Uncover Your Curiosity
Have you ever found yourself wondering why something is the way it is? Do you want to generate new insights through cutting-edge innovations? Perhaps you strive to use recent advancements to help others or address large-scale problems? You may be a scientist in the making.
With the world at your fingertips, UCSB presents you with a number of opportunities, resources, and experts to help you build your career in Science + Health. Whether your interests lie in the life and physical sciences, health professions, biotechnology, environmental studies, physical geography, or other areas that call you, a career in Science + Health can put you at the forefront of humankind's greatest discoveries and advancements.
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Explore Grad School: Clinical Healthcare
For complete information on graduate school search strategies and the application process, review our starter tips to Explore Grad School in all careers as well as the specialized tips on this page.
Understanding the Commitment
The majority of clinical healthcare roles require education beyond your UCSB degree. These requirements typically range between two to four years of additional schooling, depending on the profession. However, you may also need to pursue anywhere from 1 to 10 years of clinical training beyond that. This often comes in the form of residencies or fellowships depending on the specific clinical role. It is important for you to have an accurate understanding of the specific requirements of your career path before you pursue graduate school, as this should be planned thoroughly in advance in order for you to maximize your preparedness and candidacy for the programs.
In general, admissions into clinical healthcare training programs (i.e. medical school, PA school, dental school) is extremely competitive.
The following criteria will matter most when applying to these types of programs:
- Academic Performance (especially your GPA in the science fields)
- Clinical/Healthcare Experience
- Letters of Recommendation
- Standardized Test Scores
- Admissions Essays
The relative importance of each one of these criteria to your overall application depends largely on your chosen field. For example, your hands-on clinical experience is of prime importance when applying to PA school, but not for other programs.
What does not vary between the types of post-graduate programs is the importance of your academic performance. You need to do well academically if you want to pursue a career in Clinical Healthcare. This is non-negotiable, however exactly how well you must do depends on your field of interest. Typically, a 3.0 GPA is the minimum requirement -- even for programs that are less competitive. In most programs, admissions counsels will seek a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Your competitors will be top-notch, thus you must be as well.
For more information on admissions requirements of specific types of programs, check out the UCSB Pre-Health site and select your specialty area of interest to learn more.
Post-baccalaureate programs (post-bacs) are non-degree granting programs that can help students become more competitive candidates for medical school, PA school, dental school, and more. These come in two varieties: academic enhancer, or career changer programs.
- Academic enhancer programs are designed for students who have taken most or all of their prerequisites but have an otherwise non-competitive GPA (typically ranging from 2.8 to 3.3). These programs typically last one year and range in cost from $10,000 - $40,000.
- Career changer programs are intended for students who have decided to pursue a healthcare path much later in their academic career (or even after college) and have very few of the necessary prerequisite courses completed. These programs typically last for two years and cost roughly twice as much as academic enhancer programs due to their longer duration.
It is important to remember that post-bac programs should not be your first choice: they are a remedial measure to try and gain admittance into a graduate clinical healthcare program (most commonly medical school). They usually do not help you with much other than admittance, and because they are not degree-granting, they are not eligible for financial aid. While they may be helpful to some students, you must take into consideration the financial and time constraints these may cause, and the fact that they do not guarantee admittance.
If possible, we recommend avoiding post-bacs by satisfying your prerequisites with high marks during your undergraduate years, especially in your science course load. Nevertheless, sometimes a post-bac is a beneficial option for students who hope to pursue Clinical Healthcare.
Specific Healthcare Paths
Each healthcare path has specific requirements and considerations. Review the different positions below to understand the general steps toward gaining admittance into specialized programs, and what will come of them. We recommend that you implement additional research in the positions that interest you in order to have a deeper understanding of the career entailments before committing yourself.
Physicians are medical doctors who either train in allopathic medicine (MDs) or osteopathic medicine (DOs). While much has been written about the differences between allopathic and osteopathic medicine, the reality is that most patients are hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two. Both MD programs and DO programs are perfectly viable ways to become a physician.
