Many students have expressed interest in learning about careers in allied-health professions. Students most frequently inquire about physician-assistant, pharmacy, optometry, and physical-therapy programs.
Students seeking admission into one of these professional programs should look carefully at the specific educational requirements of each individual school because they may vary.
- Physical Therapy
Education and training
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, there were 226 accredited physical-therapist education programs in 2015. Of the accredited programs, 48 offered master’s degrees and 178 offered doctoral degrees. Only master’s- and doctoral-degree programs are accredited, in accordance with the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. In the future, a doctoral degree might be the required entry-level degree. Master’s-degree programs typically last two years, and doctoral programs last three years.
Physical-therapist education programs start with basic science courses such as biology, chemistry, and physics and then introduce specialized courses, including biomechanics, neuroanatomy, human growth and development, manifestations of disease, examination techniques, and therapeutic procedures. Besides getting classroom and laboratory instruction, students receive supervised clinical experience.
Among the undergraduate courses that are useful when one applies to a physical-therapist education program are anatomy, biology, chemistry, social science, mathematics, and physics. Before granting admission, many programs require volunteer experience in the physical-therapy department of a hospital or clinic. For high-school students, volunteering with the school athletic trainer is a good way to gain experience.
Education and training
Optometrists need a doctor of optometry degree, which requires the completion of a four-year program at an accredited optometry school. In 2015, there were 20 colleges of optometry in the U.S. and one in Puerto Rico that offered programs accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric Association. There are two such schools in Texas.
Requirements for admission to optometry schools include college courses in English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. Because a strong background in science is important, many applicants to optometry school major in a science, such as biology or chemistry, as undergraduates. Others major in another subject and take many science courses offering laboratory experience.
Admission to optometry school is competitive. Applicants must take the Optometry Admission Test, which measures academic ability and scientific comprehension. As a result, most applicants take the test after their sophomore or junior year in college, allowing them an opportunity to take the test again and raise their score. A few applicants are accepted to optometry school after three years of college and then complete their bachelor’s degree while attending optometry school. However, most students accepted by a school or college of optometry have completed an undergraduate degree. Each institution has its own undergraduate prerequisites, so applicants should contact the school or college of their choice for specific requirements.
Prospective pharmacists should have scientific aptitude, good interpersonal skills, and a desire to help others. They also must be conscientious and pay close attention to detail because the decisions they make affect human lives. See the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy’s website for more information.
Education and training
Pharmacists must earn a Pharm.D. degree from an accredited college or school of pharmacy. The Pharm.D. degree has replaced the bachelor of pharmacy degree, which is no longer being awarded. To be admitted to a Pharm.D. program, an applicant must have completed at least two years of postsecondary study, although most applicants have completed three or more years. Other entry requirements usually include courses in mathematics and the natural sciences, such as chemistry, biology, and physics, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.
In 2015, 138 colleges and schools of pharmacy were accredited to confer degrees by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). Approximately 70% of Pharm.D. programs require applicants to take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). Please see the specific educational requirements for any program in pharmacy you plan to apply to.
Courses offered at colleges of pharmacy are designed to teach students about all aspects of drug therapy. In addition, students learn how to communicate with patients and other healthcare providers about drug information and patient care. Students also learn professional ethics, concepts of public health, and medication distribution systems management. In addition to receiving classroom instruction, students in Pharm.D. programs spend about one-fourth of their time in a variety of pharmacy practice settings under the supervision of licensed pharmacists.
More than 80 colleges of pharmacy also awarded a master of science or a Ph.D. Both degrees are awarded after the completion of a Pharm.D. degree and are designed for those who want additional clinical, laboratory, and research experience. Areas of graduate study include pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry (the physical and chemical properties of drugs and dosage forms), pharmacology (the effects of drugs on the body), and pharmacy administration. Many master’s degree and Ph.D. holders go on to do research for a drug company or teach at a university.
Other options for pharmacy graduates who are interested in further training include one- or two-year residency programs or fellowships. Pharmacy residencies are postgraduate training programs in pharmacy practice and usually require the completion of a research project. These programs are often mandatory for pharmacists who wish to work in hospitals. Pharmacy fellowships are highly individualized programs that are designed to prepare participants to work in a specialized area of pharmacy, such clinical practice or research laboratories.
- Physician Assistant
Education and training
Physician-assistant (PA) education programs usually last at least two years and are full-time. Most programs are in schools of allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, or four-year colleges; a few are in community colleges, the military, or hospitals. Many accredited PA programs have clinical teaching affiliations with medical schools.
In 2015, 196 education programs for PAs were accredited or provisionally accredited by the American Academy of Physician Assistants in the U.S. In Texas, there are eight accredited programs. More than 90 of these programs in the U.S. offered the option of a master’s degree, and the rest offered either a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree. Most applicants to PA educational programs already have a bachelor’s degree.
Admission requirements vary, but many programs require two years of college and some work experience in the healthcare field. Students should take courses in biology, English, chemistry, mathematics, psychology, and the social sciences. Many PAs have prior experience as registered nurses, and others come from varied backgrounds, including military corpsman or medics and allied-health occupations such as respiratory therapists, physical therapists, and emergency medical technicians and paramedics.
PA education includes classroom instruction in biochemistry, pathology, human anatomy, physiology, microbiology, clinical pharmacology, clinical medicine, geriatric and home healthcare, disease prevention, and medical ethics. Students obtain supervised clinical training in several areas, including family medicine, internal medicine, surgery, prenatal care, gynecology, geriatrics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and pediatrics. Sometimes, PA students serve one or more of these rotations under the supervision of a physician who is seeking to hire a PA. The rotations often lead to permanent employment.
Six civilian PA educational programs presently exist in Texas. On average, the PA programs are approximately two years in length. Baylor College of Medicine, Southwestern in Dallas, and the University of Texas require a baccalaureate degree to be eligible to apply to their programs. Texas Tech and the University of North Texas require varying undergraduate hours prior to entering. At these five institutions, a master’s degree is awarded to the student after the successful completion of all coursework. The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio requires a minimum of 65 hours before matriculation into the professional curriculum and is currently the only program in Texas from which the candidate will graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Upon graduation from all of the aforementioned schools, the PA is eligible to take the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants examination.
The American Academy of Physician Assistants has developed a unified application for programs around the country and hosts a complete list of PA programs within the U.S.
Several good resources
- The ExploreHealthCareers website
- For a wide array of helpful links, please visit the Center for Career & Professional Development’s Medical School and Health Professions Resource Links.
Healthcare Career Opportunities
There are several good websites that can help you explore possible careers and job opportunities in healthcare: