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Careers in Health Care

There are many career options within the health professions. Several of these are listed below with a short description of the profession, the educational requirements, and links to professional societies and/or schools offering these programs.

Careers in Health Care

Allopathic Medicine

This is your standard medical doctor (MD), which requires 4 years of medical school plus at least 3 years of residency training following medical school. There are 2 programs of particular interest to Idaho residents: the WWAMI program which provides for 18 Idaho students to attend University of Washington School of Medicine and a program with University of Utah, which provides 8 seats for Idaho residents.

Chiropractic Medicine

Becoming a chiropractor requires 4 years of chiropractic school (after at least 2 years of preparation at an undergraduate institution, i.e. no Bachelor’s degree required) to receive a D.C. degree.

Clinical Laboratory Science (Formerly Known as Medical Technology)

Most clinical lab scientists/med techs work in hospital labs performing clinical tests on blood and other body fluids. Other career paths include forensics, DNA analysis, and veterinary clinical medicine. We have a cooperative program with ISU (Cooperative program in CLS).

Dental Hygiene

A dental hygenist performs dental prophylactic treatment and provides education for preventive dental care. S/he performs duties such as charting of tooth decay, application of fluoride and sealants, and dental x-rays. This career requires an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree.


Becoming a dentist requires 4 years of dental school; some dentists do post-graduate training in endodontics, orthodontics, etc. For Idaho residents, see information about the IDEP program.


The requirements vary considerably depending on the type of nursing degree, previous education, etc. C of I has a cooperative program with ISU resulting in a BSN degree (Cooperative Program in Nursing). There are a few direct entry Master’s programs.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists (OT) help people who have become unable to perform some of their everyday functions (“occupations”) by adapting the environment, tasks, or techniques to fit the patient’s new physical/mental capacities. OTs work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, schools, community mental health settings, and developmental centers. This is a master’s level program, which requires a bachelor’s degree before entering. The pre-requisite courses include science courses (not as many as most other health professions) as well as courses in psychology, sociology, etc.


Optometrists examine the internal and external structure of the eyes to diagnose eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts and retinal disorders: systemic diseases like hypertension and diabetes; and vision conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia. Optometrists also do testing to determine the patient’s ability to focus and coordinate the eyes, and to judge depth and see color accurately. (From ASCO brochure) The doctor of Optometry (O.D.) takes 4 years to complete. Idaho students may be able to apply through the WICHE program.

Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)

An osteopathic physician fills basically the same role as an allopathic physician. The training (4 years medical school plus residency) and pre-requisites are also very similar. The major difference in both training and practice is the focus on a holistic approach that includes a system of therapy known as osteopathic manipulative medicine. This might be a good option for students who are interested in a “holistic” approach to medicine. In general, the admissions standards are slightly lower than allopathic schools, so osteopathic schools may be a good option for students with slightly lower MCAT scores as well.


Pharmacist responsibilities include a range of care for patients, from dispensing medications to monitoring patient health and progress to maximize their response to the medication. Pharmacists also educate consumers and patients on the use of prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, and advise physicians, nurses, and other health professionals on drug decisions. They ensure drug purity and strength and make sure that drugs do not interact in a harmful way. In general, pharmacy programs require at least 2 years of undergraduate preparation and 4 years of pharmacy education. The most common type of degree is now a doctorate in Pharmacy (PharmD.).  The College of Idaho has a cooperative program in Pharmacy with ISU.  Please see the details of this program in the current College of Idaho catalog (Cooperative program in Pharmacy).

Physical Therapy

The physical therapist (PT) provides services aimed at preventing the onset and/or slowing the progression of conditions resulting from injury, disease, and other causes. Examples of conditions treated by PTs include back and neck injuries, sprains/strains and fractures, arthritis, burns, amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, birth defects such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida, injuries related to work and sports, and others. Most programs have converted to Doctor of Physical Therapy programs, replacing the Masters of Physical Therapy programs. Although it may vary between schools, these programs are generally about 3 years in length (following a Bachelor’s degree).

Physician Assistant

Physician assistants (PA) are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and in most states can write prescriptions. PA programs are generally two years in length (following a Bachelor’s degree); the first year is usually in the classroom, while the second year is almost entirely clinical. Some PA programs lead to a Master’s degree, while others do not lead to a degree.

Veterinary Medicine

Veterinary Medicine programs leading to the DVM degree are 4 years in length (following a Bachelor’s degree). The first 2 years are generally in the classroom while the second 2 years are largely clinical. Oftentimes, students have the ability to specialize by choosing appropriate clinical blocks in the 4th year. In addition to careers in private practice, there are also opportunities in government agencies, such as the US Dept. of Agriculture, as well as research opportunities. Check on requirements early in your college career as vet schools have some very specific pre-requisites and requirements for practical experience with animals. The state of Idaho has an agreement with Washington State University—this provides Idaho students the opportunity to attend vet school while paying “in-state” tuition. Other states without Vet schools may participate in the WICHE program, which allows students to apply in a special pool of out-of-state applicants at participating vet schools and pay “in-state” tuition.