Types of Medical Degrees & Programs

Of all of the careers that you can choose in the 21st century, the healthcare and medical fields are possibly the best. It is estimated that there will be a growth rate of 19% in all healthcare and medical-related occupations by 2024, with more than 2.3 million new jobs added.

It is thought that the huge increase in medical jobs will be driven by an older population and more people having access to health insurance.

Additionally, the median wage for all of these booming medical jobs is $62,610 as of May 2015, so there is little question that earning a medical degree of some kind will be an excellent investment in your future.

Another major benefit of the medical and healthcare professions is that there are so many different types of medical degrees and jobs that are available.

Below are some of the most popular.

Associate’s in Medical Assisting

Medical assistants play a vital role in medical offices as they do many administrative and clinical tasks that keep primary medical care offices going every day. Some medical assistants focus more on administrative tasks while others focus on clinical tasks. Some do both.

You can earn an associate’s degree in medical assisting in two years, and most of these programs are available at community colleges across the country. All medical assisting programs have classroom and lab portions that have a heavy focus on anatomy and medical terminology.

While medical assistants do not have to be licensed, but employers want to generally hire certified medical assistants and registered medical assistants.

After you get your associate’s degree and certification, you will be able to look forward to a career with very strong demand, with 23% growth anticipated by 2024.

Associate’s in Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapists help patients to fight their cancer and other diseases by administering radiation treatments. These professionals operate machines called linear accelerators, and these are used to deliver radiation doses to cancer patients.

The majority of radiation therapists obtain an associate’s degree in the field, but some may earn a bachelor’s degree. Classes include those in radiation therapy and the science that is behind the technology that makes it effective to treat cancer.

You will need to take classes in human anatomy, physiology, physics, algebra, computer science and research methodology.

This is an excellent career field in medicine to consider, with a median pay of $80,000 per year and good future job demand.

Associate’s of Nursing

Earning your associate’s degree in nursing (known as an ADN) will provide you with a good foundation to start your nursing career. After you complete your two year degree, you will be able to sit for your NCLEX-RN examination and be an RN.

You will not be able to have the same level of responsibility or pay as a full RN with a bachelor’s degree, but this is a good way to get going in nursing. Eventually you will probably want to earn your BSN degree as this is a requirement for more and more health care employers today.

Bachelor’s – Medical Perfusionist

A medical perfusionist works with doctors and surgeons in select and operate the medical equipment that is used for many surgical procedures. Perfusionists also monitor circulatory and metabolic systems, such as blood pressure, heart rate, rate of breathing and blood gases.

They also may monitor blood coagulation factors and operate machines that conserve blood. This highly trained medical person also deals with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machines for people in the ICU.

You must complete a perfusion training program that takes four years. Some perfusionists choose to earn a four year bachelor’s degree and the obtain a perfusion certificate program.

To become a Certified Clinical Perfusionist, you must pass a two part examination that is given by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion.

Bachelor of Nursing

Earning your BSN is the path to entering the field of nursing, which has no end of demand, not to mention great pay. While you can earn an associate’s degree and become an RN, you will earn more money and be given more responsibility with a BSN degree. If you already have your associate’s degree and your RN status, earning your bachelor’s is the next logical step to advance your career.

Fortunately, you can earn your BSN while you working full time, as there are excellent online programs to earn your bachelor’s degree. And if you are already working as a nurse, you may be able to get your current employer to pay for some of your tuition. Health care employers today strongly encourage their nurses to earn their BSN degree.

Master of Science in Nursing

If you are a nurse and you want to take your nursing career to the next career level, you should strongly consider getting your MSN degree. By earning your two year graduate nursing degree, you will be able to work in many advanced nursing practice roles, which command some of the highest salaries in nursing.

Most nurses who earn their MSN end up working as a:

  • Nurse practitioner
  • Certified nurse anesthetist
  • Clinical nurse specialist
  • Certified nurse midwife

You also have the option of pairing your MSN degree with other subjects so that you can earn two master’s degrees at once. This type of education often is a good idea if you want to work in executive leadership or administration:

  • MSN/Master of Public Health
  • MSN/Master of Business Administration
  • MSN/Master of Health Administration

You have the option of entering the nursing profession and earning your MSN if you have a bachelor’s degree in another field. Note however that you will need to work as a nurse for at least two years after you get your RN during your MSN program. For that reason, some health care professionals opt to become physician assistants instead  of nurse practitioner, which has a similar payscale and job demand as nurse practitioners (see below).

Master’s in Physician Assistant Studies

A physician assistant plays a similar role in most primary care situations as nurse practitioners, and is another excellent choice to earn a high salary and enjoy very strong job demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that PAs will see a 30% increase in demand by 2024, which is an extremely fast growth rate.

Most professionals who earn their master’s in physician assistant studies already have a bachelor’s degree in a healthcare field and several years of work experience. To be admitted into a PA school, you will need at least two years of undergraduate courses in science, including biology, chemistry and physiology/anatomy.

PA programs take two or three years of full time study, and you will need to complete up to 2000 hours of clinical rotations as part of your program. To earn your license, you have to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination or PANCE. To keep your certification, you have to complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years.

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)

Physical therapists or PTs help ill and injured people to improve their ability to move and to reduce their pain. PTs often are a vital part of rehabilitation for patients after a stroke or surgery, and can really help to reduce and manage pain for elderly patients and anyone recovering from a surgery or medical problem.

DPT programs last three years full time, and most programs require you to have a bachelor’s degree, although not necessarily in a healthcare field. If you do not have a healthcare background, you will need to take a full slate of prerequisite science courses:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

There also are some programs that will admit a freshman undergraduate into a six or seven year program where you can graduate with a bachelor’s degree and a DPT.

In your DPT program, you will take courses in biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience and pharmacology. As a student, you also need to complete at least 30 weeks of clinical work as a physical therapist. You will be supervised by a practicing physical therapist and will gain invaluable experience in acute care and orthopedic care.

After you graduate, you must complete a one year clinical residency program. This provides you with additional, vital training and experience in certain physical therapy specialties.

All physical therapists must be licensed and you must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination that is given by the Federal of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)

Pharmacists dispense drugs to patients and provide expert advice on how to use drugs safely. Some pharmacists also may do health and wellness screenings, do immunizations, oversee the drugs that are given to patients and provide advice on how to live a healthy life.

You must earn a Pharm. D. degree to work as a pharmacist. To be admitted into this program, you have to take courses in chemistry, biology, and anatomy. Most of these programs take at least two years of undergraduate science work before you can be admitted. The Pharm.D. program itself take four years to complete in most cases.

After you complete the program, you must take the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX), and also the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam or MPJE.

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Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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