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UCF Health Sciences Major Supports Growing National Interest in Other Health Care Careers

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By Karen Guin

In keeping with a national trend, a growing number of undergraduates at the University of Central Florida is seeking preparation for careers in health care other than the traditional areas of medicine, dentistry and nursing. The students have found that the university's major in health sciences provides the background necessary to pursue a broad range of career options.

"When I started at UCF, I wasn't sure what career path I wanted to take, but I knew I wanted it to be in health care," said senior Tammy Useman from Orlando. "So I selected the health sciences major. I knew that whatever avenue I took, the major would be applicable.""

After taking courses in her major and observing occupational therapists work with two family members, she decided to specialize in occupational therapy. When she completes her bachelor's degree in health sciences in May, she will be well-prepared to enter a graduate program in occupational therapy, a step that is now essential to become a board-certified practitioner.

A revised allied health programs curriculum that will begin this fall requires the basic sciences courses in biology, chemistry and physics that are prerequisites for clinical health science programs such as occupational therapy, physical therapy and physician assistant. And it offers an enlarged set of electives that allows students to tailor the program to their specific interests in health. For example, students can use the major to prepare for graduate study in areas such as public health, environmental health, nutrition and exercise physiology.

Enrollment in the health sciences major at UCF has grown from 55 students when it was first offered in 1999 to 190 in fall 2005. Diane Jacobs, professor and chair of the Department of Health Professions, anticipates considerable growth in enrollment as incoming students are told that the revised major will prepare them for graduate-level study in both clinical and non-clinical areas of health care.

"There is a trend in some disciplines, such as physical therapy, to require more advanced degrees than previously required," Jacobs said. "You used to just need a bachelor's degree. Now a master's degree is required.""

Many students are attracted to careers in health care because they know it's a growing industry with good employment opportunities, according to Jacobs. She points to data released by the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation that predicts a high demand for allied health professionals, including physical therapists, occupational therapists and physician assistants, over the next seven years.

"We've responded to a growing interest in health care that's occurring nationwide," Jacobs said.

Students are also drawn to the excitement of scientific advancements in diagnosing and treating diseases. Some also view a career in allied health as a chance to work in a respected health-related profession without having to go to medical school.

And for most students, including Useman, a career in health is appealing because if offers an opportunity to help other people.

For more information, go to www.cohpa.ucf.edu/health.pro/index.cfm.

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