Choosing a Healthcare Profession

You know that you are interested in pursuing a career in health care, but which one? 

There are a variety of healthcare fields, many of which seem very similar to one another. Though there is no substitute for meeting with your advisor in discussing your options, there are some things to consider in making a decision about which healthcare field you wish to pursue.

Explore Healthcare Professions:

  • Clinical Social Worker

    Overview of Profession

    Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) meet with individuals to evaluate and treat mental, emotional, behavioral, and developmental disorders. They are able to provide appropriate assessment-based treatment plans for individuals, couples, families, and groups in order to maintain and enhance social and behavioral functioning. In order to become an LCSW, it is necessary to earn a master’s degree in social work and then complete a number of supervised work experience hours. After this, one must pass the LCSW licensure examination to begin practicing independently.

    Undergraduate Preparation

    As summarized in Appendix A, Licensed Clinical Social Workers must complete a series of prerequisite courses to be considered for Master of Social Work graduate programs. Students may choose any major, but most graduate programs require predominantly liberal arts prerequisites. Programs are interested in applicants with a broad liberal arts background encompassing knowledge and worldviews from a variety of disciplines. Although specific requirements vary among schools, most require coursework in social sciences, humanities, physical sciences, and other liberal arts subjects. Additional prerequisites may include biology, math, statistics, history, anthropology, or literature. The minimum cumulative GPA for acceptance is 2.7 into most graduate social work programs, although preference is given to applicants with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Generally, schools require a GPA of 3.0 in the last 60 hours of advanced coursework.

    In addition to prerequisite course requirements, most graduate schools recommend that applicants have some volunteer or work experience under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker. Although there is no uniform requirement, it is highly recommended by almost all graduate schools that applicants have an understanding of what it is like to practice in the realm of health services.

    Application Process

    There are several steps involved in applying to social work programs (refer to Appendix G as the timeline for applying to master’s programs in social work which is similar to that of master’s programs in counseling or clinical psychology). To apply to graduate programs in clinical social work, it is necessary to complete an individual application for each graduate school. Some schools, but not all, require that applicants take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and submit the scores as a part of their application. 

    Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

    The GRE is composed of questions assessing verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing. Verbal Reasoning is assessed in two, 30-minute sections consisting of approximately 20 questions. There are also two sections of Quantitative Reasoning with 20 questions with each section lasting approximately 35 minutes. The Analytical Writing component consists of two 30-minute essays. Average GRE scores of accepted PT students are approximately 150 in both the verbal and quantitative sections. On the analytical section, the average score is around 3.5 to 4. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the GRE. Additionally, there are in-person courses offered from time-to-time at area colleges/universities. More information about the GRE can be found at www.ets.org/gre.

    Personal Statement

    For each school’s application, you will be asked to write a personal essay explaining the reasons you are interest in becoming a social worker. The length requirement will vary from one to five pages, so it is important for you to succinctly and clearly describe your motivations. You should have one of your professors or pre-health advisors review your personal statement before you submit it because this is a very important component of your application. The statement should demonstrate your understanding of the social work profession and your interest, ability, motivation, and potential for professional social work practice.

    Letters of Recommendation

    Most graduate schools require three letters of recommendation to be submitted with the application. At least one recommendation is usually from an employer and others typically come from professors who can attest to your potential as a future healthcare professional. It is a good idea to ask for these recommendations well in advance of the submission deadline.

  • Dentist

    Overview of Profession

    Dentistry is an exciting career with a great deal of flexibility. Dental school graduates can explore many options besides traditional private practice, including dental surgery, teaching, research, and even working in humanitarian organizations like Dentists Without Borders. There are many reasons to choose a career in dentistry. A strong salary, a flexible balance between work and personal/family time, and the respect of your community are only a few reasons to embrace a dental career. According to the National Association for Advisors for the Health Professions, the U.S. News & World Report lists dentistry as the #1 profession in its “100 Best Jobs” list in 2013, and the #1 health profession in 2014 (NAAHP, 2014). With so many options, it’s easy to see why so many students are choosing to earn a DDS degree. As of June 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for a Dentist was $154,640. For more information about the dental profession, visit http://www.adea.org/.

    Undergraduate Preparation

    Though entry into most DDS programs does not require a bachelor’s degree, it is highly recommended. Most applicants complete undergraduate degrees before attending schools of dentistry. The majority of dental schools require at least 90 credit hours, which typically include 6 hours of English, 8 hours of biology, 16 credits of chemistry (8 in general and 8 in organic,) 8 hours of physics, and 3 hours of biochemistry. All programs have mathematics requirements, usually through Calculus I or II. Also, many dental schools require human anatomy. In addition, most schools recommend taking courses in psychology and the humanities. Prerequisites vary among schools so students interested in specific schools should check those universities’ websites for their requirements. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required for admission into dental school, though the average GPA of accepted applicants is typically 3.5 and higher. Additionally, most programs require a grade of C or higher in these prerequisite classes. Please refer to Appendix A: Recommendation Prerequisites for Healthcare Careers, where a list of requirements may be found.

    In addition to course prerequisites, shadowing is an important admission requirement for entrance into dentistry programs, with most schools recommending between 100 to 150 hours of shadowing. Applicants will also need to request letters of recommendation from professors who have taught them and can attest to their abilities and work ethic. Almost all programs will require one of the letters of recommendation to be written by a licensed dentist with whom the student has worked. It is proper etiquette to write a thank you note to the professors that write your evaluations. In addition, the ability to perform and familiarity with certain techniques may be expected, such as proficient cognitive, motor, and observational skills.

    Application Process

    Before the application process can begin, applicants must preregister and take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). The DAT is a multiple-choice exam that assesses a student s proficiency in the biological and chemical sciences as well as their perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning. The DAT contains 40 biology questions, 30 general chemistry questions, and 30 organic chemistry questions. There are also 90 perceptual ability questions, 50 reading comprehension questions, and 40 quantitative reasoning questions. The DAT is typically taken in the spring semester of a student s junior year. More information about the DAT can be found at  http://www.ada.org/en/education-careers/dental-admission-test/ .

