It is one of the fastest growing fields for employment. For those who can take on the significant amount of coursework over years of study, a career in the medical industry can be accomplished with as little as two years and up to 10 or a dozen years of higher education. The health care field offers many types of employment options, from technical to administrative for highly trained medical professionals.

Degrees related to the medical field, regardless of the position, begin at the associate and bachelor level and can go on to master’s and doctoral degrees.

General Definition of a Medical Degree

It takes a lot to become a practicing physician. There are many medical degree options for those who are considering a career in the medical field.

A two-year associate degree can put a graduate in a lucrative and rewarding medical field position. This can set a solid foundation for the person to then go on to a four-year degree or complete certifications to further their medical career in other areas.

Medical degrees in college vary as much as the jobs that are available to someone who would like to work in this rewarding and expanding field. From a behind the scenes position in information technology to a front-line emergency room physician or family practitioner, there is an abundance of employment opportunities in the medical field.

What Are Medical Programs?

A program is the course of study that a student will take to earn a degree. A student doesn’t have to take all of the classes in a program to graduate, just those that are centered around their area of study. All medical specialties offer programs to train candidates, including:

  • Technician and technologist
  • Medical and dental assisting
  • Health information management
  • Occupational, speech and specialized therapy
  • Physician, pharmacist, optometrist, nurse, advanced practice nurse and other practitioners
  • Laboratory and research-oriented technician and scientist
  • Dual-degrees

Degree fields include:

  • Allied health care
  • Therapy and pathology
  • Nursing
  • Radiology
  • Specialty medicine
  • Health informatics
  • Emergency medical services
  • Diagnostic medicine
  • Pharmaceutical science

Medical Degrees and Salaries

The salary considerations for medical professionals are as diverse as the type of jobs that are available. Much of it depends on the amount of schooling the student has completed as well as the area of expertise.

Generally, salaries for graduates with an associate medical degree can be in the low five figures to start. Doctoral degrees and pharmacists tend to make more as those positions are much more specialized.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical students can expect to approximately make a median salary of:

  • Pharmacists: $100,000
  • Physician Assistant: $80,000
  • Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists: $55,000
  • Dietitians and Nutritionists: $53,230
  • Radiation Therapists: $78,000
  • Respiratory Therapists: $54,000
  • Speech-Language Pathologists: $65,000

  • Nurse with Associate Degree: $60,000

  • Audiologist: $65,000
  • Occupational Health and Safety Specialists: $64,000
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographers: $63,640

Tips for Medical Students

A medical degree can take a significant amount of personal time, from the two-year associate to a four-year or master’s degree program. Be prepared to focus on your studies and know what needs to be accomplished before signing up to ensure you can finish the program.

A good network of support can help a student juggle work, school and family obligations.

List of Medical Degrees

There are a number of degrees to pursue in the health care field. Before choosing a path, students should consider what they hope to accomplish within the area of study, what type of career they wish to pursue and how they plan to accomplish those goals.

Doctor of Medicine Degrees: One of the most conventional types of medical degrees available to students is the Doctor of Medicine. It is one of the highest levels of degrees for a student to pursue in their medical college career. The abbreviation for Doctor of Medicine is M.D.

Many students pursue this degree while they are studying to obtain another graduate level medical degree. A minimum of three years of clinical training and up to eight years is needed in order to complete the medical degree and begin to officially practice.

Master’s Degree in Medical Sciences: This is an ideal educational path for students who are looking to strengthen their academic credentials in preparation for admission to a professional medical school.

Most students pursue this degree to prepare for a doctoral degree program or to work in the health care field in a position that has a focus on medical research. A Master of Medical Science program will promote the professional as well as personal development of each student as they work the class load. A well-rounded program should provide the student with the skills that are needed to succeed through the intense course and lab work.

Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine: A D.O. degree focuses on the whole body and mind. This means that the student will have a broader area of study. The road to this degree includes endocrine, renal, reproductive, gastrointestinal systems and cardiopulmonary as well as the musculoskeletal system and neurological system. A graduate who has earned a Doctor of Osteopathic degree can work in many branches of medicine, such as family medicine, pediatrics and general internal medicine.

Master’s Degree in Medical Informatics: The primary focus for this degree is on the technology side. The graduate uses the latest information technology and business data as it can relate to the health care field. Students who have a calling to enter the medical field to help others and a penchant for programming can excel in this expanding employment area.

