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Psychology Career Path: Health Psychology

Potential Career Paths

  • Health Psychologist (Ph.D.)
  • Health Promotion Specialist (M.A., MPH)

Potential Graduate Programs

  • Health Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology (Health Concentration)
  • Experimental Psychology (Health Concentration)
  • Public Health
  • Health Administration
  • Occupational Health
  • Health Communication

Additional Resources for Students

To learn more about health psychology, here is what you can do:

  1. Visit the website of the Society for Health Psychology or the website of the Society of Behavioral Medicine.
  2. Volunteer as a research assistant in a health psychology laboratory.
  3. Volunteer in hospitals or other health-care settings.
  4. Schedule a meeting with a health psychologist to discuss the profession.

What is Health Psychology?

Contemporary research in the areas of psychology, medicine and physiology has led to a new way of thinking about health and illness. This conceptualization, termed the Biopsychosocial Model, views health and illness as the product of a combination of factors, including biological characteristics (e.g., genetic predisposition), behavioral factors (e.g., lifestyle, stress, health beliefs), and social conditions (e.g., cultural influences, family relationships, social support).

Psychologists who conduct research or clinical work to understand how biological, behavioral and social factors influence health and illness are called health psychologists. The term “health psychology” is often interchanged with the terms “behavioral medicine” or “medical psychology.”

Some modern health psychologists work or consult with a variety of social or health-care professionals (e.g., physicians, dentists, nurses, physician’s assistants, dietitians, social workers, psychiatrists, pharmacists, and physical or occupational therapists) to conduct research and provide clinical assessment and treatment services.

Many health psychologists work in academic or medical school settings. Although more than half of health psychologists provide clinical services as part of their duties, many health psychologists function primarily or exclusively in nonclinical roles involving teaching and research. Once a student completes his or her bachelor’s degree, the student may apply to a graduate program in health psychology or in any number of health-related fields.

The purpose of this pathway is to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of psychology while preparing students for the advanced training that is required to practice as a health psychologist or health promotion specialist.

University and College Requirements

If you are interested in pursuing a career in health psychology, be sure to work with an advisor to develop an academic plan that is tailored to your interests. Your plan should lead to the completion of coursework that is useful for admission to a graduate program in health psychology.

In addition to the suggestions for the health psychology pathway, which are listed below, be sure to complete all other university and college requirements, including the foreign language requirement. We recommend beginning the foreign language requirement in your first year. NOTE: You may begin with a class higher than 1110 depending on foreign language placement test results. It is possible to place out of the foreign language requirement. Therefore, it is recommended that you take the placement test for any foreign language you completed in high school.

Psychology Courses

The following courses are highly recommended for students planning on pursuing a graduate degree in health psychology:

  • PSY 3110 Advanced Statistics (4)
  • PSY 3240 Human Psychophysiology (3)
  • PSY 3250 Psychology of Health & Illness (3)
  • PSY 3420 Adulthood & Aging (3)
  • PSY 3710 Intro to Clinical & Counseling (3)
  • PSY 4010 History & Systems of Psychology (3)
  • PSY 4710 Psychoactive Drugs: Therapeutic Agents & Drugs of Abuse (3)

Additional Recommended Courses

Below are additional courses outside of the Psychology Department that may be relevant to those interested in health psychology.

  • ANTH 2010 Intro to Biological Anthropology (3)
  • CFS 3800 Death, Dying, and Bereavement (3)
  • HLTH 2000 Intro to Public Health (3)
  • HLTH 2040 Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs (3)
  • HLTH 2100 Women and Health (3)
  • HLTH 2300 Medical Terminology (3)
  • HTLH 2700 Family and Consumer Health (3)
  • HLTH 2901 Health Aspects of Aging (3)
  • HLTH 3300 Community Health Epidemiology (3)
  • PHIL 1300 Introduction to Ethics (3)
  • SOC 1000 Intro to Sociology (3)
  • SOC 2310 Sociology of Health & Health Care (3)
  • SW 1000 Intro to Social Work & Social Welfare (3)
  • SW 3263 Chemical Dependency (3)

Note: Be sure to check prerequisites for all coursework.

Additional Courses to Consider & Relevant Coursework for Health Psychology

Students who intend to go to graduate school in health psychology may benefit from taking the recommended courses.

  • BIOS 1700, 1705 Biological Sciences I: Molecules & Cells + Lab (4)
  • BIOS 2060 Drugs & the Brain (3)
  • BIOS 3010, 3015 Human Anatomy + Lab (4)
  • BIOS 3100 General Genetics (3)
  • BIOS 3450, 3455 Human Physiology + Lab (5)
  • BIOS 4130, 4135 Human Neuroscience + Lab (3)

Fieldwork and Research in Psychology


It is highly recommended that students interested in health psychology acquire research experience in a psychology lab, and ideally one that is conducting health psychology research.

  • PSY 3940 (1-4, 12 max) - Credit for participating in research under the supervision of a faculty member.
  • Fieldwork credit for volunteering in a health are setting is also an option.
  • PSY 3910 (1-4, 4 max) - Credit for volunteer work in a hospital setting setting.