    The AADSAS

    Applications for all DDS programs are centralized into one common application called the ADEA Associated American Dental Schools Application Service. The AADSAS collects admission information such as personal statements, DAT scores, and letters of recommendation. Once received, these materials are verified and sent to each school of your choice. The ADEA AADSAS accepts up to 4 letters of recommendation but at least 3 are required. Another component of the AADSAS is the personal statement. The AADSAS requires a one-page statement detailing your reasons for applying to dental school. Other areas to include are personal experiences during job shadowing, special talents, and obstacles you have overcome and how they have influenced your choice to pursue a career in dentistry. The personal essay is a very important part of the application and should be carefully written and reviewed by your major advisor or pre-health committee member. Additional strategies to strengthen your application may be found in this clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeRNazpNcdU. Additional information about the AADSAS may be found at http://www.adea.org/dental_education_pathways/aadsas/Applicants/Pages/default.aspx.

    Timeline

    The application process should begin well before applying to programs. In this regard, you may use the timeline provided in Appendix B: Timeline for Medical School Applicants as a guide for when you should be completing experiences necessary for your applications, noting a few differences specific to dentistry. In this connection, applicants should complete the AADSAS (including letters of recommendation and a personal statement) beginning June 1st, and ending in late August; however, early applications have a greater chance of success. Secondary applications should be completed as soon as applicants receive them. Interview season typically lasts from August to November. Acceptance of notification for dental schools begins December 1st. More information on the application process may be found at: http://www.adea.org/GoDental/Application_Prep/The_Application_to_Dental_School__ADEA_AADSAS.aspx.

  • Occupational Therapist

    Overview of Profession

    Occupational Therapists (OTs) work with patients to help them achieve independence in life skills that matter to them. Goals are often related to performing every day, occupational activities, such as participating fully in school despite a disability, or recovering from an injury in order to regain a certain skill. An OT uses a systematic approach to assist their patients in the most beneficial and comfortable ways possible. This approach includes individualized evaluations with each patient, customized interventions based on each patient’s goals, and outcome evaluations to ensure that goals are being met. OTs take a holistic perspective when treating a patient and consider the patient’s daily environments and personal relationships in the treatment process. Occupational therapists work in a wide range of settings such as acute care hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation, skilled nursing facilities, outpatient facilities, school systems, mental health facilities, home health, etc. In order to become an OT after one earns a Master’s degree, it is necessary to sit for a national registry exam, the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). As of June 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for an Occupational Therapist was $78,810.  More information about the OT profession can be found at www.aota.org.

    Undergraduate Preparation

    As summarized in Appendix A, occupational therapists much complete a series of prerequisite courses to be considered for graduate programs. Students can choose any major, but some majors fulfill OT program prerequisites better than others. Although there are commonalities in which courses are required, each school is slightly different. Students interested in specific programs should check with those programs to review their particular requirements. Generally, an introductory biology course and 6 to 8 hours of human or vertebrate anatomy & physiology are required, along with 3-6 hours of human development (life span development). Most colleges also require 3-6 hours of introduction to psychology and abnormal psychology, and 3 hours of either sociology or social psychology. Quantitative requirements usually entail a course in college algebra and a course in introductory statistics. A 1-2 hour medical terminology course is recommended, if not required, at most schools. Some other prerequisites that may be required include general chemistry, physics, and kinesiology. On average, schools require an overall GPA of 3.0 and a grade of “C” or better in prerequisite courses. Although the minimum GPA for acceptance is 3.0, the GPA of students who are accepted is much higher, averaging approximately between 3.3-3.5 overall and 3.6-3.7 in prerequisite courses. 

    In addition to these prerequisite course requirements, most graduate schools request that applicants complete a minimum of 30-40 hours of volunteer or work experience hours under the supervision of a licensed Occupational Therapist in at least two settings. Applicants with more hours of experience will be more competitive during the application process than those who barely meet the minimum requirement.

    Application Process

    There are several steps involved in applying to occupational therapy graduate schools (refer to Appendix D for a suggested preparatory timeline). In order to apply to an OT program, it is necessary to complete a common application through the Occupational Therapist Centralized Application Service (OTCAS; https://portal.otcas.org/). Applicants must also take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and submit these scores as a part of their application. Some schools also request a general application to their graduate program that is specific to their school, and some request the submission of a Technical Standards form. Any secondary applications should be sent back as soon as possible after they are received.

    Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

    The GRE is composed of questions assessing verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing. Verbal Reasoning is assessed in two, 30-minute sections consisting of approximately 20 questions. There are also two sections of Quantitative Reasoning with 20 questions with each section lasting approximately 35 minutes. The Analytical Writing component consists of two 30-minute essays. Most accepted applications have a GRE score above the 50th percentile, and an Analytical score of 3.5 or above. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the GRE. Additionally, there are in-person courses offered from time-to-time at area colleges/universities. More information about the GRE can be found at www.ets.org/gre

    Personal Statement

    On the OTCAS, you will be asked to write a personal essay explaining the reasons you are interested in becoming an occupational therapist. There is a 7500-character (not word) limit, so it is critical that you are able to succinctly and clearly describe your motivation for becoming an OT. You should have one of your professors or pre-health advisors review your statement before you submit it because this is a very important component of your application. The statement should explain why you selected OT as a career and how an OT degree relates to your immediate and long-term professional goals. You can include how your personal, educational, and professional background will help you achieve your goals. 

