M.D. Alternatives: Is Medical School Really for You?
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M.D. Alternatives: Is Medical School Really for You?

MD Alternatives: Is Medical School Really for you? A comparison of healthcare professors and opportunities you may not have considered other than doctor/physician: medical social worker, nursing, public health, medical research, biostatistics, and health administration.

In the wake of increasingly bleak job opportunities, a record number of students come into college with dreams of becoming a physician or "doctor." The path to becoming a physician is long and expensive. They'll be four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, and several years of residencies and internships.

If your goal really is to "help people" in a medical environment, you would be well advised to also consider alternatives to the M.D. route. If you're passionate and talented in your field, you're less likely to have trouble finding a job and you're more likely to have a higher job satisfaction. Below are a few alternatives to medical school. The American Medical Association also maintains a list of Healthcare Careers at www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/education-careers/careers-health-care/directory.page.

Nursing--It is often less expensive and less competitive to become a nurse. Opportunities are also available at all levels, from a two-year-degree RN all the way to a DNP/PhD (Doctor of Nursing Practice/Doctor of Philosophy). Many nurse-practitioners run their own practices or serve in positions not far removed from the role of physicians. The United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the Outlook for nurses is "Excellent."

Medical Social Work/Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)--Medical Social Workers are employed by hopsitals to assist in many areas, especially the discharge procedures. Their role is to ensure that patients are leaving the hospital to go to an appropriate, supportive environment. LCSWs often maintain a private practice and work with families, individuals, and organizations to resolve personal and interpersonal conflicts. Social workers can also work to effect change on a larger level through policies initiatives and are also often employed by non-profit and governmental organizations. The entry-level degree for this field is a BSW; a Master's degree (often the MSW) is required for clinical practice; and doctoral degrees (PhD/DSW) are preferred for research, teaching, and advanced practitioners.

Public Health--Those in the field of public health are concerned with health on a larger scale than individual care. Jobs in this field range from everything from restaurant/job-site regulation and enforcement to policy-writing and advocacy.

Medical Research--As a professional degree, the M.D. with primarily intended for those interested in the practice of medicine. While a limited number of (funded) Ph.D./M.D. programs exist, admission to these programs is incredibly selective and these programs often last years longer than persuing just one of the degrees. Medical research encompasses those in many fields, which often include funded PhD programs (read: no debt). Among these fields are immunology, biology, and biomedical engineering, 

Biostatistics--The field of biostatistics is based on the application of statistics to medical issues. Biostatisticians are often employed by pharmaceutical companies, NGOs, and government organization to predict the effects of drugs in selected populations and health effects of medical events.

Health Administration--If you've always been in team leadership you might find that making sure that hospitals run well is a more rewarding career than direct practice may be.

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Comments (2)

Another great article, James! Good job!!!

Excellent points, Mr. Crowe. Allow me to add one more suggestion: Get yourself a copy of "The Paramedic Heretic." When you finish, you will then have the advantage of a wise perspective on whether you want to enter the Twilight Zone of healthcare in the first place. If not, you just made a valuable, inexpensive investment in your future. If so, by all means, welcome aboard.