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Medical Psychology: Career Options, Job Duties and Requirements

A medical psychologist requires significant formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

How a person acts can be related to their physical health. Medical psychologists provide help for patients that focus on the connections between the person's health and their behavior. They may diagnose psychological disorders and then treat these disorders, or take measures to prevent them if possible.

Essential Information

Medical psychologists practice clinical psychology centering on the relationship between patients' behaviors and their physical conditions. These professionals promote disease prevention through psychological counseling and healthy lifestyle choices. Most hold doctoral degrees and gain extensive clinical experience during their studies. Psychologists must meet their state's licensing requirements, and many obtain optional professional certification in medical psychology.

Required Education Doctoral degree in psychology is most common, although some can practice with master's degrees
Licensing All states require licensing
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 20% for clinical, counseling and school psychologists
Median Salary (2015)* $70,580 for clinical, counseling and school psychologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career Options

Medical psychology is a specialty branch of clinical psychology focusing on connections between health and behavior. Medical psychologists use behavioral science-based procedures as a solution to both mental and physical health issues. These psychologists also use their understanding of how lifestyle influences health to prevent diseases and promote physical wellbeing.

A student on the medical psychology path can choose from a variety of specialty areas, including clinical child psychology, clinical neuropsychology and clinical health psychology. Graduates might go into public or private practice, work at a medical center or teach medical psychology at a college or university. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately one third of psychologists were self-employed, working as independent consultants or in private practice, as of 2014 (www.bls.gov).

The BLS predicts that positions for clinical, counseling and school psychologists will increase by 20% between 2014 and 2024. The median salary among these types of psychologists as of 2015 was $70,580, the BLS said.

Job Duties

Medical psychologists have an understanding of basic psychology and biology, as well as general medical and clinical psychology. They use this knowledge to diagnose, treat and prevent psychological disorders that also can lead to physical disorders. Psychologists working in medical centers usually work with physicians to create treatment plans that promote both physical and mental health.

Some medical psychologists treat severe disorders, such as depression or schizophrenia. Other psychologists help patients deal with personal issues, helping them talk though worrying or confusing life situations.

Requirements

According to the BLS, most psychologists are required to have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) before they can open an independent practice. Students should enroll in a program that is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Doctoral programs in medical psychology generally consist of at least five years of study in addition to the completion of a dissertation. They combine didactic courses with clinical experiences and opportunities for extensive research.

Many doctoral programs in the field require students to have a master's degree in a psychology-related field before they apply, although some doctoral programs grant students a master's degree as well. All psychologists must meet licensing requirements set by their state. Additionally, voluntary certification in medical psychology is available through the American Board of Medical Psychology.

Medical psychologists are highly trained professionals who have completed several years of postsecondary training to prepare to enter the field of clinical psychology. In addition to a master's or doctoral degree in psychology, they also need to be licensed.


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