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Alternatives to Medical School: What Else Can You Do with a Post-Bacc?


Most pre-medical post-baccalaureate programs have a laser focus on getting students ready for admission to medical school. However, if you complete a post-bacc program and realize that becoming an MD isn’t the right choice for you, don’t panic. You have not wasted your time. You’ve built important transferable skills that can apply to a wide range of careers in healthcare—careers that can have a positive impact on the lives of others, as well as offering you professional satisfaction.

We’ve discussed how a post-bacc can help you gain admission to a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) or dental school program before. This article looks at a few of the other professional programs post-bacc graduates can be qualified to pursue.

Physician Assistant (or Physician Associate) Programs

Not to be confused with medical assistants, who perform basic clinical and administrative tasks, physician assistants (PAs) are key members of healthcare teams. PAs are licensed practitioners who treat patients under the supervision of a physician. Depending on the state where they work, the scope of practice for PAs can include:

  • Examining and diagnosing patients
  • Making referrals
  • Ordering and interpreting tests
  • Prescribing medications
  • Educating patients on managing conditions or preventative care

Some PAs can also assist during surgical procedures. To become a PA, you must earn a master’s degree from a physician assistant program—a process that typically takes two to three years to complete. Then, PAs must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) and find a physician to supervise their practice. Completing a post-bacc can help prepare you to enter a PA program—if you complete a special master’s degree, you may even be able to transfer some of your credit to the PA program, though this will vary depending on the school.

PAs are increasingly visible in primary care roles. As a result, their job outlook is very bright. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job openings for PAs will grow by 27 percent from 2022-2032—much faster than the overall job growth rate of 3 percent.

Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) Programs

Pharmacists do more than fill prescriptions—although that is a very important role! They also contribute to healthcare teams by advising physicians about the appropriate medications to choose for patients, provide education and advice to patients, and support public health initiatives by providing vaccinations and other treatments. They can also conduct pharmaceutical research.

A post-bacc program can help you strengthen your science background (particularly your chemistry knowledge) and help you apply to a four-year PharmD program. Most PharmD programs blend health science coursework with practical professional experience in a variety of settings: hospitals, retail outlets, community or long-term health facilities, and research. Like other healthcare professionals, pharmacists must pass a national licensure exam and obtain a license to practice in their state.

Demand for pharmacists is projected to grow by 3 percent, or about as fast as average, from 2022-2032. However, because of the high number of expected retirements, that means there could be as many as 13,400 job openings for pharmacists every year during that period.

Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) Programs

Podiatrists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of foot and ankle problems. They do a little of everything in their practice—they perform surgeries, prescribe medications, and provide other treatments related to the lower extremities.

Podiatry programs typically take four years to complete and lead to a DPM degree. A post-bacc can help you prepare for a DPM program not only by challenging you to complete science coursework, but by helping coach you for the MCAT—DPM programs also tend to require MCAT scores for admission.

DPM graduates who want to focus on surgery, diabetic foot care, or sports medicine can complete a fellowship after earning their degree, but it isn’t usually required for general podiatric practice. All DPMs, however, must pass the American Podiatric Medical Licensing Exam (APMLE) to obtain a license to practice.

Podiatry is growing more slowly than other healthcare professions, with the BLS projecting just 1 percent growth in job openings from 2022-2032. However, if you’re interested in a versatile healthcare practice that offers you plenty of interaction time with your patients, it could be right for you.

Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) Programs

If you like getting hands-on with patients and prefer a holistic approach to healthcare, take what you’ve learned in your post-bacc program and apply to a chiropractic program. In a DC program, you’ll focus on skills for the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders, particularly those affecting the spine.

A DC program takes four years to complete. Coursework includes basic health science topics similar to those found in MD programs, along with spinal manipulation and clinical imaging techniques. DC students complete a supervised internship experience during their fourth year of study.

After graduation, chiropractors need to obtain a license to practice in their state, but a residency period isn’t necessary. Postgraduate fellowships are available for DC graduates who want to focus on sports rehabilitation, acupuncture, or pediatrics. Chiropractor job growth has a healthy outlook: the BLS projects 9 percent growth from 2022-2032, amounting to about 2,600 new jobs per year nationwide.

Doctor of Optometry (OD) Programs

Interested in providing primary care for the eyes? Apply to an optometry program after completing your post-bacc. ODs examine patients’ eyes, diagnose vision problems, prescribe corrective lenses, and detect and manage certain eye diseases. They’re not to be confused with ophthalmologists—MDs who complete a specialized residency to learn direct treatment of diseased eyes, including performing eye surgery.

Optometry programs typically take four years to complete. Like many other health professional programs, OD programs include coursework during the first two years followed by clinical rotations and an internship during the last two years. After graduation, new ODs can complete an additional fellowship year to focus on a specialty. In order to practice, all optometrists must pass the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam. Some states also require an additional licensing exam.

As people live longer than ever before, they are at risk of developing more eye conditions as they age. As a result, job opportunities for optometrists look strong, with the BLS projecting 9 percent growth in job openings over the next decade.

Go Ahead – Pursue a Pre-Medical Post-Bacc Program

These are just a few alternatives to medical school for pre-medical post-baccalaureate graduates. It’s important to research each option thoroughly, consider your long-term career goals, and ensure that the chosen path aligns with your interests and aspirations in the field of healthcare.

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