    Letters of Recommendation

    Most graduate schools require three letters of recommendation. Often, one must be from a licensed OT who has directly supervised the applicant and can attest to his or her abilities and investment in becoming an occupational therapist. Another letter of recommendation should be from a professor who is familiar with the applicant’s work in prerequisite courses. It is a good idea to ask for these recommendation letters well in advance of the submission deadline.

  • Optometrist

    Overview of Profession

    Doctors of Optometry (ODs) are the healthcare professionals who specialize in the care of eyes. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and the associated structures. In order to help patients with these issues, optometrists can prescribe vision therapy or contact lenses, and in some states, perform certain surgical procedures. In order to become an optometrist, it is necessary to graduate from a four-year professional education program at a college of optometry and complete an optional residency in a specific area of practice. There are currently 23 optometry programs in the country. As of June 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for an Optometrist was $101,410. More information about the optometry profession can be found at www.aoa.org.

    Undergraduate Preparation

    As summarized in Appendix A, optometrists must complete a series of prerequisite courses to be considered for graduate programs. Students may choose any major, but majors in the natural sciences are best suited to obtain the graduate program prerequisites. Although there is a central core of required prerequisites, each optometry program has somewhat different requirements. Students interested in specific programs should check those colleges’ websites to see their particular prerequisites. Generally, 8 semester credits of general biology, chemistry, and physics are required. Along with these science courses, there is often a requirement for 3-4 hours of microbiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, physiology, and psychology. In addition, a statistics and calculus course is commonly required. Most optometry graduate schools also require a number of courses in social and behavioral sciences and humanities. Recommendations may include sociology, economics, anthropology, history, political science, or ethics. The minimum cumulative GPA for acceptance varies, but preferential consideration is given to applicants with a GPA of 3.0 or higher (see the following website for a numerical profile of successful applicants: http://www.opted.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Profile-of-the-Entering-Class-2013.pdf). Generally, schools require a ‘C’ or better in all prerequisite courses. 

    In addition to prerequisite course requirements, most graduate schools require that applicants have some volunteer or work experience under the supervision of an optometrist. In this regard, it is highly recommended that applicants have at least 30 hours of observation at a minimum of two different optometric practice settings. Applicants with more and varied hours of experience will be more competitive than those who have less experience in obtaining admission to an optometry school. Additional information regarding admission requirements may be found at the following link: http://www.opted.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/ASCO-Admission-Requirements-Handbook-2013.pdf.

    Application Process

    There are several steps involved in applying to optometry programs (refer to Appendix I for a suggested preparatory timeline). In order to apply to an optometry program, it is necessary to complete a common application through the Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS; www.optomcas.org). Applicants must also take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) and submit the scores as a part of their application. Some schools also request a secondary application after the initial application has been evaluated. These applications should be sent back as soon as possible after they are received. Most schools also require that applicants meet the functional guidelines required to practice as an optometrist. The Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) provide these guidelines. 

    Optometry Admission Test (OAT)

    The OAT is a computer-based test with four different multiple-choice sections. The four sections are Natural Sciences, Reading Comprehension, Physics, and Quantitative Reasoning. The exam, involving introductory instructions and breaks, takes about four and a half hours to complete. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the OAT. More information about the OAT may be found at www.ada.org/en/oat.

    Personal Statement

    On the OptomCAS, you will be asked to write a personal essay explaining the reasons you are interested in become an optometrist. There is a 4500-character (not word) limit, so it is critical that you are able to succinctly and clearly describe your motivations. You should have one your professors or pre-health advisors review your statement before you submit it because this is a very important component of your application. The statement should explain your preparation for training in the profession, your aptitude and motivation, and your future career goals. 

    Letters of Recommendation

    Most graduate schools require three to four letters of recommendation to be electronically submitted through OptomCAS. Some schools also request a composite evaluation by your pre-health advisory committee. Often, graduate schools require that at least one recommendation be from an optometrist who has supervised the applicant and can attest to his or her potential as a future optometrist. At least one other recommendation should come from a professor who is familiar with the applicant’s academic work in prerequisite courses. It is a good idea to ask for these recommendations well in advance of the submission deadline. 

  • Pharmacist

    Overview of Profession

    Pharmacists are necessary for almost all facets of health care because they are responsible for dispersing medication and advising physicians, nurses, and other health professionals on treatment decisions. Along with these responsibilities, pharmacists also provide expertise about the composition of drugs, including their chemical, biological, and physical properties. They ensure that patients are prescribed the correct amount of medication and that the prescribed drugs do not interact in harmful ways. The main concern for pharmacists is their patients’ health and long-term wellness. This means using medication to achieve positive outcomes with minimum risk. Pharmacists practice in a variety of settings including community pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and the pharmaceutical industry. As of June 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for a Pharmacist was $120,950. More information about the Pharmacy profession may be found at http://www.aacp.org/resources/student/Pages/default.aspx.

    Undergraduate Preparation

    As summarized in Appendix A, pharmacists must complete a series of prerequisite courses to be considered for graduate programs. Students may choose any major, but science majors like chemistry or biology are suited to offer graduate program prerequisites better than others. Although there is a central core of required prerequisites, each pharmacy program has somewhat different requirements. Students interested in specific programs should check those universities’ websites to see their individual prerequisites. Generally 8 credits of general biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry are required. Along with these science courses, there is often a requirement for 4-8 hours of physics, 3-6 hours of human anatomy and physiology, and 3 hours of microbiology. In addition, a statistics and calculus course is commonly required. Most pharmacy graduate schools also require a number of non-science based courses in areas such as English composition, public speaking, and economics. Additional electives that may be required or recommended include cell biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, immunology, genetics, and a range of social and behavioral science courses. The minimum cumulative GPA for acceptance is 2.5, although the mean GPA of students who are accepted is much higher, averaging approximately between 3.3-3.5 overall. Generally, schools require a “C” or better in all prerequisite courses.

