom and school settings, or even provide early intervention for infants and toddlers who may face developmental delays. In other cases, an occupational therapist might teach elderly individuals how to continue performing skills required for daily living. For those who face an emotional, mental, or developmental disability, the occupational therapist may select activities that help them learn how to cope with the challenges of daily life, such as learning to ride the bus or live on a budget.

Expect to spend several years in school to become an occupational therapist. The minimum requirements for an entry-level position typically involve earning at least a masters degree. The therapist must also pass a national certifying exam and be enrolled in an institution accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational

Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)

Your medical school training can also include a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program, which is suited to people who wish to work as a leading clinician or educator, for example. A doctorate degree is often preferable for receiving advanced therapeutic skills and knowledge to better help people and run necessary programs. While an entry-level degree makes a practitioner more of a generalist, the OTD helps the doctor cultivate special expertise, more advanced knowledge, and the ability to assume leadership and educational responsibilities.

Job prospects for occupational therapists are promising and look to grow “much faster than the average for all occupations” during the next several years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. As the elderly population in the United States grows, more occupational therapists will be required to help people with disabilities or limitations. Older people generally have increased instances of heart attacks, stroke, and other conditions that leave them needing therapeutic assistance that occupational therapists can provide.

In 2010, the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA), reported that occupational therapy had recently been declared a best-paying and fastest-growing job for women by Forbes magazine, and a best job in America by CNN Money. AOTA President Florence Clark said, “I think were turning the corner past the time when occupational therapy was the best kept secret in health care.”

Not All Medical Careers Require a Doctoral Degree

Ultimately, the degree you pursue will depend largely on your goal for your career in health care. Sometimes a bachelor’s degree is enough for entry-level work in various positions, but advancement in your particular field will likely require more advanced training to perform a wider range of tasks. For example, those who have a master’s degree or higher might become specialists, trained in diagnosing and treating certain conditions. Depending on the field you choose, your coursework could cover subjects such as chemistry, nutrition, diet, exercise, physical therapy, clinical psychology, or even hospital ethics.

As you decide whether to enter medical school and work toward your doctorate degree, it can be helpful to assess what your job prospects may be a few years from now when your schooling is complete. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that for the 2006 – 2016 decade, jobs in the health-care industry could grow by up to 22 percent, or more than twice the national average for many other industries. Advances in medicine, along with a growing and aging population, have prompted an increased need for health-care professionals who can help meet these needs.

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