Throughout life, we are constantly taught about doctors, dentists, and nurses. However, there are a multitude of options in the healthcare world, where we need representation to make a difference for our population.
Let's take a moment to explore the various options in which our representation can help bring more health equity.
1. Physician Assistants
Physician assistants are trained to complete patient examinations, perform routine diagnostic tests, order x-rays/laboratory tests, and treat and manage patient diagnoses. Physician assistants are able to work in various specialities, including, but not limited to cardiology, general surgery, pediatrics, and more. To become a physician assistant, you must attend physician assistant programs, where you earn a master's degree of physician assistant studies. The application cycle is similar to that of medical school, where the CASPA allows you to input your personal statement, general information, and selected programs to apply for. Additionally, some programs require that you take the GRE or the PA-CAT and some programs have secondary applications. Typically, most PA programs span from 2-3 years worth of studying, one year focusing primarily on classroom studies and the other focusing on clinical experience. PAs are expected to see a growth in the career field as the population is continuously growing and more assistance is needed to provide care to citizens.
2. Nurse Practitioner
Nurse practitioners are nurses that have advanced clinical education and training. Similar to physician assistants, they are able to perform physical exams, prescribe medications, diagnose and treat diseases and more. Additionally, as a nurse practitioner, you are able to specialize in various concentrations of healthcare. In order to become a nurse practitioner, you first have to become a registered nurse. Once you receive a BSN or ADN, you have the option of pursing a graduate program for nursing or to get a few years of experience under your belt. Once you decide to pursue graduate programs, you can either choose a MSN program, which provides you with a master's degree, or you can choose a DNP program, which offers you a doctoral degree and is the highest level of nursing education. Similar to PAs, NPs are expected to grow as more assistance is needed in order to provide care to our population.
3. Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists are trained professionals who treat and evaluate people who have injuries, illnesses, or disabilities. OTs can work in hospitals, schools, and outpatient clinics. Similar to NPs, you must choose a graduate program in order to practice, however you can choose either a master's of occupational therapy program or a doctoral program. Most programs would like for students to have a certain amount of hours shadowing a practicing OT. Much like both the PAs and NPs, OTs are expected to see growth to assist in providing care to our population.
4. Physical Therapist
Physical therapists are trained professionals who improve quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands on care, and patient education. Physical therapist examine patients to help them develop a treatment plan to improve their ability to move, reduce and/or manage pain, restore mobility function, and prevent disability. To become a physical therapist, you must earn a doctor of physical therapy degree. Traditional DPT programs are three years long, however, some schools offer shorter times to help students enter the field faster and reduce education costs. Physical therapists are expected to see growth as many physicians, PAs, and NPs refer patients with physical or neurological trauma to physical therapists.
5. Specialized Dentistry (Orthodontics, Prosthodontics, Periodontics, and Endodontics)
With specialized dentistry, you can practice in a variety of concentrations. Orthodontists are specialized professionals who focus on aligning your bite and straightening teeth. Prosthodontists typically focus on replacing missing teeth with dental implants or bridges. Periodontists treat oral health that affect the tissues around your teeth such as your gums or the connective tissue that attach your teeth to your jawbone. Endodontists focus on complex tooth problems that affect "tooth pulp", the nerves, blood vessels, and tissues deep inside each tooth. In order to become a specialized dentist, you must first attend a dental school, where during your final year, you can choose a two or three year residency program for orthodontics. While these career fields are not expected to grow expansively, it is still important to have representation in such fields.
6. Speech Language Pathologist
Speech language pathologists are professionals who assess and treat people with communication disorders. Speech language pathologists can work in schools, private practice, hospitals, or nursing/residential care facilities. To become a speech language pathologist, you must receive a master's degree in speech language pathology. Speech language pathologists are expected to see growth in career opportunities.
Optometrists are trained professionals who can diagnose and treat common issues that affect your eyes. Optometrists are not medical doctors, however they attend optometry school to receive a doctor of optometry degree. Typically, optometry programs require students to shadow a practicing optometrist and perform well on the optometry admission test. Optometry programs are four years long. Optometrists differ from ophthalmologist, who are doctors of medicine or doctors of osteopathy and can perform surgical treatments for eye conditions. After completing their medical school, ophthalmologists much complete a three year residency in ophthalmology and a one year internship. The growth for both optometrists and ophthalmologists is steady.
Dietitians and nutritionists are professionals who teach individuals and populations about general nutrition, food, and health. The main difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist is the education requirements needed in order to provide specific nutrition counseling or diagnose and treat medical conditions. Nutritionists are limited in many states because they do not necessarily have certifications or licenses. Nutritionists can work in government positions, school districts (to advance public policy on school nutrition standards), private facilities, or in research settings. Dietitians can help diagnose and treat illnesses, which allows them to work in hospitals, in and outpatient clinics, and private practice with individuals who experience eating disorders, substance abuse, or other medical conditions that can be managed with specific diet or meal planning. To become a dietitian, you must receive a master's of science or doctoral degree in nutrition or a related field and complete a dietitian internship that ranges from eight to 24 months. The growth for both dietitians and nutritionists is steady.
Pharmacists are professionals who dispense prescriptions and provide information to patients about medications and their use. Additionally, they help advise healthcare workers on dosages, interactions, and side of effects of medications that will help treat patients. To become a pharmacists, you must attend a doctor of pharmacy program. Most programs require students to take the PCAT and are typically four years. While this career field is not expected to grow expansively, it is still important to have representation in this field to help review how medications affect patients.
These are not the only roles that you can fill when looking for opportunities to make a difference in the healthcare field. There are plenty of opportunities to change efforts in policy, in research, and even in social work. All of these opportunities and careers would assist in making healthcare more equitable for all and would create more representation in terms of decisions being made for us all.