We've all heard that the medical field provides incredible potential for growth. Many individuals, however, assume that they need extensive education to work in the medical profession. While that is true for some positions within the field, there are many other jobs that require significantly less education than a physician. Whether you've always dreamed of becoming a pharmacist, a dental assistant, or a nurse practitioner, it's a good idea to know exactly how much education you'll need to earn. While the below list of medical professions is certainly not all encompassing, it does provide a good starting point for those who are thinking about entering the field.
Primary Care Physicians
Primary care physicians (PCPs) are often patients' first points of contact when they're feeling ill or are experiencing unusual symptoms. PCPs either diagnose and treat patients' conditions themselves or they refer their patients to specialists. Those interested in becoming a PCP must first earn a Bachelor's degree and subsequently attend medical school where they'll specialize in primary care.
A nurse practitioner (NP) provides primary care in a doctor's office or hospital. NPs record and analyze patients' medical histories, perform physical exams, and order necessary diagnostic tests, among other similar tasks. The education requirements for an NP can vary, but they typically need to earn a master's degree after they've received their Bachelor's degree.
A podiatrist specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions affecting the foot and ankle. After earning a Bachelor's degree, podiatrists must attend a college of podiatric medicine to receive their doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) degree.
A dentist is a doctor who specializes in providing oral health services. Like other doctors, dentists must earn a Bachelor's degree before moving on to medical school. A Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree requires four years of education. You can continue your studies after earning a DMD to specialize in orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, or other areas of care, which typically take between two and six years of additional education.
Dental assistants work closely with dentists to prepare patients for any necessary procedures, record their medical histories, and take X-rays. The education requirements for a dental assistant can vary from state to state and from practice to practice, but most dental assistants earn one-year certificates or diplomas from vocational schools or two-year associate's degrees.
Also called ultrasound technicians, sonographers operate the diagnostic testing equipment that is used to produce sonograms. While there are many uses for a sonogram, it is most commonly known for viewing fetuses in utero to check for normal growth and determine the sex of the baby. Sonographers are usually required to earn an associate's degree or a certificate or diploma from a vocational school.
A phlebotomist is responsible for safely drawing blood from patients. A career in phlebotomy usually requires a certificate or diploma from a vocational school, where a student learns how to properly draw blood and how to safely and legally dispose of equipment such as needles.
A pharmacist is responsible for not only dispensing medication but also for educating patients on the drugs they've been prescribed and ensuring that the patient is safe from potentially dangerous drug interactions. Pharmacists must attend four years of pharmacy school after they've earned a Bachelor's degree.
In addition to the educational requirements listed above, many of these professions require continuing education and some also require specific certifications or licenses. If you'd like to learn more about the education requirements for a career in the medical field, make an appointment with an advisor at your local university or community college.