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Description of Various Health Professions


Allopathic Medicine

The allopathic physician (M.D.) performs a spectrum of functions which include promotion of health, prevention of disease, diagnosis and treatment of disease, rehabilitation, basic and applied research, teaching, and organization and delivery of health services. Currently, there is an especially strong need for physicians who practice primary care which is normally defined as general pediatrics, general internal medicine, and family practice. The medical curriculum is four years in length, followed by residency training for a minimum of three years, depending on the area of specialization. The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is required of all applicants.

Osteopathic Medicine

The osteopathic physician (D.O.) is trained and licensed to give complete medical care to patients, including promotion of health, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease, rehabilitation, and organization and delivery of health services. The training of the osteopathic physician is based on the philosophy that the body is a single unit, where structure and function are interrelated, with the musculoskeletal system playing a significant role in health and disease. The D.O. and M.D. earn equivalent degrees; they are both COMPLETE physicians. As with M.D.s, D.O.s attend medical school for four years, with one year of internship and a minimum of two years of residency training, depending on the specialty. The MCAT is required of all applicants.

With the number of D.O.s increasing 50 percent in the last decade, osteopathic medicine has become one of the fastest growing health professions in the U.S. Further, to meet the growing demand for D.O.s--who now total more than 38,000 and who treat more than 35 million Americans--the number of colleges of osteopathic medicine has increased from five to 17 within the last 20 years. The colleges enroll about 8,100 medical students, of whom 35 percent are women.

Podiatric Medicine

The Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) specializes in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases and disorders affecting the foot and lower extremities. With the rapid growth in the concern for physical fitness through jogging, running and hiking, the demand for podiatric medical services has grown rapidly. Podiatrists serve a vital role as part of the health care team, caring for disabilities of the foot and ankle. Podiatrists work in private practice, as part of a hospital staff, in orthopedic clinics, and in connection with sports training facilities. Podiatry school is four years in length, followed by a one to three year residency program. The MCAT is required of all applicants.


Dentistry (D.D.S. or D.M.D.) is a medical profession which has changed dramatically in recent decades, and which has expanded to match the evolving dental technologies, in addition to the traditional drilling and filling of teeth. Dentistry is the branch of the healing arts and sciences devoted to maintaining the health of the teeth, gums, and other hard and soft tissues of the oral cavity. The dentist is a scientist dedicated to the highest standards of health through the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of all oral diseases and conditions. Dental school takes four years to complete, with optional residencies in specialty areas of dentistry. The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is required of all applicants.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists help people with mental, physical or social disabilities to independently carry out every day tasks or occupations. They work with children and adults of all ages, whose difficulties may have been presence since birth, or the result of an accident, illness, aging or lifestyle. Occupational therapists create individual treatment programs to help people carry out their daily tasks and to do so with more confidence and independence. They may suggest changes to the person's environment, whether that be at home, work or school, and may introduce the use of equipment which will help with some activities. Therapists review the treatments periodically, evaluate progress and make changes to the treatment as needed.


Doctors of Optometry (O.D.) provide the major portion of primary vision care in the United States. Optometrists are health care professionals who are specifically educated, clinically trained, and licensed to examine the eyes, diagnose problems, and provide treatment. They examine the eyes for the presence of vision problems, eye diseases, and other abnormalities. The Doctor of Optometry requires four years of study. The Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) is required of all applicants.

Veterinary Medicine

Veterinarians (D.V.M.) are doctors and scientists who use their medical knowledge and skills to prevent and treat animal diseases. These professional work closely with humans in this endeavor whether she/he is a rancher, farmer, or pet owner. Veterinarians also play significant roles in the conservation of livestock, promotion of public health (both animal and human) , and in the advancement of medical knowledge through research. Four years of veterinary school are required to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.). Most schools of veterinary medicine will accept with the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT) or the graduate record examination (GRE).


Pharmacists (Pharm.D.) are primary dispensers of medicines and health supplies. They serve as a prime source of information on health topics. They are specialists in the science of drugs including their composition, chemical and physical properties, manufacture and use, purity and strength. Pharmacists may work in community practice, hospital pharmacies, federal programs, sales and marketing, or research and development. The Doctor of Pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.) takes four years of study in pharmacy school and students must take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) at least one year before planning to enter pharmacy school.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists help patients suffering from injury or disease to restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities. In addition, they promote patients' overall fitness and health. Physical therapists work with health-care teams that include physicians, occupational therapists, and psychologists. They are employed by hospitals, nursing homes, or rehabilitation centers. Physical therapists test each patient and design individual programs of treatment. They may use massage to improve muscle condition; apply ice to reduce swelling or heat to relieve pain; and utilize therapeutic equipment, such as whirlpool baths, ultrasonic machines, and ultraviolet and infrared lamps. They teach patients how to do exercises with such equipment as pulleys and weights, stationary bicycles, and parallel bars. They also teach patients and their families how to use and care for wheelchairs, braces, canes and crutches, and artificial limbs.

Chiropractic Medicine

Chiropractic (D.C.) medicine is a health care science and healing art that emphasizes the relationship between body structure (primarily the spine) and function (primarily the nervous system) of the human body. The chiropractic approach strengthens the inherent recuperative powers of the human body and does not employ the use of surgery or drugs. The chiropractic curriculum is four years and most applicants earn a bachelor's degree before enrolling.

Physician Assistant

Physician Assistants (P.A.) are trained personnel who provide patient services under the supervision and direction of a licensed physician (D.O. or M.D.). Their duties typically include obtaining patient histories, performing physicals, performing some diagnostic and therapeutic functions, and other duties as needed by the physician. Some P.A.s may assist in surgery and in treating minor wounds. The job market for P.A.s in the next twenty years is expected to be outstanding, as there is a current shortage of P.A.s. Physician Assistant training programs are generally two years in length, and a growing number of applicants have completed (and some programs require a bachelor's degree and confer advanced degrees) bachelors degrees prior to entering P.A. school.