Healthcare is a huge field with many career options for people with all levels of education. We encourage you to explore many areas of health in order to find the best fit for you. Many St. Olaf alumni offer opportunities for shadowing in a variety of fields, and the pre-health advisors can help you find your fit.
While there are prerequisite courses for all health professional programs, preparing for graduate education in the health professions requires more than taking the correct courses. Students must also demonstrate their motivation and commitment to the profession through exposure to the field, direct contact with patients, and evidence of core competencies such as service orientation, professionalism, integrity, and resilience.
Pre-health is simply an intention to pursue a career in any area of healthcare; pre-health is not a major. Health professions schools seek strong, well-rounded students who have not only demonstrated strength in the sciences but also an interest in the human condition. Therefore, the liberal arts offer the perfect roadmap for pre-health students to prepare for their graduate programs. Students from a variety of majors have successfully matriculated to graduate health programs, so it’s best to choose a major that’s interesting and exciting to you.
Preparing for any health professional program requires careful academic planning, as prerequisites vary by field and even by school or program. Please review the course recommendations for each health profession in the Advising Resource section below.
Students should take advantage of the many opportunities to obtain patient contact and observe practitioners at work in their field of expertise. Related experience is essential to successful application to many health professions programs. Students seeking more information about clinical opportunities are encouraged to visit the Piper Center.
Registered Nursing Assistant Course
EMS/EMT Education Course
Three Links Care Center (CNA)
Northfield Retirement Community (CNA)
St. Olaf EMT
Northfield Hospital & Clinics
Hope Dental Clinic
St. Olaf Alumni Directory (shadowing)
Pre-Health Wilderness & Emergency Medicine Course in Colorado
Many health professions schools value research experience as an undergraduate. Research not only demonstrates your intellectual curiosity and commitment to learning, but it also provides evidence of your ability to work as part of a team and to critically interpret scientific literature. Research can be in any area and can take place in the laboratory, the field, or internships.
Rockswold Health Scholars
Health Scholars at Mayo Clinic
Research at the Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) Center at UMN
Biomedical Ethics Research at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO
Mayo Innovation Scholars
Norway Innovation Scholars
National Institutes of Health
Mayo Clinic SURF Program
Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP)
National Science Foundation (NSF) – Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Database
Independent Study Courses
Directed Undergraduate Research
As healthcare is a service profession at its core, health professions schools are interested in students who have demonstrated compassion and empathy through service to others. Therefore, participating in meaningful service to your community illustrates your desire to work with others and make a difference in others’ lives. Long periods of service are preferred to brief stints in many activities.
Oleville Volunteer Network
National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics
Northfield Hospitals & Clinics
St. Olaf EMT
Hope Dental Clinic
Northfield Shares – Volunteer Opportunities
Pre-Health 101 (first-years), 201 (sophomores), and 301 (juniors and seniors) workshops are held multiple times every year, and are designed to allow students to check in with Professor Kevin Crisp, Chair of the Health Professions Committee, and Katie Hughes, Pre-Health Career Coach, about progress towards their goal of matriculating to a health professional school.
WHAT DO DENTISTS DO?
The dental profession is the branch of health care devoted to maintaining the health of the teeth, gums and other tissues in and around the mouth. A dentist is a doctor, scientist and clinician dedicated to the highest standards of health through prevention, diagnosis and treatment of oral diseases and conditions.
Dentists play a key role in the early detection of oral cancer and other systemic conditions of the body that manifest themselves in the mouth. They often identify other health conditions, illnesses, and other problems that sometimes show up in the oral cavity before they are identified in other parts of the body.
For more information about the academic and experiential prerequisites, please see our Dentistry Advising Resource.
Along with nurses, physicians are on the front line of medicine. As practitioners, they work in solo or group practices examining patients and obtaining medical histories; ordering, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests; and prescribing and administering treatment for patients suffering from injury or disease. They also counsel patients about illness, injuries, health conditions and preventive healthcare (diet/fitness, smoking cessation, etc.). In laboratories across the country, physician researchers look for the cause of illnesses and for new and better ways to treat all kinds of diseases and injuries. They run medical centers and teach future generations of physicians and other health care practitioners. Physicians choose a specialty during their training. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education accredits training programs in 133 specialties and subspecialties, and the American Board of Medical Specialties represents 24 board-certified specialties (with many sub-specialties within each of these major specialties).
If you are interested in becoming a physician, you can choose from two paths—getting your doctor of medicine (M.D.) degree or getting a doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) degree. While the end result is the same—a career as a physician—the training and education are different. (from explorehealthcareers.org)
For more information about the academic and experiential prerequisites, please see our Medicine Advising Resource.
WHAT DO OCCUPATIONAL THERAPISTS DO?
Occupational therapy practitioners ask, “What matters to you?” not, “What’s the matter with you?”
In its simplest terms, occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations). Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes. Occupational therapy services typically include:
- an individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals,
- customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals, and
- an outcomes evaluation to ensure that the goals are being met and/or make changes to the intervention plan.
