Beyond the MD: An MCAT Instructor’s Guide to the Health Professions (Part I)
By Lauren Poindexter, Kaplan Elite MCAT Teacher
So you’ve decided you want to be a doctor – good for you! But, have you considered what that really means? There are a plethora of rewarding careers in the medical field that aren’t defined by the letters M and D, and the professionals in most of those fields are still “doctors” in one sense or another. These are careers in which your altruistic tendencies and desire to better the quality of life for countless (human) patients can be put to work! Check out the following list of awesome degrees…you may just discover a new path to success!
In alphabetical order:
DC – Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine
Governed by the American Chiropractic Association, chiropractors typically diagnose and treat neuromuscular complaints using a broad range of therapies including hands-on manual manipulation, therapeutic exercise, and lifestyle changes, among others. The educational process is very similar to that of MDs: typically four years of chiropractic-specific schooling that covers clinical lectures and clinical internships/practical experience. Individual schools may or may not require admissions exams such as the MCAT and GRE. Admissions and applications are school-specific.
DO – Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
Represented by the American Osteopathic Association, these physicians enjoy the same benefits and career opportunities as their MD counterparts. Educated via a four-year medical model, just like allopathic medical students, osteopathic students are also trained in osteopathic manipulative medicine, a holistic practice that focuses on overall patient health and may include hands-on manipulation of the musculoskeletal system. The MCAT is required for all applicants by all accredited institutions; a common application called the AACOMAS is used for admissions in the US. DO graduates are afforded the same scope of practice as allopathic medical school grads (MDs) and may enter the same residencies or specialties.
DPM – Doctor of Podiatric Medicine
Podiatric physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat disorders of the distal lower extremity: the lower leg, ankle, and foot. The professional educational model is nearly identical to medical school, and graduates enjoy residency training and specialization in diverse fields such as forensic podiatry, sports medicine, and reconstructive surgery. The MCAT is widely accepted by member schools; some may accept the GRE or DAT in lieu of the MCAT. AACPMAS is the centralized application service for the nine US colleges of podiatric medicine.
MPH or DPH – Master (or Doctor) of Public Health
Graduates of MPH/DPH programs are charged with addressing the health needs and concerns of whole populations, from the community to the global level. Emphasis is typically on epidemiology, disease prevention, resource management, health education, and large-scale interventions to achieve total well-being. Required admissions exams vary by school. The SOPHAS common application is used to apply to 37 of the 46 accredited schools of public health.
MA/MS – Master of Arts or Science and
PhD – Doctor of Philosophy
Graduate and doctoral programs conferring a MA/MS or PhD degree typically require GRE scores. Applications are school-specific. Hundreds of different masters/doctoral programs are available in the US and range from Biomedical Engineering to Anatomical Studies to Clinical and Translational Research to Genetic Counseling. Many PhD students go on to work in scientific research, lecture in medical schools, form research partnerships with healthcare workers and corporations, and hold management and consultant positions in universities, businesses, non-profit health organizations, or government-sponsored institutes. Whatever your interests, there is a graduate/doctoral program for you!
ND – Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine
There are currently six schools in the US accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education to confer ND degrees. The focus of naturopathic medical providers (as a form of complementary or alternative medicine) is on the body’s natural tendency to heal itself – inspiring a holistic approach to the management of illness and disease. Treatments focus on prevention, optimal lifestyle management, natural remedies (instead of pharmaceutical compounds), and minimally invasive procedures (rather than surgery). Individual schools may or may not require admissions exams such as the MCAT or GRE. Application to individual schools is required.
So there you have it! Of course, this list just represents the tip of the iceberg, and health care is a diverse and far-flung profession. No matter which field of medicine or degree you choose to pursue, it’s a given fact that you’ll wind up working with individuals sporting a variety of degrees and skills. To give you a sense of whom these other members of your medical team are, later this week we’ll examine a number of other careers in the health care field including dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, and nursing. Stay tuned!