Physicians have the largest scope of practice and are generally considered to be the most highly trained clinical practitioners in the medical world. This is reflected in the vast amount of time physicians spend in training, which usually amounts to 4 years of medical school, plus 3-7 years of residency (depending on the specialty area), and 1-3 years of fellowship training (if pursuing a subspecialty).
It is common for students to immediately concentrate on becoming a physician because it is seen by many as the most prestigious clinical role available. Nevertheless, be cognizant of the considerable costs associated with this path (usually hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct costs along with a large opportunity cost for much of your time). Make sure to prioritize fit before anything else when choosing a clinical healthcare path.
If you are still uncertain, come into drop-in hours to talk to a counselor about the pros and cons of becoming a physician.
One of the primary challenges of becoming a physician is getting accepted into an accredited Doctor of Medicine (MD) program or an accredited Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program. These programs are 4 years long and admissions are very competitive. In recent years, about 40% of students who applied to medical schools were accepted into at least one program; acceptance rates to individual schools are typically less than 10%.
Your grade point average (GPA) and your Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) scores are your two single most important metrics when applying to medical school. You can see this in action in the most recent AAMC acceptance figures shown as a function of GPA and MCAT scores. You can use this as a very rough guide to gauge how competitive you might be as a general applicant based solely on your GPA and MCAT.
More information on recent acceptance rates can be found in the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) Applicants and Matriculants Data. For more specific information on admissions for individual medical schools, consider buying a subscription to the AAMC’s Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) full data set.
Timing for Pre-Med Students
Applications to medical schools are submitted through one of two common application systems: either AMCAS (for MD programs) or AACOMAS (for DO programs). In either case, the application systems open up in late spring (usually May), and the application submission window starts in early summer (usually June). It behooves you to submit your application as early in the cycle as you can (in June if at all possible)!
In order to achieve this, you must have your MCAT completed, your 2-5 letters of recommendation written and ready to submit, your personal essays finalized, and the majority of your clinical and volunteering experience finished by the summer of the year before you intend to matriculate into a medical school program. This means that students who do not intend to take one or more gap years will need to have all these things ready by the end of your junior year!
This may seem like a lot to complete by the end of your junior year, in addition to all of your regular coursework, and indeed you are correct! With this in mind, it is important to note that the average anticipated age at matriculation to medical school is 24 years old, which means that the average accepted applicant is not coming straight out of undergrad.
It is common to take one or more years after graduation to complete all of the requirements necessary to apply to medical school and submit your application. If you need the time, take it. This will likely benefit you in the long run.
If you would like to sit down with someone to map out your plan or discuss whether becoming a physician is right for you, feel free to speak with a specialist at Career Services or one of the pre-health academic advisors in the College of Letters & Science.
Physician Assistants (PAs) are clinicians whose roles and training overlap significantly with physicians, especially primary care physicians. A 2018 survey conducted by the National Commision on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) indicated that 28.5% of PAs work in primary care (family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics), while the rest work in a wide variety of specialty areas such as:
- Emergency medicine
PAs treat and diagnose patients in a very similar manner to physicians, and can prescribe medication to patients in all 50 states, with some limitations in a handful of states concerning a PA’s ability to prescribe controlled substances (mainly Schedule II drugs which include narcotic pain medications). PAs are licenced to practice under the “supervision” of a physician, although exactly what this supervision entails like can vary in practice, and may even just consist of phone consultations in some instances.
If you have ever been seen by a PA, you will know that they are largely independent practitioners on a day-to-day basis, and are not reliant on physicians for most of the care that they provide. This is a clinical career that still provides a large degree of autonomy, despite what the “Physician Assistant” suggests.
There are many reasons why you might want to become a PA, but many individuals see a compelling career practicing medicine that offers more flexibility and significantly less upfront cost and time commitment than what is required to become a physician. The downsides include less pay, less professional independence, less perceived prestige (at least for some), and less training to call upon when treating patients.