    In addition to prerequisite course requirements, most graduate schools require that applicants have some volunteer or work experience under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. Although there is no uniform requirement, it is highly recommended by almost all graduate schools that applicants have an understanding of what it is like to work as a healthcare professional. Applicants with more and varied hours of pharmacy experience will be more competitive than those who have less experience in obtaining admission to pharmacy school. 

    Application Process

    There are several steps involved in applying to pharmacy programs (refer to Appendix E for a suggested preparatory timeline). In order to apply to a pharmacy program, it is necessary to complete a common application through the Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS; www.pharmcas.org). Applicants must also take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) and submit the scores as a part of their application. Some schools also request a general application to their graduate program that is specific to their university, and some request the submission of a Technical Standards form. Any secondary applications should be sent back as soon as possible after they are received.

    Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)

    The PCAT is composed of five multiple-choice subtests, testing applicants’ abilities and knowledge in five content areas: Biology, Chemistry, Reading Comprehension, Quantitative Ability, and Verbal Ability. There is also a Writing subtest that involves an essay prompt. A typical test, involving introductory instructions and breaks, takes about four and a half hours to complete. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the PCAT. Additionally, there are in-person courses offered from time-to-time at area colleges/universities. More information about the PCAT may be found at www.pcatweb.info.

    Personal Statement

    On the PharmCAS, you will be asked to write a personal essay explaining the reasons you are interested in becoming a Pharmacist. There is a 4500-character (not word) limit, so it is critical that you are able to succinctly and clearly describe your motivations. You should have one of your professors or pre-health advisors review your statement before you submit it because this is a very important component of your application. The statement should explain how the Doctor of Pharmacy degree relates to your immediate and long-term professional goals as well as how your personal, educational, and professional background will assist you in achieving these goals.

    Letters of Recommendation

    Most graduate schools require three recommendation forms to be electronically submitted through PharmCAS. In the recommendation section on the application, it is necessary to provide the email addresses of the three recommenders you have chosen so that they will receive an invitation to complete a recommendation. Often, graduate schools require that at least one recommendation be from a licensed Pharmacist who has supervised the applicant and can attest to his or her potential as a future healthcare professional. Other recommendations should come from professors who are familiar with the applicant’s academic work in prerequisite courses. It is a good idea to ask for these recommendations well in advance of the submission deadline.

  • Physical Therapist

    Overview of Profession

    Physical Therapists (PTs) work with patients to minimize pain, restore mobility, and maintain long-term physical health. They also equip patients with knowledge regarding how to prevent injuries through a healthier and more active lifestyle. This care is provided in a variety of environments, including hospitals, outpatient facilities including private practices, schools, home health, skilled nursing facilities, and nursing homes. The preparation for becoming a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is specialized and takes place in one of over 200 accredited professional physical therapist education programs nationwide. PTs have a positive employment outlook that is continuing to grow with the aging of the US population. As of June 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for a Physical Therapist was $82,390. After graduating from a PT school, candidates must pass a national licensure exam to begin practicing in any state. More information about the PT profession can be found at www.apta.org

    Undergraduate Preparation

    As summarized in Appendix A: Recommendation Prerequisites for Healthcare Careers, physical therapists must complete a series of prerequisite courses to be considered for professional programs. Appendix A lists the general requirements for entrance into PT programs, but students interested in individual schools should check these programs’ websites for specific entrance requirements. In general, two courses in chemistry, physics, biology, and psychology are prerequisites for PT programs. In addition, most schools also require at least one course in human anatomy and human physiology and courses in kinesiology, biomechanics, and/or exercise physiology are recommended by some programs.  More advanced science courses are often recommended, including cell biology, cell histology, biochemistry, and abnormal psychology. Math course requirements vary depending on each school, but a statistics course and an additional course of pre-calculus or higher are usually required. On average, schools require an overall GPA of 3.0 and place the most importance when reviewing applications on students’ grades in prerequisite courses. Although the minimum GPA for acceptance is around 3.0, the GPA of accepted students is much higher, ranging from 3.4 to 3.7 depending on the particular school. 

    In addition to these prerequisite class requirements, most professional schools request that applicants complete anywhere from a minimum of 40 to 100 hours of practical experience under the direct supervision of a licensed Physical Therapist. Applicants with greater amounts and types of experience will be more competitive during the application process than those who just meet the minimum number of required hours. 

    Application Process

    There are many elements to physical therapy graduate school applications (refer to Appendix C for a suggested preparatory timeline). In order to apply to most PT programs, it is necessary to complete a common application through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS; www.ptcas.org). Applicants must also take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and submit these scores as a part of their application. Some schools also require a general application to their graduate program.

    Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

    The GRE is composed of questions assessing verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing. Verbal Reasoning is assessed in two, 30-minute sections consisting of approximately 20 questions. There are also two sections of Quantitative Reasoning with 20 questions with each section lasting approximately 35 minutes. The Analytical Writing component consists of two 30-minute essays. Typical GRE scores of accepted PT students are at the 50th percentile or above in both the verbal and quantitative sections. On the analytical writing section, the average score is around 3.5 to 4. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the GRE. Additionally, there are in-person courses offered from time-to-time at area colleges/universities.

    Personal Statement

    On the PTCAS, you will be asked to write a personal essay explaining the reasons you are interested in becoming a Physical therapist. There is a 4500-character (not word) limit so it is critical that you are able to succinctly and clearly describe your motivation for becoming a PT. You should have one of your professors or pre-health advisors review your statement before you submit it as this is a very important component of your application. The PTCAS essay question for the current cycle is, “What is professionalism in the context of being a student in a doctor of physical therapist degree program?” Some programs also may ask additional questions to students they are reviewing to determine how they align with the mission of their program and college.  For example, programs in rural areas may ask prospective students about their experience and interest in serving rural areas.

