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Graduate Programs in Medical Psychology: Program Options

Closely related to clinical psychology, the field of medical psychology is concerned with treating psychological disorders using psychotherapeutic and physical treatment methods. Graduate programs in medical psychology are offered at the doctoral level.

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Essential Information

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in medical psychology blend training in experimental and clinical psychology. Students learn to use the results of empirical research to treat a variety of mental illnesses. Many programs emphasize the neurological aspects of behavior, helping students learn the cognitive and somatic aspects of mental health.

While doctoral programs in medical psychology do offer some training in medical science, they don't lead to Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degrees, and graduates aren't authorized to prescribe medications. Program graduates who intend to work with patients must become licensed. Sufficient education and an internship are required. Candidates must also pass an examination in their chosen specialty area.

Medical psychology Ph.D. programs usually admit few applicants each year. Applicants are required to have significant undergraduate experience in psychology and the natural sciences. Successful applicants also have strong analytical reasoning skills and previous experience in psychological research and statistics.

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Doctoral Degree in Medical Psychology

The curriculum for doctoral programs in medical psychology is interdisciplinary, including courses in psychology, the physical sciences, medicine and statistics. Students take courses emphasizing psychological research, like cognitive psychological assessment, and the practical therapeutic application of research results, such as multivariate statistics. The following topics are usually covered:

  • Cognitive and behavioral psychology
  • Neuropsychology and behavioral neuroscience
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Health psychology
  • Psychotherapy for children
  • Ethics in psychology

Career and Employment Information

People who earn a Ph.D. in Medical Psychology are qualified for advanced research and clinical positions in hospitals, clinics and schools. Graduates work as part of a medical treatment team or independently as consultants or therapists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for all psychologists is expected to increase 19% from 2014-2024. The BLS reported in 2015 that clinical, school and counseling psychologists earned an annual mean wage of $74,040 (www.bls.gov).

Continuing Education Information

Psychologists who work with patients in any setting are required to hold a license. Licensure standards vary by state, but typically require psychologists to hold a doctoral degree and complete a supervised internship. Aspiring psychologists must also typically pass a written test in their area of specialization. Some schools offer post-doctorate seminars and fellowships in medical psychology. Such programs last between a few months and one year and provide intensive training in the theories and methods of medical psychology.

Students interested in the research aspect of medical psychology may be interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in the field. Graduates are able to work in advanced positions in research as well as consultants or therapists.

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