To become a PA, you must first attend an accredited PA program. Acceptance into PA programs is similarly competitive to medical school programs. According to a recent report released by the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), which oversees the PA common application system (CASPA), around 30% of students who applied to PA school were accepted into at least one program, with the average acceptance rate at any individual program being around 6%. Again, applying to PA school is competitive and on par with applying to medical school.
Most PA programs award a master’s degree and are 2.5-3 years long, depending on the specific pacing of the curriculum. Every accredited PA program will also involve 2,000+ substantial clinical rotation hours where you will receive direct exposure to different primary care and specialty areas.
Once you have graduated from an accredited PA program, you must pass a certifying exam before being eligible to obtain a licence to practice in your state of choice.
Timing for Pre-PA Students
The first place you will want to start in the PA application process is with a searchable directory of PA programs to begin to narrow down which schools you would like to apply to. There are currently around 15 accredited programs in California and more than 200 others across the US. It is good to get a sense early on in your undergraduate career about which prerequisite courses you will need to complete. Start with the UCSB Pre-PA academic advising page for some general guidelines as to which classes you will likely need to complete while at UCSB. Of course, each individual PA program sets its own requirements, so be sure to double check the specifics with each program.
Your grades are of utmost importance. Your number one goal while here at UCSB is to perform as well as you can in your coursework, especially in the science and prerequisite courses you will need for PA school. This cannot be overstated. Focus on your academics first and your clinical and volunteering experiences second, since the latter can always be (and usually is) accomplished after you graduate from UCSB. Your undergraduate grades on the other hand, cannot be redone. If you happen to still need to complete prerequisites after you graduate from UCSB, it is perfectly acceptable to take these at another university or community college. If your prerequisite needs are far more substantial than a handful of classes, then you may consider a post-bac program (see details in the section above).
While the absolute requirement varies, most PA schools will require that you have at least 1,000 hours of paid, hands-on clinical experience, sometimes more. This translates to roughly 6 months of full-time work, which many students find very difficult to complete while also taking a full course load in college. Because of this, nearly all individuals applying to PA school take at least one gap year, but oftentimes several. In fact, according to recent data from 2016, the average age of matriculants to PA school is nearly 26 years old. Slow and steady wins the race. PA programs love experience and maturity, and these things simply take time to develop.
Pre-PA hopefuls usually complete their clinical experience requirements by working as: medical assistants, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and any other “tech” position in a clinical setting, such as phlebotomist or x-ray technician. Some of these roles may require a certification, which you will have to weigh the pros and cons of when deciding how you want to complete your clinical hours and how much time and money you are willing to commit to this endeavour.
Rounding out your application materials, you will also need to:
When you are ready to finally ready to apply to PA school, your application will be submitted through CASPA, which is the common application system used by all of the accredited PA programs. The application cycle opens up in late April and extends all the way through the year. Each program has its own deadlines that you will need to adhere to, and these range widely anywhere from August to March. Nevertheless, you will still want to apply as early in the cycle as possible!
Nursing is one of the fastest growing fields in healthcare as the demand for this particular skill set continues to increase. Registered Nurses (RNs) are responsible for many aspects of patient care, including directly assessing the health needs of patients, carrying out and implementing treatment plans, and maintaining detailed medical records.
RNs who love their jobs usually cite multiple reasons for their professional satisfaction, but scheduling flexibility, competitive pay, and all the direct and personal contact they have with patients are usually traits that top the list. In addition, nursing offers a relatively expedited path into clinical medicine, and in the longer term, there are very clear paths to advancement within the profession. Nurses can move into positions of leadership in hospital departments and can also specialize in a variety of areas of medicine, such as:
- Mental health / Psychiatry
Nursing is somewhat unusual from many of the other clinical healthcare roles in that the primary degree needed to practice nursing is not actually a graduate degree, but rather a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). It is also possible get into nursing with an associates degree in nursing (with the three options being an ADN, ASN, or AAS), nevertheless we advice most of our UCSB students to seek at least a BSN when wanting to become a nurse, since most healthcare providers now strongly prefer to hire new nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and those with BSNs typically make significantly more money per year than those with only an associate’s degree. Additionally, if you desire to get into a specialty area in nursing or become a nurse practitioner a BSN will be required. BSNs are typically the best platform for most UCSB students to launch into their nursing careers, but your individual needs may vary. The primary advantage of an associate degree in nursing is that it is usually drastically cheaper than a BSN.