    Letters of Recommendation

    Most graduate schools expect to receive three letters of recommendation. Often, one or two must be from a Licensed Physical Therapist who has directly supervised the applicant and can attest to his/her abilities and investment in becoming a Physical therapist.  Be sure to obtain the contact information from the physical therapist you have worked with at the time of your observations in order to be able to contact them for a letter of recommendation when you are applying to PT school. The third letter of recommendation may be from a professor who is familiar with the applicant’s work in prerequisite courses. It is a good idea to ask for these recommendation letters well in advance of the time they are due for submission.

  • Physician

    Overview of Profession

    Physicians are healthcare professionals responsible for diagnosing and treating human illnesses and diseases. Attracting some of the best and brightest minds, physicians remain at the heart of delivering medical services to individuals across the world. One of the first choices facing students interested in becoming physicians is whether to apply to allopathic (M.D.) or osteopathic (D.O.) schools of medicine. Physicians who graduate from both types of medical schools are able to treat the full range of medical conditions and their medical school training is very similar. The major difference is that osteopathic physicians receive training in the use of manipulative techniques for the treatment of certain medical conditions. There are many more allopathic medical schools (roughly 5:1) and thus more students graduate from these colleges; however, the number of students graduating from osteopathic schools is on the rise. Although both types of schools are very competitive, allopathic schools are more likely to admit students with higher MCAT scores. More information about acceptance rates may be found at http://www.aacom.org/docs/default-source/data-and-trends/2015_mat.pdf?sfvrsn=8. The recommended undergraduate preparation is roughly the same for both medical school types, though osteopathic schools recommend that their applicants have spent time shadowing osteopathic physicians.

    Undergraduate Preparation

    As summarized in Appendix A: Recommendation Prerequisites for Healthcare Careers, the coursework of students interested in medical school is heavily concentrated in the sciences. Though students can major or minor in any discipline and still effectively compete for entrance into medical school, there are certain courses that virtually all medical schools expect students to take, and material from these courses is assessed heavily on the MCAT. In addition to the required basic science and mathematics courses listed, advanced courses in biology and chemistry are also strongly recommended. These classes include biochemistry, genetics, cell biology, microbiology and immunology, and organic chemistry. Additionally, because of recently announced changes in the MCAT beginning in 2015, coursework in introductory psychology and sociology are also recommended. Performance in natural science courses is one of the strongest predictors for success on the MCAT and is viewed as an important criterion in the admission formulas of medical schools.

    In addition to one’s academic performance, there are additional factors that are considered by medical school admission committees. These include the shadowing of medical professionals, volunteering in healthcare services, and participating in research projects. Students should consult a pre-health advisor for potential shadowing and internship opportunities and talk with their faculty advisors and/or members of the science division regarding possible academic year and summer research opportunities. Participation in these, and similar activities, demonstrate your commitment to caring for others and your interest in learning more about the science that undergirds the medical profession.

    Application Process

    Significant attention should be paid to each of the elements required in the medical school application process because there is little room for deviation in successful applications. Pay special attention to the deadlines for taking the MCAT and submitting medical school applications. Each of the medical school application elements is described in the following paragraphs.

    The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

    The new MCAT, which was recently updated for the first time since 1991, is a standardized, computer-based examination that measures students’ abilities in the following four areas: Biological and Biochemical Foundations, Chemical and Physical Foundations, Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior, and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. The total length of the test, including breaks, is 7.5 hours, and aside from the final section, all questions are in a multiple-choice format. The overall MCAT has a mean of 500 and a range of 472 to 528, while the section scores have a mean of 125 and a range of 118 to 132. Additional information and registration materials for the MCAT may be found at https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/.

    The Biological and Biochemical Foundations section contains questions about biomolecules and how they contribute to the structure and function of cells; how molecules, cells, and organs interact to carry out the functions of living organisms; and the complex systems of tissues and organs that sense the internal and external environments of multicellular organisms. The Chemical and Physical Foundations section asks about complex living organisms that transport materials, sense their environment, process signals, and respond to changes, and about how the principles that govern chemical interactions and reactions form the basis for living systems. The Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section involves concepts such as biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors that influence the way individuals react to the world and how those factors influence and change behavior. The Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills section incorporates questions from the following five areas: knowledge of scientific principles, scientific reasoning and problem-solving, reasoning about the design and execution of research, data-based statistical reasoning, and general mathematical concepts and techniques. The final section, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, focuses on foundations of comprehension, reasoning within the text, and reasoning beyond the text.

    Medical School Applications

    Most allopathic medical schools use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS; https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/amcas/) as the primary, common application. Most allopathic medical schools will have secondary applications that will be sent to applicants who are competitive for admission to their programs. Students interested in applying to osteopathic medical schools should complete the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS; http://www.aacom.org/Documents/AACOMASInstructions.pdf). As with the AMCAS, the AACOMAS is a common application that is used as the primary application for Doctor of Osteopathy programs. Both applications ask for an extensive amount of information and will require a great deal of time and effort in completing. Therefore, students should budget a significant amount of time for completing these applications and should be prepared to seek advice from pre-health advisors in order to accurately complete either of these applications.

    Personal Statement

    Both medical school applications will require personal statements. These relatively short (e.g., roughly one page for the AMCAS) pieces provide an opportunity for applicants to discuss their reasons for wanting to become physicians, achievements or experiences that may not be captured in other portions of the common application, personal and academic strengths, and any weaknesses in their applications that need to be explained. It is critically important that this personal essay be engaging, well written, and accurate. We recommend that you meet with one of the pre-health advisors for guidance in crafting your letter. Successful essays typically require many drafts, which should be reviewed by one of the pre-health advisors. Here are a couple links to information about writing personal statements: http://ocs.fas.harvard.edu/personal-statement and http://ocs.yale.edu/content/writing-personal-statement-medical-school

    Letters of Recommendation

    Students should obtain four or five recommendations from professionals most familiar with their work and potential for medical school success. Two or three of these should be from science faculty members, at least one should be from a faculty member in another discipline, and up to two letters can come from professionals who have supervised your work on internships, volunteer medical experiences, or research projects. In order to get the most from these letters, contact those being asked for recommendations well in advance of the time in which their letters are needed to be sent to the Pre-Health Committee for consolidation, provide each recommender a copy of your curriculum vitae (document containing a list of your professionally relevant experiences), and offer information about the particular schools in which you are most interested. Be prepared to follow-up with your letter writers to cordially remind them of the deadline for the letter, stressing your appreciation for their willingness to write on your behalf.

