Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner
Healthcare is a large and growing field in America, making up an ever-larger slice of the US economy. Nearly 17 million Americans were employed in healthcare in 2018. That number is expected to increase rapidly in the next decade. As the sector has grown, a growing number of practitioners share responsibilities for patient care. As a result, individuals hoping to enter the field have more options to do so than ever before.
However, many jobs in healthcare are complex and require advanced degrees. Obtaining these degrees traditionally has required substantial investments in both time and money. In recent years, though, an increasing number of shorter, less costly options have emerged for students. In this article, we will review some of the combined healthcare degree programs available for students to become physicians, dentists, pharmacists, and optometrists in less time.
Combined undergraduate/medical degree programs
Becoming a physician in America is a complex process. To simply enter residency, individuals must complete college and medical school. Medical schools in the US confer either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.
Undergraduate and medical education programs in the United States typically take four years each to complete, for a total of eight years of education. Additionally, individuals generally have to apply to college and medical school separately, increasing the length and costs of the process.
Universities across the country have sought to alleviate some of these problems by offering combined degree programs that offer individuals both a Bachelor’s Degree (BS) or a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and either an MD or DO. These programs provide a direct route to a medical degree when they apply for college as high school seniors. They also eliminate the need to complete and pay for medical school applications. Additionally, some, but not all, of these programs allow students to avoid taking the dreaded Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). If you are absolutely sure as a high school senior that you want to become a physician, these programs are strongly worth considering.
Here is a list of combined BS or BA/MD programs. Likewise, a list of combined BS or BA/DO programs can be found here. Most are eight years long, though some are shorter. George Washington University, for example, offers a seven-year combined program in which students complete college in three years and medical school in four years. There are even a few schools, like the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), that offer a combined six-year program.
A word of caution: these programs tend to be highly competitive. The UMKC six-year combined program, for example, receives approximately 1500 applications for only 101-105 available spots each year. Thus, make sure to apply widely if you are hoping to enter a combined undergraduate/medical degree program.
For more information, this article details what it takes to be a successful applicant to a combined medical program. This article highlights things to consider before applying.
Combined undergraduate/dental degree programs
Becoming a dentist in America is also a long and arduous process. Individuals generally must complete four years each of college and dental school. Dental schools in the United States confer either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree.
Similar to some medical schools, many dental schools, in conjunction with colleges, offer combined undergraduate/dental degree programs. This list details available programs. Unlike combined medical programs, many combined dental programs do require students to achieve minimum scores on the Dental Admission Test (DAT).
Most combined programs are 7 or 8 years long. The University of Detroit Mercy, for example, offers a seven-year program leading to a DDS and either a Bachelor of Science with a major in biology or a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Chemistry. Nova Southeastern University offers a combined seven- or eight-year bachelor’s degree/DMD programs.
Some combined programs, however, are shorter. The University of the Pacific, for example, offers a pathway for applicants to fulfill the requirements for a DDS degree in as little as five years.
Liked the combined undergraduate/medical degree programs, combined undergraduate/dental degree programs tend to be highly competitive. Make sure to apply widely if you are thinking about pursuing a spot.
Combined undergraduate/pharmacy degree programs
The paths taken by pharmacists can vary considerably from those taken by dentists and physicians. The default route to becoming a pharmacist entails completing four years of college and four years of pharmacy school, for a total of eight years of education, in order to obtain a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree. However, unlike medical schools, many pharmacy schools do not require a bachelor’s degree prior to matriculation. Thus, students have multiple shorter options for a PharmD.
A list of American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP)-accredited programs can be found here. Students may, for example, be accepted into 0-6 programs straight out of high school. They are guaranteed admission into pharmacy school provided that they successfully complete two years of preprofessional study first, and are awarded a PharmD in six years instead of eight years. Some schools even offer accelerated 2 + 3 programs, which allow students to obtain a PharmD in as little as five years: two years of preprofessional study followed by an additional three years in pharmacy school.
Accelerated optometry degree programs
To become an optometrist in the United States, individuals must obtain a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. As with dentists, physicians, and pharmacists, the standard route to becoming an optometrist entails completing four years of college and four years of optometry school, for a total of eight years of education. However, as with dental, medical, and pharmacy schools, there are shorter routes available to obtaining an OD.
Some schools, like the State University of New York College of Optometry, directly accept high school seniors and college freshmen into combined 7-year bachelor’s degree/OD programs. Additionally, like many pharmacy schools, some optometry schools do not require a bachelor’s degree prior to matriculation, allowing students to potentially obtain an OD in fewer than eight years.
The path to becoming a dentist, an optometrist, a pharmacist, or a physician in the United States is difficult and can span nearly a decade or more. Fortunately, there are some shorter, combined options to help speed the process. If you are certain about your future plans, it may be worth considering a combined healthcare degree program.