Medical Associate’s Degrees: Medical office practices and administrative duties are important to the smooth running of a small family practitioner business or a large hospital. A graduate with a medical associate’s degree will have excellent record-keeping skills and usually will have some training in basic technical knowledge to support or perform routine clinical laboratory procedures if needed.

Medical Assisting: With a two-year associate degree in medicine, a graduate can work as a medical receptionist, assistant or go on to pursue an entry-level medical position while continuing their education. A degree program will teach:

  • Billing
  • Medical coding
  • Appointment scheduling
  • Record-keeping related to HIPPA

Optionally, a program may teach basic in-office procedures, such as taking vitals, electrocardiography and phlebotomy. The program should also teach rules and regulations that govern the medical field, including Occupational Safety (OSHA) and Health Administration and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

Medical Office Administration Degree: An associate degree that focuses on the clerical and other administrative needs of a hospital or clinic. This type of position emphasizes the complicated record-keeping and organization needed for a medical facility to run smoothly. It doesn’t cover the added medical study that allows the student to later work with patients in a medical capacity.

Medical office administration graduates must be adept at computer programs and learn medical terminology, transcription and legal principles related to the health care industry.

Health Information Management: After receiving an associate degree in health information management, you can go into the lucrative area of health information. This position involves all aspects of a patient’s medical records and important medical information.

The position includes the collection of private health information, its storage and retrieval systems. The intricate coding systems that a heath information technician will use are essential in keeping the patient’s information secure.

Medical Bachelor’s Degrees

Medical degree programs at the bachelor level move into more laboratory course work so that students can learn hands-on experience working with equipment in medical facilities of any size. An undergrad perusing a bachelor’s degree in medicine can use the program to go on to graduate programs or begin a job in the medical field immediately upon graduation.

Medical Technology: This ever-expanding field has a solid growth rate according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A good four-year medical program will give the student in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience with complex laboratory instruments. It covers many subjects, from microbiology to hematology, serology and immunology. Fresh graduates can be employed as a medical technologist or medical laboratory scientist as they pursue further education or certification in the field.

Diagnostic Medical Sonography: The non-invasive imaging of internal bones, organs and structures using high frequency sound waves can diagnose medical ailments and can diagnose disease in the abdominal, cardiovascular and gynecologic areas. Internships or some sort of work experience is typically required to earn the diploma and correctly complete and read accurate sonographic images.

Nursing: This field is growing in numbers and importance. Nurses provide support for the physician as well as the patient. A bachelor’s degree in this emphasis can provide the student with more experience in the areas of critical thinking, management and personnel skills and communication. Clinical and extensive hands-on experience is available in many bachelor degree programs for those who have already earned an RN degree.

Graduate Medical Degrees

Designed to provide specialized training and further prepare a student for employment, a graduate degree program advances an undergraduate’s career opportunities in a specific field. Students with this type of degree can go on to careers in research, education or clinical care as a full-fledged doctor or physician.

Master’s Degree in Medical Sciences: This is a relatively wide field for a dedicated medical professional to dive into. Students intensely study subjects such as:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Cell biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Genetics
  • Neuroscience

Master’s degree programs are typically taken in preparation for doctoral degree programs or to prepare a student for a career that is research-oriented.

Master’s Degree in Medical Informatics: This relatively new field applies instruction in information technology. Aside from an expansion from the computing skills the student will have learned in an associate or bachelor’s degree program, a master’s in MI can open up opportunities in quite a few areas for medical professionals with undergraduate degrees. These include:

  • Electronic Health Records Development
  • Web Applications
  • Database Systems

Doctor of Medicine: Often considered the highest level of medical degrees, an M.D. is a traditional path to becoming a family practitioner or hospital physician. The degree generally takes four years to complete. The first two years typically center around the in-depth study of the student’s focus, including:

  • Gross anatomy
  • Advanced Medical Areas
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Organ Systems

The last two years of education are about applying the learned knowledge to real-world clinical experiences. An M.D. must take a medical licensing examination before they can practice as well as many more years of internships or residencies to acquire hands-on experience in clinical settings.

An M.D. can also be combined with another graduate program to further fine-tune a student’s education and tailor occupational goals, such as Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Sciences or Master of Public Health.

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About the Author

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business trends and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.