    Students should provide the Pre-Health Director a list of the individuals who they have asked to write letters on their behalf by December 15 of the year prior to their application for medical school. The final recommendation letters should be forwarded to the Pre-Health Director for review by the committee, who will use the information contained in the recommenders’ letters to write a formal recommendation letter from the Pre-Health Committee. This letter will highlight material provided by each of your recommenders in order to provide medical schools an accurate picture of your potential for medical school success. This letter also will provide medical schools with information about the context of the program from which you are applying; that is, the strengths of the college in preparing students for medical school. The Committee’s letter will be uploaded to the AMCAS application site and similar Doctor of Osteopathy common site.

  • Physician Assistant

    Overview of Profession

    Physician Assistants (PAs) are Advanced Practice Providers; these are medical professionals who provide medical services in collaboration with one or more physicians. PAs are licensed in the states in which they practice and are certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Graduates from PA programs receive Master’s degrees from institutions that are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Most programs take 27-28 months to complete. PAs are in high demand and the PA field has one of the most positive occupational outlooks of any healthcare profession. As of June 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for a Physician Assistant was $95,820. PAs practice in a wide variety of medical fields, including all primary care areas (e.g., family medicine; pediatrics; internal medicine) as well as all specialty areas (e.g., cardiology; surgery; orthopedics).

    Undergraduate Preparation

    As summarized in Appendix A, physician assistants may choose any major, but must successfully complete a core group of science courses focused in biology, anatomy and physiology, and chemistry. Additionally, programs require that students complete a genetics, microbiology, and statistics course, along with courses in introductory psychology and other social science areas (we recommend developmental or abnormal psychology). As competition for slots in PA programs is very competitive (roughly 10 applicants for every available opening), strong performance in one’s coursework is essential (the minimum GPA for most programs is 3.0, but the mean for accepted applicants is much higher). This is especially true of your performance in the prerequisite science classes.

    Physician assistant programs are also interested in a variety of other factors in choosing applicants for their programs, including previous direct patient care experience, shadowing a practicing PA, and civic engagement/service work. The average applicant has two-to-three years of healthcare experience prior to their acceptance, with 1000 hours being a typical minimum amount of previous healthcare work necessary for applicants. Most programs require a minimum of 20 hours of PA shadowing experience.

    Application Process

    Similar to the medical school application process, students applying to most PA programs complete a common application, the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA; https://portal.caspaonline.org/caspaHelpPages/participating-programs/), for all schools to which they wish to apply. The start date for programs varies and, as such, the deadline for completion of the CASPA also varies depending on the program start date. The overall preparation timeline is similar to the one found for students applying to medical schools, which may be found in Appendix B. In addition to the completion of the course prerequisites, most programs require applicants to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE; http://www.ets.org/gre/), write a personal statement, and obtain three letters of recommendation, one of which usually must be from a clinician. Programs have different deadlines for the submission of their requested materials; therefore, it is essential that students check specific programs’ website for their deadlines.

    Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

    The GRE is composed of questions assessing verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing. Verbal Reasoning is assessed in two, 30-minute sections consisting of approximately 20 questions. There are also two sections of Quantitative Reasoning with 20 questions with each section lasting approximately 35 minutes. The Analytical Writing component consists of two 30-minute essays. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the GRE. Additionally, there are in-person courses offered from time-to-time at area colleges/universities. 

    Personal Statement

    On the CASPA, you will be asked to write a personal essay explaining the reasons you are interested in becoming a physician assistant. There is a 5000-character (not word) limit so it is critical that you are able to succinctly and clearly describe your motivation for becoming a PA. You should have one of your professors or pre-health advisors review your statement before you submit it as this is a very important component of your application. Many programs also require applicants to write a separate statement detailing why they chose that particular program.

    Letters of Recommendation

    Students should obtain three letters of recommendation. The letters should be from individuals most familiar with the applicant’s work and potential for success as a physician assistant. Generally, one letter is written by a former or present professor, one from a healthcare professional, preferably a physician or PA, who has supervised your work via a shadowing or internship experience, and one from a former supervisor or employer. It is important to contact those being asked for recommendations well in advance of the time in which their letters are needed. Also, be prepared to follow-up with your letter writers to cordially remind them of the deadline for the letter, stressing your appreciation for their willingness to write on your behalf.

  • Professional Counselor

    Overview of Profession

    Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) are professionals who are dedicated to promoting the mental health of their clients. LPCs counsel clients in a variety of environments including individual and group practices, healthcare systems (e.g., Veterans Administration), and colleges and universities. Students seeking to become LPCs usually obtain a MA or MS in clinical or counseling psychology. Students should look for programs that are CACREP accredited in order to ensure applying to a quality program (http://www.cacrep.org/directory/). The master’s degree in clinical or counseling psychology typically requires 2-3 years of coursework (usually 60 semester hours) beyond the bachelor’s degree. In order to become licensed as a professional counselor, most states also require that individuals complete 2 years in full-time, post-graduate practice (typically 3000 hours of practice) and pass a written examination. The licensure requirements for counselors differ from state to state and those who are interested in working in a particular area should check that state’s requirements. A list of LPC state licensure requirements can be found at http://www.counseling.org/docs/licensure/72903_excerpt_for_web.pdf. The training of professional counselors involves learning treatment techniques, but also developing interpersonal skills that will allow individuals to work effectively with a broad range of people. Developing empathy, acceptance, and an understanding of oneself, among other attributes, will be an important part of the training to become a counselor. Additional information about the profession of clinical or counseling psychology may be found at the American Counseling Association Website: www.counseling.org.

