Health professions exploration

Just like choosing a major, choosing a health profession can be a process.  This process requires students to explore health careers and ask themselves key questions.  Two significant questions to ask yourself are "Is a career in the health field right for me?" and "What specific role within the health care field is most suitable for myself?" 

Choose the Right Health Profession for Yourself

There are a number of health professions that people are familiar with (e.g. nurses, doctors, pharmacists).  There may be just as many health professions that you are not familiar with or have never heard of (e.g. Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Community Health Educator, Audiologist, Diagnostic Medical Sonographer).  There are multiple things that you can do as a student to see which health care role may best suit you:  

  • Evaluate whether a health career is actually the right path for you. poses several key questions that you should ask yourself.
  • Participate in a job shadow.  This may provide you with a glimpse of the routine duties of a health professional.  
  • Enroll in HP 106, Introduction to Health Related Careers.  This is an elective course that allows students to gain exposure to some health professions.  The course should also help students learn of resources and tools that enable them to make informed decisions about their career choice.   
  • Research health careers online.  The Occupational Outlook Handbook and similar websites can help you to understand the basic tasks, required education & training, job outlook, etc. for specific health professions.
  • Gain experience within a healthcare setting.  This may expose you to a number of health care professionals.
  • Evaluate the advancement opportunities within the careers that you are considering. This information might be gained via a job shadow or online research.
  • Determine if you want to be involved in direct patient care vs. indirect patient care (e.g., health administrator, health information, etc.).

Training for Health Professions

Health professionals have to attain a certain level of education and training in order to be certified to practice in their field.  The level of education and training needed varies by occupation.  Thus, understanding the level of education and training that you are willing to complete may help you to decide which professions are desirable.  

  •  Certificate programs - Certain health professionals may only need a post secondary certificate to practice.  Example professions include Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and Phlebotomist. 
  • Associate degree programs - These degree programs are commonly offered at technical colleges and are typically two years in length.  Example programs include Nursing, Respiratory Therapy, and Dental Hygiene.  
  • Bachelor degree  programs - Some students are able to major in a four-year health program and then sit for their certifying examination upon graduation.  These programs typically require students to complete prerequisite courses and apply for admission.  Example programs include Clinical Laboratory Science, Therapeutic Recreation, Dietetics, and Nursing.
  • Master degree programs - To practice professionally in some health professions, it will be necessary to complete both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree (typically two years in length).  Example professionals include Occupational Therapists, Physician Assistants and Speech Language Pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists).
  • Doctoral degree programs - Some professional programs in this area require the completion of a bachelor's degree and required prerequisites prior to entry, while other programs may only require the completion of required prerequisites and a specified number of undergraduate credits for entry.  These programs may range from three to four years in length.  Example professionals include Physical Therapists (DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy), Pharmacists (Pharm.D, Doctor of Pharmacy), and Audiologists (Au.D, Doctor of Audiology).

Additional Resources

Online Career Research

Find Accredited Health Programs

UW-La Crosse offers health programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level.  In addition, UWL also offers Pre-professional health programs as a way for students to prepare for graduate/professional health programs both at UWL and outside of UWL.   

Undergraduate Programs

Graduate Programs

Pre-professional Tracks

Clinical Laboratory Science

Nuclear Medicine Technology

Public Health & Community Health Education

Radiation Therapy

School Health Education

Therapeutic Recreation

Clinical Exercise Physiology

Community Health Education (MS and MPH)

Medical Dosimetry

Occupational Therapy

Physical Therapy

Physician Assistant Studies

School Health Education

Therapeutic Recreation

Pre-Athletic Training

Pre Chiropractic



Pre Occupational Therapy



Pre-Physical Therapy

Pre-Physician Assistant Studies

Pre-Veterinary Medicine

Note:  Pre-professional programs at UWL are not academic programs that lead to a degree.  They simply outline the academic requirements that you will typically need to apply to graduate level health programs.  To earn your degree at UWL, you will have to complete an undergraduate major in addition to your Pre-professional program.

What should my major be? expanding section

The truth is, there simply is not a right answer to this question. Professional health programs typically do not advocate for any specific undergraduate major, so your goal should be to choose a major that is "best" for you.   While it is common for students pursuing professional health careers to choose a major in the biological or physical sciences, students that perform well in prerequisite science coursework can enter professional health programs from a variety of academic majors.  

Pre-professional coursework can be completed in conjunction with any UWL undergraduate major, so the the key to answering this question is to identify undergraduate majors that offer coursework that you are most interested in learning about.  Other things to consider is will the majors on your "short list" give you the best chance for academic achievement (grades really do matter for health programs) and provide you with alternative career paths if your career interests change over time.   

Should I have a Plan B? expanding section

Yes. Unfortunately, it is a reality that not all students that pursue a health career will be successful.  This can happen for a variety of reasons, so it can be helpful for students to think ahead about what an alternative path or "Plan B" might be.  Your Plan B should be connected to your undergraduate major.

If the idea of choosing careers associated with the field of biology is appealing, then choosing a Biology major would be a ideal Plan B.  If your back-up plan is to become an accountant, major in accounting in addition to completing the pre professional curriculum needed for your professional health program.  Thinking about this early will help you to make an informed choices and avoid late decisions that may add time to graduation.   


How will I be evaluated, when I apply for admission? expanding section

Admission to most health programs, is very competitive.  Thus it will take effort on your part, to be an attractive candidate.  Admission to some programs may be based solely on academic performance, while other programs may use a more holistic approach and use multiple factors when making decisions.   Please visit the institutions that you are planning to apply to for their specific selection criteria. Here are some common factors that health may use:

  • Academic performance - The health field requires professionals that can master large quantities of complex information, and can keep up to date with new developments in their fields. Admission committees look at your undergraduate career as a demonstration of your ability to do this. They will look at your grades, credits per semester, whether coursework is reasonably distributed among the sciences and other disciplines, excessive incompletes & withdrawals, the need for remediation (i.e. taking courses over), how long you took to complete your degree, and so forth. Admissions committees will have concern for students that use tactics such as taking easy courses or light credit loads to boost their gpa.
  • Personal characteristics - Admissions committees look for candidates with evidence of good character and integrity. This can include psychological maturity, self-discipline, good judgment, concern for helping others, dependability, intellectual curiosity, enthusiasm, resilience, and leadership. 
  • Test scores - Scores on standardized tests such as the GRE, MCAT, PCAT, etc., are often used in the admission process for graduate level health programs and demonstrate that you have sufficiently mastered academic material that will help you to be successful in professional health program.  Performing well on a standardized exam is important because a high score might mitigate a low GPA, however a low score might undermine an otherwise strong GPA.  
  • Letters of recommendations -  Letters of recommendations represent personal testimony from faculty and other professionals in a position to comment on your character, capabilities and suitability to become a respected practitioner of the profession. They should be garnered from professors and professionals who can attest to these attributes.
  • Healthcare experiencesHealthcare experiences may be used to establish your knowledge and commitment to the field that you are preparing to enter.
  • Communication skills - Believe or not, your written and interpersonal communication skills are being evaluated via your application materials and interviews.