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11 Pre-health programs that can launch your medical career

The College of St. Scholastica By  The College of St. Scholastica  |  @StScholastica  | 

pre-health-programs

You're career-minded and driven, so it's no surprise that you're drawn to the healthcare industry. It's a fascinating and evolving sector — one that's projected to grow much faster than average, thanks to an aging population and growing healthcare demands. Plus, helping patients in such a direct and impactful way provides unparalleled satisfaction rarely seen in other industries.

Many careers in healthcare require post-graduate education, asking for candidates with a master's or doctorate degree at minimum. But the work starts much sooner than that — the critical foundation is laid during your undergraduate academic career. That's where pre-health professional programs come into play. These programs are career-specific and are designed to guide students as they journey toward achieving their goals and living out their aspirations.

If you're scoping out pre-health programs, look no further. The College of St. Scholastica (CSS) is home to a robust variety for all kinds of healthcare careers. Join us as we dive into the particulars of how these 11 programs can lead to successful careers and learn if one of these paths could be the right fit for you.

What is a pre-health program?

Pre-health programs can serve as a critical foundation to your education. CSS prides itself on offering pre-health programs that provide a strong science foundation and prepare students to excel in the entrance exams for their chosen fields. 

One distinction students should note is that a pre-health professional program is not a major. Rather, it is an area of focus that allows students to prepare for the post-graduate health programs they've set their sights on after earning their undergraduate degrees.

Consider the following example: If you want to become a dentist, you'd research various dental programs and learn the prerequisites required to enter dental school. Working closely with your advisor at CSS, you'd lay out each year of your collegiate sequence to meet all the undergraduate course requirements not only for your major, but for entrance into dental school as well, explains Dr. Bruce Loppnow, dean of the School of Health Sciences at CSS.

When it comes to career preparation, CSS has plenty of offerings for undergraduate students. Take a look at the array of pre-health professional programs for students at CSS.

11 pre-health programs for undergraduate students like you

1. Pre-athletic training

"Athletic training focuses on the whole person, working to keep people well to avoid injury. Or, if they are injured, athletic trainers assist them through a safe recovery," Dr. Loppnow explains. "Athletic trainers don't just work with athletes — they work with all kinds of active individuals of all age ranges and an entire spectrum of professions."

And if you're interested in an athletic training career, you'll be happy to hear this: They're needed. Athletic training jobs are projected to grow more than three times the average rate of growth for all occupations nationwide.

Students interested in pre-athletic training at CSS have two options. They can choose a major, such as exercise physiology, and go through the pre-health route as they earn their undergraduate degree in the standard four years. Alternately, they can choose the M.S. in 5 Option, which paves the way for students to obtain their bachelor's and master's degrees in five years. This accelerated track allows highly motivated students to begin their graduate degree after their junior year.  

2. Pre-chiropractic

Chiropractors help patients experiencing health problems related to their nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons. They focus on a patient's overall health and may use techniques such as massage therapy and spinal adjustments to treat their patients. Demand for chiropractors is growing at a faster than average rate of 12 percent through 2026.

The pre-chiropractic track at CSS supports undergraduates' goals, helping them outline the science courses that are critical for a chiropractic career. Advisors help pre-chiropractic students chart their courses and begin preparations for the application process to chiropractic programs.

3. Pre-dentistry

Dentists diagnose and treat medical conditions related to the teeth, gums and mouth in patients of all ages. It's also true that the dental profession is growing in demand at a rate much faster than average.

Undergraduate students who are serious about pursuing dentistry should consider the pre-dentistry track to gain a solid academic foundation of the sciences through their core courses. They'll also work with advisors to meet the prerequisites needed to take the Dental Admission Test, which is required to gain acceptance to dental school after the completion of their bachelor's degree.

4. Pre-medicine premium track

Careers in medicine are challenging, rigorous and indisputably important, which is why it's so troubling that the U.S. is facing a significant physician shortage in the coming years. Many are looking to step up to the plate to pursue a career in medicine, filling the shortage while helping patients of all backgrounds and from walks of life.

CSS offers a premium pre-med program for students who are serious about becoming doctors. This program offers a heightened focus on pre-med advisement, including opportunities for research, shadowing, clinical experience and mentoring with current medical students. The pre-med program also advises students on the application process to medical schools, including personal statement support and preparation for the interview process.

5. Pre-occupational therapy

Occupational therapists treat patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities, helping them to overcome injury, illness or disability. They may help patients regain skills, such as teaching a stroke survivor how to dress themselves. Occupational therapy is one of the fastest growing healthcare professions, with jobs projected to grow 24 percent by 2026. That's more than three times the average rate of growth in the U.S.