    Undergraduate Preparation

    Admission into a M.A. or M.S. program requires a bachelor’s degree. Although master’s programs in clinical or counseling psychology will accept students with a variety of undergraduate majors, most successful applicants will have majored in psychology. For students who have not majored in psychology, graduate programs will usually require applicants to have had at least 18 hours in psychology, with required courses in introductory psychology, statistics, research methods, and abnormal psychology. Courses in personality theories, developmental psychology, counseling techniques, and testing and measurement are also recommended. Prerequisites vary among schools so students interested in specific schools should check those schools’ websites for their particular requirements. Many schools have no GPA requirements; however, an applicant’s GPA is heavily factored into acceptance. The average GPA of accepted applicants is typically 3.4 or higher. Additionally, a grade of C or higher is required in the prerequisite classes to be considered for admission. Please refer to Appendix G: Timeline for Applying to Clinical/Counseling Psychology Master’s Programs for a suggested timeline for applying to M.A./M.S. programs. In addition to course prerequisites, internship experience is important to gaining acceptance into a master’s program. Therefore, students should seek out internship experiences in their undergraduate preparation.

    Application Process

    There are several steps involved in applying to master’s programs in clinical or counseling psychology. To apply to programs, it is necessary to complete an individual application for each graduate school. Virtually all master’s programs will require that applicants take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and submit the scores as a part of their application. The GRE is composed of questions assessing verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing. Verbal Reasoning is assessed in two, thirty minute sections consisting of approximately 20 questions. There are also two sections of Quantitative Reasoning with 20 questions with each section lasting approximately 35 minutes. The Analytical Writing component consists of two 30-minute essays. Cut-off scores for admission vary among graduate programs though almost all will require scores at or above the 50th percentile. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the GRE. Additionally, there are in-person courses offered from time-to-time at area colleges/universities. Those interested in learning more about the application process can check out Getting In: A Step-By-Step Plan for Gaining Admission to Graduate School in Psychology from the EHC library.

    Personal Statement

    Almost all programs will require a personal statement to be submitted with the application. Personal statements typically are 500-1000 words in length and describe applicants’ reasons for wanting to become counselors as well as their academic and practical preparation for graduate school. Because of the strict word limit imposed by many programs, it is important to be clear and succinct. The personal statement is a very important part of the application and should be carefully reviewed by your major advisor or pre-health committee member.

    Letters of Recommendation

    Applicants will need to request letters of recommendation from three of their professors. It is the student’s responsibility to ask for these letters directly from professors who have taught them and have a good understanding of their work ethic. It is proper etiquette to write a thank you note to the professors that write your letters of recommendation.

  • Psychologist

    Overview of Profession

    Clinical and counseling psychologists are professionals who are dedicated to promoting the mental health of their clients. Clinical and counseling psychologists work in a variety of environments including individual and group practices, mental health agencies, healthcare systems (e.g., Veterans Administration), and colleges and universities. The doctoral degree in psychology is the highest degree in the field and typically requires 4 or more years of coursework beyond the bachelor’s degree and one year in a pre-doctoral internship. In order to become licensed as a psychologist, most states also require that individuals perform one year of supervised post-doctoral practice. Traditionally, doctoral degrees in clinical psychology differed from those in counseling psychology by their focus on treating individuals with more severe mental illnesses; whereas, counseling psychology placed a greater emphasis on treating individuals with relational, vocational, and personal problems. However, over the past two decades, these distinctions have faded and most states now offer a singular license to individuals trained as either clinical or counseling psychologists. Another choice for those interested in becoming practicing psychologists is whether to pursue the Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) degree. Although both degrees prepare students to become mental health practitioners, programs that offer the Ph.D. place more of an emphasis on training researchers; whereas, Psy.D. programs are more focused on training practitioners. Whether pursuing a degree in counseling or clinical psychology or a Psy.D. versus a Ph.D., the training of psychologists is not only about learning specific research and treatment techniques, but also connected with developing the interpersonal skills that will allow individuals to work effectively with a broad range of people. Developing empathy, acceptance, and an understanding of oneself, among other attributes, will be an important part of the training to become a psychologist. Additional information about the profession of clinical or counseling psychology may be found at the American Psychological Association Website: http://www.apa.org/education/index.aspx.

    Undergraduate Preparation

    Admission into a Ph.D. or Psy.D. program requires at least a bachelor’s degree, with some programs requiring a master’s degree. Although doctoral programs in clinical or counseling psychology will accept students with a variety of undergraduate majors, most successful applicants will have majored in psychology and virtually all programs will require students to have had at least 18 hours in psychology with prerequisite courses in introductory psychology, statistics, research methods, and abnormal psychology. Some schools require courses in personality theories, developmental psychology, counseling techniques, and testing and measurement. Prerequisites vary among schools so students interested in specific universities should check those programs’ websites for their requirements. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required for admission into a Ph.D. or Psy.D. program, though many schools require a minimum GPA as high as 3.5. The average GPA of accepted applicants is typically 3.5 or higher. Additionally, most programs require a grade of C or higher in the prerequisite classes to be considered for admission. Please refer to Appendix F for a suggested timeline for applicants.

    In addition to course prerequisites, research experience is important, if not critical, to gaining acceptance into a doctoral program. Therefore, students should seek out professors with whom they can collaborate on research projects early in their undergraduate preparation. 