Occupational therapy services may include comprehensive evaluations of the client’s home and other environments (e.g., workplace, school), recommendations for adaptive equipment and training in its use, and guidance and education for family members and caregivers. Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment to fit the person, and the person is an integral part of the therapy team. (From the AOTA Website)
For more information about the academic and experiential prerequisites, please see our Occupational Therapy Advising Resource.
Doctors of Optometry (O.D.s/optometrists) are the independent primary health care professionals for the eye. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye.
- Doctors of Optometry prescribe medications, low vision rehabilitation, vision therapy, spectacle lenses, contact lenses, and perform certain surgical procedures.
- Optometrists counsel their patients regarding surgical and non-surgical options that meet their visual needs related to their occupations, avocations, and lifestyle.
- An optometrist has completed pre-professional undergraduate education in a college or university and four years of professional education at a college of optometry, leading to the doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree. Some optometrists complete an optional residency in a specific area of practice.
- Optometrists are eye health care professionals state-licensed to diagnose and treat diseases and disorders of the eye and visual system. (from AOA website)
For more information about the academic and experiential prerequisites, please see our Optometry Advising Resource.
The pharmacist is an accessible liaison whom patients can talk to face-to-face, without an appointment. He or she is someone who can answer health-related questions — what foods, drinks, activities, or other drugs could have an effect on medication or what to do about a missed dose. Essentially, pharmacy jobs help people with almost anything related to the use of medicines, which means they help people to stay as healthy as possible.
Pharmacy combines science, health care, computer technology, business, math and counseling. Often, jobs in the sciences involve limited interaction with the public, but pharmacy offers a rare balance of independence and interaction with patients, which can be very appealing if you’re a “people person.” If you’re looking for adventure, you might be surprised to learn that pharmacy can be very exciting; there’s a place for pharmacists out on the front lines, offering services during natural disasters, epidemics, and other crises. (from Pharmacyforme.org)
For more information about the academic and experiential prerequisites, please see our Pharmacy Advising Resource.
WHAT DO PHYSICAL THERAPISTS DO?
Physical therapists (PTs) are health care professionals who diagnose and treat individuals of all ages, from newborns to the very oldest, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives.
PTs examine each individual and develop a plan using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.
Physical therapists provide care for people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes. State licensure is required in each state in which a physical therapist practices. (From APTA Website)
For more information about the academic and experiential prerequisites, please see our Physical Therapy Advising Resource.
PAs are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider. With thousands of hours of medical training, PAs are versatile and collaborative.
PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty, improving healthcare access and quality. Scroll down to learn more about the PA profession and its commitment to improving and expanding health care.
PAs’ duties depend on the setting in which they work, their level of experience, their specialty, and state laws. (from AAPA website)
Generally, PAs can:
- Take medical histories
- Conduct physical exams
- Diagnose and treat illness
- Order and interpret tests
- Develop treatment plans
- Prescribe medication
- Counsel on preventive care
- Perform procedures
- Assist in surgery
- Make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes
- Do clinical research
For more information about the academic and experiential prerequisites, please see our Physician Assistant Advising Resource.
Public health focuses on creating healthy communities through education, research and the promotion of healthy lifestyle choices. Rather than diagnosing and treating illnesses and conditions after they occur, public health professionals analyze and develop programs to prevent disease and injury. Common areas of study within the field of public health include:
- Behavioral science/health education
- Biostatistics and informatics
- Environmental health
- Global health
- Health services administration
- Maternal and child health
For more information about the academic and experiential prerequisites, please see our Public Health Advising Resource.
Every community needs veterinary professionals to provide animal health care, but veterinarians also do many other kinds of jobs. They make sure the nation’s food supply is safe. They work to control the spread of diseases. They conduct research that helps both animals and humans. Veterinarians are at the forefront of protecting the public’s health and welfare.
Besides medical skills, veterinarians often take a holistic approach to human well-being and animal welfare that, combined with communications and problem-solving skills, makes veterinarians uniquely qualified to fulfill a variety of roles. Many veterinarians, of course, provide care for companion animals through private medical practices, but veterinarians are also involved in promoting the health and welfare of farm animals, exotic animals, working animals (like those in the equine industry), and those that need a healthy environment in which to thrive, whether that environment is a rainforest, a desert or even the ocean.
Outside of companion animal practice, the largest employer of veterinarians in the United States is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, but veterinarians are found throughout government in roles where they contribute to public health, the environment, and even homeland security, as well as working in research and public policy.
Many veterinarians are engaged in work at the intersection of both human and animal health. For example, veterinarians play an important role in food safety, where epidemiological research is crucial to forecasting the threat of food-borne diseases and outbreaks. They work to keep cattle and other food animals healthy by developing and testing various farm control methods that help to detect, limit, and prevent the spread of food that might be contaminated by salmonella, E coli or other pathogens. And they’re often on the front lines of surveillance where their extensive medical training can help them to detect and treat the outbreak of diseases that have the potential to make the jump from animals to humans. (from AAVMC website)
For more information about the academic and experiential prerequisites, please see our Veterinary Medicine Advising Resource.
Every year, Oles enter a variety of health professions programs in addition to those listed above. For more information about these programs, please see the advising resources below.