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Education Requirements for Medical Careers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, opportunities for careers in the medical field will increase in the next decade. The medical field is far-reaching and requires interplay on many different care levels. Some medical careers focus on providing care and support to patients, while others are more clinical and technical in nature. Because the medical field is so diverse in duties, medical careers require different levels of education.

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants may perform clinical duties, clerical duties or both. Clerical work includes scheduling appointments for patients, maintaining records and billing insurance. A clinical medical assistant performs vital sign assessments, documents patient concerns and treatments and assists nurses and physicians as needed.

Medical assisting requires knowledge of medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, keyboarding, word processing and insurance coding and billing. While formal training is not required, programs to prepare medical assistants are available and require between 1 and 2 years of education.

Practical Nurse

Practical nurses work in a variety of health care settings such as hospitals, doctor's offices, schools and private homes. An LPN provides nursing care--assessment of vital signs, preparation of equipment, interaction with registered nurses and doctors and maintenance of patient records--according to his or her state requirements.

To be a practical nurse, you must complete a practical nurse training program, which typically lasts 12 months and covers basic sciences, charting, pediatrics, medical-surgical nursing, obstetrics and nutrition. Additionally, a practical nurse must have a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination--Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN)--and apply for licensure in his or her state.

Registered Nurse

Like an LPN, a registered nurse (RN) also works in a variety of locations performing clinical tasks such as assessing vital signs, administering medications and vaccinations, maintaining patient records, assisting doctors and surgeons and providing patient education. An RN acts as liaison between the patient and the doctor and is responsible for reporting patient requests and changes to the care provider.

RN programs are either 2 or 4 year programs and culminate in an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN), respectively. The course of study includes chemistry, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, mathematics, psychology and specific clinical skills in pediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and other specialties.

Advanced Practice Nurse

An advanced practice nurse provides mid-level care and works under the auspices of a doctor or surgeon. Advanced practice nurses might provide specific care for midwifery, podiatry, family practice, well-woman or other specialty care.

RNs who wish to be an advanced practice nurse must complete their BSN degree and earn at least a master's degree in a nursing specialty field (MSN). An MSN degree typically takes two 2 years to earn. Some advanced practice nurses receive their doctorate in nursing practice (DNP) as well, which can take up to 3 years.

Physician Assistant

A physician assistant (PA) is a mid-level care provider much like an advanced practice nurse, except they do not receive nursing training before entering the medical field directly. A relatively new career in medicine, PAs perform physical assessment, evaluation, diagnostic testing and certain medical procedures. Working under the supervision of a doctor, PAs also make diagnoses, prescribe medicines and perform follow-up visits.

To become a PA, you must attend a degree program. Degrees currently vary between a 4-year bachelor's degree and master's degree program, though most states require a master's degree for licensure. Course of study for a PA includes advanced sciences, mathematics and specialty areas of study such as gynecology, pediatrics, trauma, surgery and family medicine.

Physician and Surgeon

Physicians and surgeons provide specific diagnosis, treatment and surgery for patients in many different settings. Physicians typically choose one specific area in which to work, but all are trained in general diagnosis and treatment of patients suffering from disease or conditions that require care.

Educational requirements for physicians and surgeons are more than any other career in the medical field. Training normally involves 4 years of an undergraduate program, a 4-year-long medical program and up to 8 years in specialty training.

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