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Careers in Health

Which Health Profession Is Right for Me?

No matter which healthcare profession you choose to pursue, whether it is medicine, nursing, optometry, or something else, all of the people making admissions decisions will expect you to test this decision thoroughly and thoughtfully. In addition to strong academic performance, you should also volunteer extensively, shadow professionals in your target field, and, in general, choose activities that allow you to mature and appreciate the complexities of your target profession more fully. It is also important to know what is expected of you; what is right for medical schools may not be right for physician assistant schools, dental schools, or other health professions programs.

Gain Experience

Choosing to become a healthcare professional is not a decision you should make without trying it out in the real world first. In fact, almost any health professions program requires a substantive amount of time spent exploring what it is like to work with people (or animals) whose health has been compromised before they will even consider your application. They also think it is very important for you to have observed people working in your target profession, so you have a good idea of what your working life will be like. You can read our discussion of all the activities you will need to get ready, but particularly at the beginning it’s important to recognize that these activities are also valuable precisely because they help you figure out whether you are making the right choice. Here are some ideas to help frame this process as you get started:

  • Do things you actually care about (and if you find yourself just going through the motions, take some time to figure out what that means).
  • Find the right balance between exploration and continuity.
    • There is value in sticking with an activity, volunteer situation, or job as long as it continues to challenge you to grow in ways that matter to you.
    • On the other hand, try not to play it safe all the time. Look for ways to engage with people, places, and situations that are less familiar.
  • Research your target programs early (and get help from a pre-health advisor with this); you do not want to be surprised by a requirement just before you apply.

Develop Relationships and New Perspectives

All of the studying, volunteering, and working you will do to prepare for any health professions career is intended to change you. It’s a good idea to be thoughtful and intentional about those changes and what you learn from them. It’s also a good idea to develop meaningful relationships with the people you meet along the way and who help you change, because you will certainly need good letters of reference when you apply. These will come from people whom you have given the chance to get to know you well. Here are some suggestions to help get you started:

  • Build time into your week to reflect, talk about, and learn from your experiences.
  • Take your relationships with your instructors, supervisors, and colleagues very seriously.
    • Take courses you have chosen because of genuine interest, and attend office hours. (It’s what good students do.)
    • Plan for those office hours and for meetings; you’ll get more out of them and give your instructors and supervisors a chance to learn more about you.
    • Pre-med, pre-dent, and pre-pharm students (and others, check your target schools!): It is typical for admissions offices to require at least one and sometimes two letters from science course instructors.

Pre-Health Resources at the University of Michigan

Career Center at the University of Michigan

The Career Center at the University of Michigan provides an excellent array of programming and resources for students who are interested in the healthcare professions. You should browse their site because all of it is useful, but here are some of the pre-health highlights:

Health Professions Schools and Programs on the U-M Campus

The following links will take you to health professions programs that are part of the University of Michigan. When possible, we have linked directly to the admissions pages. Some of the links are to schools that contain more than one program.

Programs Related to the Health Professions on the U-M Campus

The University also has programs that allow you to either begin or continue your preparation for a health profession. It’s a good idea to talk to an advisor when you are thinking about a program like this (or similar programs on other campuses).

  • University of Michigan Master’s of Science in Pharmacology: Graduate level courses in chemistry and pharmacology.
  • University of Michigan Master’s of Science in Physiology: Graduate level courses and research in physiology.There are two tracks, one is more for students who would like go on to a Ph.D. program in physiology or something similar, and it includes research. The other track is comprised of coursework only, and it is primarily for students who have completed the typical pre-health science classes and are hoping to improve their competitiveness for medical or dental schools.
  • University of Michigan Medical School Postbac MEDPREP: Includes the basic undergraduate pre-medical courses. This program is for people who have already completed their undergraduate degree and have since changed their mind and now want to pursue a career in medicine.

Student Organizations

University of Michigan undergraduates are inquisitive, creative, and determined to make a difference. Whether you are looking for someone who shares your interests and commitments or for someone who might show you new ways to explore, serve, and change the world, the opportunities provided by the hundreds of student organizations are a great place to get started. Maize Pages is a comprehensive listing of all the student organizations on campus sponsored by U-M.

Professional Organizations

Dental School

The American Dental Education Association homepage is the primary site for all U.S. dental schools. Other important resources related to dental schools schools:

  • AADSAS: The dental school application service.
  • ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools: Contains admissions requirements and other key information about schools.
  • Go Dental: General information for pre-dental students.
  • DAT: The homepage for the Dental Admission Test.

Medical School

M.D. (Allopathic) Schools:

The Association of American Medical Colleges homepage is the primary site for all but a very small number of U.S. M.D. schools. Other important resources related to M.D. schools are:

  • AMCAS: The M.D. school application service.
  • Aspiring Docs: General Information for pre-M.D. students.
  • MSAR: Medical School Admissions Requirements and other information about all U.S. M.D. schools.
  • MCAT: The homepage for the Medical School Admission Test.

D.O. (Osteopathic) Schools:

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine homepage is the primary site for all of the U.S. D.O. schools. Other important resources related to D.O. schools:

Nursing School

The University of Michigan School of Nursing admits the great majority of its students as incoming first-year students in its traditional four year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) program. A smaller number of U-M student may transfer into the U.M. B.S.N. as sophomore transfer students. You may also choose to complete your undergraduate degree in LSA (or another U-M program) and then apply to accelerated R.N. programs at other schools. The U-M School of Nursing also has an Accelerated Second Career in Nursing B.S.N. program, for applicants with a completed undergraduate degree.

Optometry School

The Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) homepage is the primary site for U.S. optometry schools.

Physician Assistant Programs

The Physician Assistant Education Association homepage is the primary site for physician assistant programs. The American Academy of Physician Assistants homepage is the primary site for practicing physician assistants.

  • What Is a P.A.?: Provides basic descriptions of the various aspects of the physician assistant profession.
  • The PAEA Program Directory: Allows you to search for physician assistant programs.
  • CASPA: The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants.

Public Health

The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health homepage is the primary site for all accredited U.S. schools of public health.


The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) homepage is the primary site for pharmacy schools.

Podiatric Medicine

The American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine homepage is the primary site for podiatric medical schools.

Veterinary Medicine

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges homepage is the primary site for U.S. veterinary medical schools.

Explore (Other) Health Careers

If you come to school thinking that you are headed toward medical school, for example, should you even bother to consider alternatives? Most admissions personnel from any health professions program would argue that it is both normal and valuable to consider other options along the way, if only because it helps you be more certain this—whatever “this” is—is the right choice for you. The extent to which you explore those alternatives can vary, depending on how certain you feel: Maybe all you do is read about other paths, or maybe you actually do some comparative shadowing. Here are some resources that will help you get started:

This award-winning site is an exhaustive and highly informative list of possible health care professions. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and administered by the American Dental Education Association, it was designed to provide good basic information about each profession, without trying to steer students in any particular direction.

Professional Organization Exploration Sites

The organizations housing health care professions programs frequently also run websites designed to make information about what their profession is like available to college students and others who are just beginning to prepare.