    Application Process

    There are several steps involved in applying to doctoral programs in clinical or counseling psychology. To apply to these programs, it is necessary to complete an individual application for each graduate school. Virtually all doctoral programs will require that applicants take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and submit the scores as a part of their application. The GRE is composed of questions assessing verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing. Verbal Reasoning is assessed in two, thirty minute sections consisting of approximately 20 questions. There are also two sections of Quantitative Reasoning with 20 questions with each section lasting approximately 35 minutes. The Analytical Writing component consists of two 30-minute essays. Cut-off scores for admission vary among doctoral though almost all programs will require scores at or above the 75th percentile, with many programs only accepting applicants with scores at or above the 90th percentile. Some graduate schools also may require the GRE Psychology Test to be taken as well. The GRE Psychology Test contains 205 questions assessing knowledge of natural/experimental psychology, social/abnormal psychology, and general psychology. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the GRE and the GRE Subject Test in Psychology. Additionally, there are in-person courses offered from time-to-time at area colleges/universities. Those interested in learning more about the application process can check out Getting In: A Step-By-Step Plan for Gaining Admission to Graduate School in Psychology from the EHC library.

    Personal Statement

    Another important component of applying to a Ph.D./Psy.D. program is the personal statement. Ranging from a minimum of 500-1000 words in some programs, to a maximum of 5 pages in others, the personal statement details your reasons for applying to a Ph.D./Psy.D. program and summarizes your preparation for graduate school. Because of the strict word limit imposed by many programs, it is important to be clear and succinct. The personal essay is a very important part of the application and should be carefully reviewed by your major advisor or pre-health committee member. 

    Letters of Recommendation

    Applicant’s will need to request letters of recommendation from at least three of their professors. It is the student’s responsibility to ask for these letters directly from professors who have taught them and have a good understanding of their work ethic. It is proper etiquette to write a thank you note to the professors that write your letters of recommendation.

  • Veterinarian

    Overview of Profession

    Veterinarians are medical professionals who provide health care for animals of all kinds. The veterinary profession offers a varied and satisfying career. A career in veterinary medicine provides a range of options besides private practice. For example, veterinarians may also conduct research, teach, and work for a company or the government. It is one of the most financially rewarding careers as well. As of June 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for a Veterinarian was $87,590. Most importantly, providing care for and relieving the suffering of animals can be a highly rewarding experience, especially for those who have an affinity toward animals. For more information about the veterinary profession, visit https://www.avma.org.

    Undergraduate Preparation

    Although admission into a veterinary program does not require a bachelor’s degree, most applicants will have an undergraduate degree, and most veterinary schools require at least 75 credit hours in specific undergraduate courses. In this regard, DVM programs require 6 to 9 hours of English, 8 hours of biology, 16 hours of chemistry (8 in general and 8 in organic), 8 hours of physics, 3 hours of genetics, 4 hours of microbiology, and 4 hours of biochemistry. All programs require 6 to 9 hours of mathematics including courses in statistics and calculus. Many schools recommend electives in anatomy, comparative anatomy, microbiology, physiology, embryology, and immunology. Prerequisites vary among schools so students interested in specific programs should check those universities’ websites for their requirements. An overview of prerequisites may be found at http://aavmc.org/data/files/vmcas/prereqchart.pdf. A minimum GPA of 2.8 is required for admission into veterinary school, though the average GPA of accepted applicants is typically in the 3.6 range. Additionally, most programs require a grade of C or higher in the prerequisite classes to be considered for admission. Please refer to Appendix A for a list of requirements and Appendix H for a suggested preparation timeline.

    In addition to course prerequisites, shadowing is an important requirement for admission into veterinary programs, with most schools recommending between 400 to 600 hours of shadowing, both with small and large animals. Some schools require shadowing in 3 different areas. Applicants also will need to request letters of recommendation from three or four of their professors, and at least one letter of recommendation should be completed by a veterinarian. It is the student’s responsibility to ask for these letters directly from professors and veterinarians. Veterinary programs require letters of recommendation to be sent electronically, so students should collect evaluators’ emails and the evaluators will submit their electronic letters through a link sent to them. It is proper etiquette to write a thank you note to the doctors and professors that write your evaluations. In addition, the ability to perform and familiarity with certain techniques may be expected, such as proficient cognitive, motor and observational skills. 

    Application Process

    Before beginning the application process, applicants must preregister and take the GRE. The GRE is composed of questions assessing verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing. Verbal Reasoning is assessed in two, thirty minute sections consisting of approximately 20 questions. There are also two sections of Quantitative Reasoning with 20 questions with each section lasting approximately 35 minutes. The Analytical Writing component consists of two 30-minute essays. The average verbal and quantitative scores for the class of 2017 were the 68th and 61rst percentiles respectively. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the GRE. Additionally, there are in-person courses offered from time-to-time at area colleges/universities. 

    The VMCAS

    Applications for most DVM programs are centralized into one common application called the Veterinary Medical College Application Service. The VMCAS collects admission information such as a personal statement, GRE scores, and electronic Letters of Recommendation (eLORs). Once received, these materials are verified and sent to each school of your choice. Many schools require secondary applications sent at the same time as the VMCAS. Other programs will send a secondary application after they receive the VMCAS to be completed and returned as soon as possible. Practices vary among schools, so it is important to check universities’ websites for their individual requirements. While the VMCAS accepts up to 10 eLORs, 3 or 4 are preferred. Another important component of the VMCAS is the personal statement. The VMCAS allows a 2000-character maximum statement detailing your reasons for applying to veterinary school. Because of the brief nature of the VMCAS personal statement, it is important to be clear and succinct. Some areas to include are personal experiences during job shadowing, special talents, and obstacles you have overcome and how they have influenced you to choose a veterinary career. The personal essay is a very important part of the application and should be carefully reviewed by your major advisor or pre-health committee member. A sample VMCAS application may be found at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges Website: http://aavmc.org/data/files/vmcas/vmcas2014/vmcas2014_sample_app.pdf.