Medical Degrees

Medical careers are dedicated to the delivery of health care and those related services pertaining to the identification, evaluation, and prevention of illness and disease; dietary and nutrition services; and rehabilitation and management of health systems. Medical careers are one of the most rapidly growing areas of employment today. The job growth in this area is forecasted to boom over the years and decades to come.

For those contemplating medical careers, there are various degree options you can undertake on your journey. Degree-granting institutions include technical colleges, career colleges, community colleges, junior colleges, traditional four-year colleges and universities, and professional or graduate schools. Medical degrees can be completed in two to eight years, although as of late some can be completed in six- to nine-month time frames. The majority of degree programs in medical careers require four years or less of schooling. Some degree programs allow a person to get their education over the internet, such as online nursing schools. (Read more here.) Degree programs typically lead to the granting of associate's, bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees. An individual degree or combinations of these degrees are required depending on the medical career field chosen. The following is a discussion of degree programs including time required, educational requirements, types of each respective degree available, and benefits.

Associate's Degree

What is an associate's degree? An associate's degree is an undergraduate academic degree typically awarded by technical colleges, career colleges, community colleges, or junior colleges. The course of study most often requires two years to complete, which usually represents the completion of sixty credit hours. Many people refer to an associate's degree as a two-year degree. Educational requirements typically include general education courses, core courses related to one's major, and elective courses. The types of associate's degrees available include Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.), Associate of Science (A.S.), and Associate of Occupational Studies (A.O.S.).

The reasons to pursue an associate's degree in your path to medical careers vary and should be taken into account when making your ultimate decision to pursue a medical career. Pursuing an associate's degree is definitely an inexpensive way to achieve higher education in the medical field. Some students wish to decrease educational debt by completing their degrees in two years. Others achieve this goal by transferring to more expensive four-year universities or colleges after obtaining associate's degrees from less expensive career or community colleges. Do you need to improve or bolster your grades before application to a traditional four-year college or university? Some students pursue associate's degrees to accomplish this.

Bachelor's Degree

What is a bachelor's degree? A bachelor's degree is an undergraduate academic degree and is typically awarded by traditional colleges and universities. The course of study usually requires four years to complete, which translates into approximately one hundred twenty to one hundred eighty credit hours. Educational requirements typically include general education courses, core courses related to one's major, and elective courses. The most commonly awarded bachelor's degrees are the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and the Bachelor of Science (B.S.). Those receiving a B.A. degree are more inclined to pursue careers in arts and humanities, while those receiving a B.S. degree are more inclined to pursue the sciences.

The reasons to pursue a bachelor's degree are varied. Some cite expansion of career opportunities. The skills needed to earn a bachelor's degree, such as superior communication, critical thinking, and time management, are highly sought after in the working world. Other students hope for increased earning potential. The lifetime earning potential of those earning bachelor's degrees is estimated at $2.1 million versus $1.6 million for those earning associate's degrees and $1.2 million for those earning high school diplomas. Still others want to prepare for professional or graduate schools. Medicine, dentistry, and nursing are a short list of the medical careers pursued after receiving a bachelor's degree.

Master's Degree

What is a master's degree? A master's degree is a type of graduate academic degree typically earned after the completion of a bachelor's degree (B.A. or B.S.). The degree is most often granted by a graduate or professional school. The course of study usually requires one to three years to complete, depending upon the discipline. In addition to the required coursework, candidates usually have to pass comprehensive exams and/or complete a thesis, also called a dissertation. A thesis, or dissertation, is a document presenting original research and is submitted by a candidate vying for a master's degree. In essence, it is a statement supported by arguments. The most commonly awarded master's degrees are the Master of Arts (M.A.) and the Master of Science (M.S.). There are also some discipline-specific master's degrees such as Master of Social Work (M.S.W.), Master of Education (M.Ed.), Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.), and Master of Fine Art (M.F.A.).

Those in medical careers with master's degrees cite many reasons for extending their educations. Some look for the economic benefits of advancing their educations. Others are content having gained specialized knowledge and expertise in their particular fields of study, which translates into greater job satisfaction. Regardless of the reason, there are some medical careers that require this coveted degree.

Doctoral Degree

What is a doctoral degree? A doctoral is an academic or professional degree and represents the highest degree that can be obtained in your chosen field. The doctoral degree is typically granted by a professional or graduate school. The course of study typically takes four years to complete beyond the bachelor's degree level. In addition to the required course work, candidates typically have to pass licensing exams, complete a thesis, and/or complete internships, externships, or residencies. Doctoral degrees are available in most disciplines, but the most commonly awarded doctorate degrees are the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), and the Juris Doctorate (J.D.).

In addition to intellectual fulfillment, those obtaining doctoral degrees enjoy higher pay. They routinely hold positions teaching in higher education as professors and researchers. The expertise of these individuals is highly sought after in areas such as consulting, research, medicine, and teaching.

As you can see, there are a wide range of medical degrees to contemplate when considering your choice of medical careers. Each degree varies in time to completion, educational requirements, classifications of degrees, and reasons to pursue. All are worthwhile to consider on your journey to a medical career, and the above discussion hopefully provides a framework to make an informed decision.

Last Updated: 05/21/2014