While it should be obvious, it’s probably worth noting here that UCSB does not offer a degree in nursing. If you want to become a nurse, you will need to get an undergraduate degree from another institution. If you are within your first two years of study here at UCSB and you are quite sure that you want to become a nurse, you may consider transferring directly to another university with a BSN program. For many students though, the realization that nursing is their chosen path comes as upperclassmen at UCSB, and it usually makes sense to finish their degree at USCB first in a non-nursing field. If this describes you, then your best option is either to get an accelerated BSN (ABSN) or an entry level master of science in nursing.
ABSN programs are made specifically for students who have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field and now wish to become a nurse. This situation describes most graduating UCSB students planning to get into nursing. For this reason, ABSN programs are the most common route that UCSB students take to become nurses. Most ABSN programs are 1 - 1.5 years in length, with costs varying widely from $15k to $75k depending on the specific program and whether it is public or private (private programs almost always cost more).
Master of Science in Nursing
Another path available for UCSB students is to obtain a master of science (MSN) directly, without ever obtaining a BSN first. Programs which allow you to do this go by a variety of names, including: Entry-Level MSN, Direct Entry MSN, Master’s Entry Programs in Nursing, and more. These are all roughly equivalent types of programs, where you would be moving directly into a master of science in nursing while having no prior nursing background before entering.
MSN programs typically range from 1.5 - 2 years in length, and tend to cost a little more than the ABSN programs as well (mostly due to their increased length). Direct Entry MSN programs may be a beneficial option for students interested in eventually moving into a specialized nursing career that requires an MSN (along with many other requirements), such as: Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Nurse Anesthetist, or Nurse Midwife.
Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN)
Importantly, whatever nursing education path you choose, your first step after graduating from your program is to become a Registered Nurse (RN), and then practice as an RN for usually at least a year or more before making any other advancements. Students are often confused by this, thinking that they can move straight from nursing school into a career as a Nurse Practitioner, or Clinical Nurse Specialist, or any other advanced nursing role. This is simply not the case. You will first and foremost need to gain experience as a practicing RN.
To become an RN, you will need to graduate from an accredited nursing program (which is accredited by the Commision on Collegiate Nursing Education) and accrue practical clinical hours through your program. Most importantly, you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), specifically the NCLEX-RN. Only once you pass this exam, can you apply for a license to practice nursing and become registered. In essence, an RN is not a degree at all, but rather an indication of having a licence to practice nursing. This is a point of confusion for many students, so hopefully this is clarifying. You need a nursing degree to get registered as a nurse (thereby becoming an RN), and you need to be an RN to legally practice as a nurse in the US.
Timing for Pre-Nursing Students
All nursing programs, including ABSN programs and Direct Entry MSN program will require that you have all of your nursing prerequisites completed before matriculation, so make sure to plan accordingly during your time at UCSB.
The exact prerequisites you will need to take will vary by school, and they may also not align completely with your major requirements at UCSB. That is fine, but you will need to take these classes either way. The exact year in which you take any given pre-requisite course is not all that important, but try to have them all done by the time you graduate.
If you need to take additional courses to satisfy your pre-requisites after you graduate from UCSB, you may take them at community college or through open (public) enrollment at a 4-year institution.
As mentioned above, if you are very early on in your studies as a UCSB student (freshman or early sophomore), and you are sure you want to pursue nursing, you might consider transferring to another school with a dedicated undergraduate BSN program.
If you are graduating from UCSB and applying for ABSN or Direct Entry MSN programs, the application cycle will open in late summer/early fall. Some students may apply during the fall of their senior year. Some students may apply after one or more gap years. Either is fine, and nursing school will not penalize you for taking time after graduating from UCSB before applying.
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