Health sciences describe a large branch of the scientific field that deals with human health and well-being. Careers, including being a physician, nurse, medical assistant, medical laboratory technician, and radiology technician fall under this category. Such jobs are usually always in demand and can pay well. Therefore, students with a strong interest in science and who like to help people may want to consider a health sciences career.
A Master of Health Science Program can prepare one for a research career. However, other health science careers may be more appealing for those interested in working in a clinical setting.
Becoming a Physician
A physician, or doctor, practices medicine. Typically, in the US a doctor goes to school for four years to get their undergraduate degree. Often this is in a science-related field like biology, chemistry or physics, but the degree can be in any field. That being said, there are many science courses that are required to enter medical school. Therefore, even undergraduate philosophy majors must take biology, chemistry and physics lecture and lab courses to be eligible for medical school. These courses are also essential for taking the MCAT, the medical college admissions test.
After entering medical school, students can specialize based on the type of medicine they want to practice. For those wanting to become family doctors, an additional three years of training is required after the four years of medical school. This additional three years is called a residency. It takes place at a healthcare setting, often a hospital, where the resident sees and treats patients under the supervision of an experienced doctor. For other types of medical practices, the residencies may be longer. For instance, for those wanting to become surgeons, they must complete an extended residency program. For example, for brain surgeons, it is seven years. An exam is then taken to complete their education, allowing them to practice medicine. Additional exams may be necessary for certain certifications.
Becoming a Nurse
Nurses do more than just assist doctors in treating patients. Because they are around the patients more than the doctor, nurses can become very knowledgeable about a patient’s condition, and help with the specific regiment for the patient.
Unlike doctors, however, nurses must obtain a 4-year degree in nursing, not a degree of their choosing. They continue their education with a two-year training program called clinicals. Here nurses get hands-on experience in a healthcare setting. Like doctors, the nurses complete their education by taking an exam. The type of exam taken depends on the type of nursing a student wants to practice. Registered nurses, RN’s, take the NCLEX-RN test. In contrast, licensed practical nurses LPNs, who work under an RN and have fewer responsibilities, take the NCLEX-PN test.
Medical Assistants (MAs) are similar to nurses in that they help to check in patients and administer medication and vaccinations. However, to become an MA, students only need to complete a 9-12 month program. Students can also opt for an associates degree, which can take 18-24 months to complete. On-the-job training to be an MA is also available but much harder to find since many doctors may not have the time to train someone.
A Medical Laboratory Technician works in a clinic or hospital laboratory performing tests on patient specimens in order to help doctors properly diagnose patients. The technician collects samples and analyzes them using sophisticated equipment. Their job duties are similar to medical technologists, but the latter often act as supervisors to lab technicians and can perform more complex testing.
Radiology technicians also help in disease diagnosis. They do this using imaging machines like X-rays and MRIs. A related occupation is a radiology technologist who performs more complex imaging. A radiology technician prepares patients for their imaging, takes the images, keeps patient records, helps prevent unnecessary patient exposure to radiation through the use of protective equipment, among other tasks. An associate degree in radiology is required for this field. There is high potential for growth as technicians can move up to ultimately to run a radiology department.
These jobs are just a small sampling of the many opportunities for those interested in a health sciences career. An aging population, emerging diseases, and general illnesses present in any population ensure these fields will be needed now and in the future.