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Six in-demand jobs in the health sciences

Health care is booming. As the country’s population gets older, health professions are adding millions of jobs. And while physicians are in demand, much of that growth comes from specialists and other support staff.

young woman with dark hair wearing a white lab coat and handling medical samples and test tubesOverall, health care jobs are expected to grow by 15% through 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. When you graduate from a pre-med program, you’ll be prepared to enter this field, either after completing more training or even starting a job right out of college. These are some of the fastest growing or most popular options you might consider: 

Nurse practitioner. Every year, Americans make more than 1 billion visits to nurse practitioners — and that number is only growing. In places where it’s hard to find a primary care physician, such as rural areas, nurse practitioners can fill the void. Like physicians, nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat a wide range of diseases. While they share many responsibilities, in general, nurse practitioners focus more on disease prevention and overall wellness than physicians. 

  • Median pay: $115,800/year 
  • Job outlook: + 45% 

Physician assistant. You’ll find physician assistants pretty much everywhere you find physicians. In fact, as a PA, you’ll handle many of the same tasks: Examining patients, diagnosing illnesses, writing prescriptions and developing treatment plans. (Quick note: it’s physician assistant, not physician’s assistant. While you’ll work under the supervision of a physician, as a PA, you’re a primary care provider, not an aide.) While physicians have deeper knowledge of their specialty than a PA, PAs need less training. You’ll also have fewer on-call duties, and perhaps more regular hours. To become a PA, you’ll need a graduate degree and a state license. 

  • Median pay: $112,260/year 
  • Job outlook: + 31% 

Physical/occupational therapist. When you’re hurt, or if you have an illness or disability, it can be hard to live the life you want. Physical and occupational therapists help patients recover abilities they may have lost through illness or injury, or build skills to live independently. While physical therapists help individuals relieve pain and improve movement, using exercises and training, occupational therapists help people develop plans to perform everyday tasks and activities. While you’ll need a master’s or even a doctorate degree for these jobs, you could become a PT or OT assistant with less training—and those careers are growing even more rapidly. 

  • Median pay: $89,440/year (physical therapist), $84,950/year (occupational therapist) 
  • Job outlook: + 16-18% 

Public health. In the era of COVID-19, it’s clearer than ever that public health experts are vital to community wellbeing. In this field, you’ll find that public health covers a broad spectrum of careers: You may study how diseases affect communities (epidemiology), do hard-core data analysis on health patterns (biostatistics), help establish government policies that promote wellness, or work at the community level to educate people about healthy habits. 

Some of these jobs are available with a bachelor’s degree, and let you make a real difference in the lives of the people you work with. Community health workers, for instance, often work in underserved communities to promote wellness; demand for these health professionals is expected to increase 13% through 2029. 

  • Median pay: $100,980/year (medical & health services manager), $70,990/year (epidemiologist), $46,910/year (health educators & community health workers)
  • Job outlook: + 5-32% 

Pharmacist. Pharmacists play a critical role ensuring patients use medications safely and effectively. After all, pharmacists aren’t just dispensing pills; they’re a critical link between physician and patient, helping them understand the medications they’re taking, how to manage chronic diseases and even how to cover the costs of the medication they take. This is one of the best-paying jobs in the health care industry. 

  • Median pay: $128,090/year 
  • Job outlook: – 3%  

Eye care. Optometrists provide routine eye care, such as prescribing glasses and caring for conditions such as glaucoma. Ophthalmologists go farther: They can perform surgery and tend to a wide array of other diseases. Both require education beyond college — 4 years for optometrists, and medical school for ophthalmologists. But as people get older, they tend to need more eye care, and our nation’s aging population means we’ll need more eye care professionals in the years to come. 

  • Median pay: $115,250/year (optometrist), $203,450 (ophthalmologist) 
  • Job outlook: + 4% 

Pursue a health sciences career at The University of Tulsa 

The pre-med program at TU is ideal for students interested in careers in medicine and veterinary medicine, dentistry, optometry, nursing and other fields. Small class sizes, the opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate and hands-on faculty guidance as you select courses are highlights of our program that help to set you up as an undergraduate for careers in the health sciences. 

What are pre-med and pre-health professions?

So, you want to be a physician.  

Or a nurse. Or an epidemiologist. Or a veterinarian. Or a physical therapist. 

You can get into these careers, and many others, through the pre-health professions program at the University of Tulsa. 

What can I do with a pre-med degree? 

Now is an ideal time to consider a health care career. Employment in health care-related professions is expected to grow by 15% through 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

close-up shot of three people in hospital scrubs with arms crossedAnd while “physician” may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a medical career and a pre-med program, there’s a lot more to health care than being a doctor. If you love working with patients, but aren’t up for four years of med school on top of four years of college (and then residency to boot), you can pursue dozens of avenues that can be just as fulfilling. 

As a student on a pre-health track, your pre-health advisor will work with you to ensure you’re taking the classes you need to reach whatever career you’re interested in. With your degree, you can go on to be a pharmacist, physician assistant, public health worker, dentist, optometrist or many more different health professions. 

Before we go on, let’s clear one thing up: If “doctor” is your dream job, you may be wondering about getting a pre-med major. But at most colleges, there’s no such thing. In fact, whether you want to be a doctor or go into another health profession, you can major in whatever you want as long as you take all the prerequisite courses you need to qualify. Because so many of those courses are science-related, students on a pre-health track often find science degrees attractive. 

If you wanted, though, you could major in accounting or chemical engineering and apply to med school. You simply need to work with your advisors to ensure you meet your degree requirements and the prerequisites for admission to your target health professions school. 

As part of the pre-med program, we’ll start advising you in your freshman year about what courses you’ll need to take. If you do want to go to medical school, our health professions committee will look at your grades to give you an idea whether you’re likely to be a good candidate. Medical schools are notoriously selective; fortunately for you, TU students have had a lot of success getting in. On average, 70% of TU students who apply to med school are accepted. 

A pre-health degree gives you a wide array of options. Some require further education; for some, you can find job opportunities right out of college.  

If you’re on a pre-health track at TU, we recommend you take: 

  • One year of chemistry 
  • One year of organic chemistry 
  • One year of physics 
  • One year of biology (Intro to Molecular and Cellular Biology, then Introduction to Organismal and Evolutionary Biology) 

If med school is your goal, you should also take classes in biochemistry, psychology and sociology; if you’re headed to a professional school, a class in genetics may also be required. Certain programs need a year of calculus. Ethics and sociology classes may also be a good idea. 

We know that’s a lot. Yet, in this competitive field, you may want to go even further. Admissions committees love to see students who really got into their work, either by taking as many relevant classes as possible, or by working on a student research project.  

Student research at TU 

At TU, you’ll get the chance to do real, meaningful work in the lab. Undergraduate research is a hallmark of our program. In the past, TU students have won Goldwater and National Science Foundation scholarships and awards. And the experience has served countless students who have gone on to grad schools and beyond. 

Some of these opportunities include: 

Experiences like these do more than round out a résumé. They lead to even bigger opportunities down the road, and give you a head start on finding the health science career that fits your goals.