CSS' Pre-OT program prepares undergraduate students for an impactful career in occupational therapy. Pre-OT students are encouraged to speak with graduate students in CSS' occupational therapy master's program to get a sense of what it takes to excel in the field and learn what it takes to be successful, Dr. Loppnow says. The program also boasts features like St. Scholastica's Student Occupational Therapy Association, which allows undergraduates to network with fellow pre-OT students.

6. Pre-optometry

Optometrists are doctors who work with the eyes and the visual system. They help treat vision problems and diseases of the eye in their patients. You may have seen an optometrist for eye exams to get glasses or contacts. This specialty of medicine is another that's projected to grow much faster than average in the coming years.

If you have a clear vision for your desired career path, the pre-optometry track at CSS can help you to work toward your goal. Working closely with your advisor, you'll gain a strong foundation in the core life and physical science courses. With the exclusivity of medical school admissions, you'll be well-prepared to competitively compete and excel in the applications process following your undergraduate academic career.

7. Pre-pharmacy

Pharmacists dispense prescription medications to patients, ensuring they won't result in any negative interactions. They educate patients on safe usage and advise them on side effects and general health inquiries. Pharmacists must have a doctor of pharmacy degree plus a license in order to practice.

In order to gain acceptance into a pharmaceutical program, students must be adequately prepared in the sciences. CSS' pre-pharmacy program helps students identify the courses they'll need to become well-rounded and well-prepared applicants to competitive pharmacy programs, all through the guidance of their own advisor.

"Within our faculty advising model, students work directly with faculty in their undergraduate programs to develop a range of skills in their core courses. They can tailor their learning to professional and personal interests," Dr. Loppnow explains.

8. Pre-physical therapy

The outlook is bright for physical therapists — the occupation is projected to grow 28 percent through 2026, which is four times the average rate of growth. Physical therapists help patients experiencing illness or injury improve their movements and manage their pain. They develop individualized plans for their patients and use exercises and hands-on therapy to help them gain mobility.

With the support of the Pre-Physical Therapy program at CSS, you'll ensure you meet the prerequisites to apply to post-graduate physical therapy programs as a competitive candidate. Pre-PT students are also encouraged to join CSS' PT Club, which allows them to network with their peers, along with students and faculty in the DPT program. Students get together to discuss shared interests and help each other along their shared path to a physical therapy career, Dr. Loppnow divulges.

9. Pre-physician assistant

Physician assistants practice medicine alongside physicians and other healthcare workers. Like doctors, they can examine, diagnose and prescribe medications to patients. Demand is great for physician assistants — they're projected to grow more than five times the average rate of growth in the coming years.

Students seeking a physician assistant career need a rigorous undergraduate experience to prepare them for the required master's programs. The Pre-PA program at CSS can guide aspirational students on their way, helping them to identify the science courses and other prerequisites they'll need to form a strong foundation and stand out competitively. CSS is also home to a Physician Assistant Club, which allows Pre-PA students to network with fellow undergraduate students.

10. Pre-podiatry

Podiatrists are medical doctors that care for patients' feet, ankles and lower legs. This profession provides both medical and surgical care and is growing at a faster than average rate. Podiatrists require a doctoral degree, residency and license to practice. Most work in a clinical setting.

In order to be a competitive applicant to medical schools, aspiring podiatrists need a strong academic foundation at the undergraduate level. The Pre-Podiatry track at CSS can help these career hopefuls identify the academic prerequisites they'll need for medical school and can assist in building out their applications with supplemental experiences for a competitive edge at selective medical schools.

11. Pre-veterinary

Veterinarians care for the health of pets, livestock and other animals. They examine animals, perform surgeries and test for disease on an array of animal patients. Demand for this profession is projected to grow much faster than average in the coming years.

For students serious about a veterinary career, the Pre-Vet track at CSS can help prepare them for its rigor and selectivity. Because veterinary programs seek candidates with strong science backgrounds, a pre-vet program can help students strategically plan their course structure to directly apply to veterinary school and beyond.

Discover your pre-health passion

At the end of the day, a pre-health program can be what defines the success of aspiring healthcare pros. "The focus of any of these pre-health programs is the solid core courses that you get at the undergraduate level," Dr. Loppnow explains. "Whatever health profession you're interested in, you'll need a solid base of life sciences and physical sciences, which you'll find in our range of programs."

A pre-health program can ensure your education aligns with your desired career outcomes from the very start. And it could be the advantage you need to stand out from the sea of applicants once you begin the process of pursuing your post-graduate education.

Learn more about the robust array of pre-health programs at CSS by visiting our Graduate and Pre-Professional Training page.  

The College of St. Scholastica


The College of St. Scholastica is an independent private Catholic Benedictine college with locations across Minnesota, in addition to many high-quality programs available online and through convenient evening and weekend formats. Since 1912, St. Scholastica has been preparing students for a life of purpose and economic gain by engaging students in the love of learning and active citizenship in the world. Our mission is to provide intellectual and moral preparation for responsible living and meaningful work. 

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