Guide to PhDs in Health

Health care, the largest industry in the United States, provides nearly 16 million jobs to Americans. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 10 of the 20 fastest growing occupations period between 2012 and 2022 will be in health care, suggesting a stronger outlook in the health professions than most other industries.

Health Healthcare Nursing

Individuals looking to qualify for some of these jobs -- among the estimated 4 million new positions expected to emerge by 2022 -- can consider earning a PhD in one of the health disciplines. Here's some information on doctorate degrees in health and the careers that can make best use of their advanced training and education.

PhD degrees in health

Because of the tight focus of most doctorate degrees, there are a number of different titles one may work to earn during their post-graduate health education:

  • PhD: The Doctor of Philosophy in Health can cover a wide range of subjects, from health education to psychology. The benefit of a PhD in a health subject is that it allows you to focus on scholarly research and writing. "Doctorate" is Latin for "teacher," so this degree concentrates on theory, publishing papers in the field and preparing doctoral students for research and teaching positions.
  • PsyD: The Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) is similar to a PhD, except it focuses on clinical applications as opposed to theory and research. For those interested in becoming practicing psychologists, the PsyD can be beneficial by virtue of offering more training in psychological testing than a PhD and prepares students for a variety of clinical settings.
  • DBA: A Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in health sciences allows graduate students to build on their skills by developing in the areas of business and management. These skills enable graduates to potentially work in academia or take leadership roles at health care organizations and insurance companies.
  • DHA: A Doctor of Health Administration (DHA) is a specialized doctorate degree that focuses on the business of health care. This degree can prepare graduates to work in social service or public policy, or to manage health care institutions, insurance companies and public health organizations.
  • DMFT: The Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy (DMFT) prepares graduates to contribute to the marriage and family therapy field in both clinical and academic settings. Graduates may supervise, consult, research or practice therapy as it relates to married individuals and family groups.
  • DNP: The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a clinical degree available to advanced practice nurses, including nurse midwives, nurse anesthesiologists, nurse practitioners and clinical nursing specialists.
  • DPT: The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) prepares graduates to provide physical therapy services in clinical settings. A tDPT, or transitional DPT, allows licensed physical therapists to pursue clinical doctorate degrees.

Path to a doctorate degree in health

Prerequisites for admission to a PhD in health program usually include undergraduate or graduate level coursework in math and science, including organic chemistry and physiology. Some programs may require a master's degree in a health sciences discipline, while others may accept a graduate or undergraduate education in any subject as long as some advanced courses in a student's chosen discipline are completed before doctoral work begins.

Requirements may be slightly different for a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree. Some programs may not require even a bachelor's degree beyond the school's pre-pharmacy requirements. Schools with internship programs typically require students to obtain an intern license and pass a criminal background check.

Most programs leading to a doctorate degree in health take between three and eight years to complete, depending on the specialization chosen and the amount of prerequisite coursework completed before applying, and require one or more of the following:

  • Internship
  • Residency
  • Externship
  • Colloquium
  • Dissertation defense

Nearly all careers for graduates with doctorate degrees in health also require licensing before work with patients can begin. License regulations and continuing education requirements vary from state to state, so prospective PhD students should check in periodically with a professional organization or other authority in their region to make sure they stay on the right track to licensure.

PhD in health: specializations and careers

A combined total of about 13.4 million health professionals work in hospitals, private practice offices and nursing facilities, with another 2.4 million employed in outpatient, laboratory, ambulatory or home health care services. What's more, BLS data indicates a steady upward trend among health care jobs between 2004 and 2014, showing nearly 3 million new positions added during those ten years.

Based on median salary and job growth forecasts from the BLS, here are some of the most common career paths for those who have a doctorate degree in health:

Discipline 2013 median annual income 2012-2022 job growth projection
Physicians and surgeons $191,880 The BLS projects 18 percent growth between 2012 and 2022 for these high-profile practitioners. Opportunities are expected to be best in rural areas and among those who specialize in dealing with issues relevant to the aging baby boomer population.
Psychologists $74,310 The BLS predicts a 53 percent increase in employment among industrial and organizational psychologists, making them the fastest growing job category among the 2012-2022 projections.
Audiologists $74,360 Audiologists treat hearing and balance problems in patients and are expected to see 34 percent growth in job opportunities between 2012 and 2022.
Physical therapists $82,180 Increasing demand for physical therapy procedures is expected to drive 36 percent employment growth in this profession by 2022. Job prospects should be good in all settings, but the BLS predicts particularly good opportunities in rural areas.

Graduates with a PharmD in pharmacy studies can potentially go on to work with patients in pharmaceutical care, develop new pharmaceutical products in the pharmacy sciences industry or lend their expertise to decision-making processes in the procedural and regulatory realm with health policy and management careers.


Fastest Growing Occupations, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm

"Healthcare: Millions of jobs now and in the future," Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Spring 2014, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2014/spring/art03.pdf

Physicians and Surgeons, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm

Physical Therapists, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm

Audiologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/audiologists.htm

Psychologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm


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