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Health Profession Descriptions
Audiologists diagnose and treat patients with hearing, balance, or related ear problems. They use audiometers and other devices to test patients’ hearing ability, determine the extent of hearing damage, and identify the underlying cause. Audiologists also counsel patients on ways to cope with profound hearing loss, such as by learning to lip read or by using sign language. An audiologist is required to have a doctoral degree in audiology (AuD), which is a graduate program typically lasting four years.
Find out more at www.asha.org.
A cardiovascular perfusionist is an integral part of the open-heart surgery team. The perfusionist is responsible for the extracorporeal oxygenation of the blood throughout surgery along with the operation and maintenance of all the equipment. Throughout an open-heart surgery, the perfusionist manages the physiological and metabolic needs of the patient by identifying the appropriate mechanical, pharmacological, or thermal adjustments that are necessary. Cardiovascular perfusion programs can lead to a bachelor’s or a master’s degree.
Find out more at www.amsect.org.
Child life specialists provide evidence-based, developmentally appropriate interventions including therapeutic play, preparation, and education that reduce fear, anxiety, and pain for children and youth. Child life specialists are educated and clinically trained in the developmental impact of illness and injury. Their role helps improve patient and family care, satisfaction, and overall experience during the healthcare process.
Find out more at www.childlife.org
Chiropractors treat patients with health problems of the neuromusculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Chiropractors use spinal adjustments and manipulation, as well as other clinical interventions, to manage patients’ health concerns.
Find out more at www.chirocolleges.org
Dentists diagnose and treat problems with a patient’s teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth. They provide advice and instruction on taking care of teeth and gums and on diet choices that affect oral health. Dental school is a four-year program leading to the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. Dental specialists, such as orthodontists, periodontists, and endodontists, must complete an additional two to four-year training program after dental school.
Genetic counselors assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. They provide information and advice to other healthcare providers, and to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions.
Find out more at www.gceducation.org.
Healthcare administrators manage, direct and coordinate medical and health services. An administrator may be responsible for an entire facility, a specific clinical area, a department within a facility, or part of a physician practice. The duties of an administrator may include managing the finances, ensuring compliance with federal and local laws, and supervising staff. Most healthcare administrators have completed a two-year master’s degree in healthcare administration (MHA), public health (MPH), or business administration (MBA).
Find out more at www.cahme.org.
There are two types of physicians: Medical Doctor (MD) and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). Both use the same methods of treatment, including drugs and surgery, but osteopathic physicians place additional emphasis on the body’s musculoskeletal system, preventive medicine, and holistic patient care. All physicians complete four years of medical school and spend an additional three to eight years in internship and residency programs depending on their specialty.
Naturopathic physicians diagnose, treat, and help prevent diseases using a system of practice that is based on the natural healing capacity of individuals. Naturopathic physicians treat the cause of illness, work to prevent disease whenever possible, and teach patients how to live healthy lives. They have many tools to treat patients, including nutrition, lifestyle medicine, physical medicine, and herbal therapies.
Find out more at www.aanmc.org.
Registered nurses (RN) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and support to patients and their family members. Registered nurses must complete a bachelor’s of science in nursing degree (BSN) which can be achieved by completing a four-year undergraduate BSN degree or by completing a two-year accelerated BSN after graduation with a bachelor’s degree in any area. Advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, coordinate patient care and may provide primary and specialty health care. Advanced practice registered nurses are typically required to complete a two-year master’s degree after attaining the BSN degree.
Find out more at www.aacnnursing.org/.
Dietitians and nutritionists prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits and recommending dietary modifications. Practitioners with a master’s in public health (MPH) degree work to improve nutrition through population-wide approaches, such as education, advocacy, policy, and community-based programs. Registered dietitians (RD) work in clinical settings to educate patients about nutrition and administer medical nutrition therapy as part of the health-care team.
Find out more at www.americannutritionassociation.org.
Occupational therapists help patients achieve independence and engage in activities of daily living. In a person who has an injury, illness disability or psychological dysfunction, the therapist will help to develop, improve, sustain or restore independence. Most occupational therapists have completed a two to three-year master’s degree. A few occupational therapy schools offer doctorate level (OTD) degrees.
Find out more at www.aota.org.
Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases, injuries and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures. They also identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye. They can prescribe medications, perform certain surgical procedures as well as assist patients with eyeglasses and contact lenses. Optometry school is a four-year program leading to the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree.
Find out more at www.aoa.org.
Orthotists and prosthetists design and fabricate medical supportive devices and measure and fit patients for them. These devices include artificial limbs (arms, hands, legs, and feet), braces, and other medical or surgical devices.
Orthotics involves the design and fabrication of external braces (orthoses) as part of a patient’s treatment process.
Prosthetics involves the use of artificial limbs (prostheses) to enhance the function of persons with limb loss.
Find out more at www.ncope.org.
Pharmacists dispense prescription medications to patients and offer expertise in the safe use of prescriptions. They also may provide advice on how to lead a healthy lifestyle, conduct health and wellness screenings, provide immunizations, and oversee the medications given to patients. Pharmacy school is a four-year program leading to the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree.
Find out more at www.aacp.org.
Physical therapists diagnose and manage patients with movement dysfunction. They help to restore, maintain, and promote optimal physical function and wellness. A physical therapist will assist a patient to prevent the onset, symptoms and progression of impairments, functional limitations and disabilities that may result from a particular disease, disorder, condition or injury. Physical therapy school is a typically a three-year program which leads to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.
Find out more at www.apta.org.
Physician assistants (PA), practice medicine on a team under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. They examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses, and provide treatment. Their specific duties and the extent to which they must be supervised differ from state to state. Physician assistants must complete a two to three-year master’s degree, and often must have significant healthcare work experience before applying to physician assistant programs.
Find out more at www.aapa.org.
Podiatrists provide medical care for people with foot, ankle, and lower leg problems. They diagnose illnesses, treat injuries, and perform surgery involving the lower extremities. Podiatrists must complete a four-year Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree and a three-year residency program.
Find out more at www.apma.org.
Public health is the science of creating healthy communities through education, research and promotion of healthy lifestyles. The focus is on health promotion and disease prevention, in contrast to the medical model of care, which focuses more heavily upon diagnosing and treating illnesses and conditions after they occur. The five core disciplines of public health are health education, biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, health services administration. Most public health professionals have completed either a two-year master’s (MPH) degree or a doctoral (DrPH) degree.
Find out more at www.aspph.org.
Speech-language pathologists (or speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in patients. Their patients may be unable to speak at all, may speak with difficulty, or may have rhythm and fluency problems. Speech pathologists may also work with people who are unable to understand language, or with people who have voice disorders. Speech pathologists are required to have a master’s degree, which is typically a two-year graduate program.
Find out more at www.asha.org.
Veterinarians are concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases and injuries in animals. They also work to prevent the transmission of animal diseases to people and advise owners on the proper care of animals. Veterinarians work to ensure a safe food supply by maintaining the health of agricultural animals and are involved in the preservation of wildlife. Veterinary school is a four-year program leading to the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree.
Find out more at www.avma.org.