by Jennifer Rosand
Changing to a health care career comes with many questions. Maybe you are wondering where to start. Or maybe you are wondering if it will work for you. Regardless of where you’re at, keep these important things in mind.
You’re not alone.
Even if you don’t know anyone else who is in the same spot as you are in making a career change, know that you are not alone in your decision. People often have more than one career in their lives and, while switching to a health profession is a major shift, it happens more often than you might think.
Health care jobs are one of the highest projected areas of growth. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the Minnesota health care industry is expected to have more than 100,000 openings between 2009 and 2019. With such a high expected growth rate, it is not surprising that it is an attractive field.
Think about the range of opportunities in health care.
Health careers come in many shapes and sizes. Positions exist in patient care, labs, clinical research, technology, and disease investigation and prevention as well as business and administration. And health care is not limited to people: many health care practitioners treat animals.
- What you end up doing on the job will be defined by the scope of practice for your profession, the education you receive, and the license you may hold to practice. Health care jobs are often defined by patient population, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, families, women’s health, and oncology. However, some serve many different kinds of patients, but specialize on body systems. For example, someone working in echocardiography focuses primarily on cardiovascular issues, a respiratory care therapist focuses on heart and lung issues, and a dental hygienist focuses on gums and teeth.
- You might work directly with patients in a hospital or clinic, running lab tests, teaching patients how to better take care of themselves, or developing policies to help keep people healthy. You might work in a surgical setting, at a dental clinic, or in a specialty clinic for speech and audiology or rehabilitation.
- There are health care careers that work well as a part-time job, but others require more than a 40-hour work week and an on-call schedule.
- Some require years of education, while others require only weeks of training. For example, a certified nursing assistant program (CNA) might be completed in as little as six to 12 weeks, while a physical therapist (DPT) requires an undergraduate degree (four years), plus three years of specialized graduate education.
- The pay range can vary widely between health careers. Assistants and technical support staff in a health care setting are typically on the lower end of the pay scale. Those who receive higher salaries include dentists, physicians (especially specialists), and pharmacists, to name a few.
Keep an open mind on the possibilities. You might be familiar with nurses or pharmacists, but what about a clinical laboratory scientist or occupational therapist? A sonographer? A respiratory care therapist?
Explore all your options before making a decision.
Think about the kinds of activities you want in a health career and who you are as a person:
- Can you see yourself working with computerized technology?
- Do you have the hand-eye coordination required to use specific tools and equipment?
- Do you have the empathy required to work with the sick or dying?
- Do you have the ability to work with people who are different than you?
- Can you work with people who are potentially going through difficult times?
Next, look through health care job postings to learn what the typical duties and education requirements are for the career you are considering. Can you see yourself managing the duties and pursuing the required education? How do you feel about the pay? While no current job posting is a guarantee of what a future job may be like, you can still use this to gauge what the current market is requiring.
Then research health careers on ISEEK and O*Net OnLine. Search through the “health science” area for a job title that interests you. What are the required knowledge, skills, abilities, and education? Can you see yourself doing that work? Will this new career capitalize on your strengths? Can you handle the physical requirements of the position? Is a criminal background check required by the academic program or for employment?
Last, talk with people who are in the jobs which interest you. Find out how they got to where they are in their career. Ask where they went to school and what they like or dislike about their job. They will be a great inside source of information to you!
Who is there to help?
There are many resources available to help you work toward your goal. The University of Minnesota’s Health Careers Center offers information sessions, courses, and a fee-based online workshop geared to help prospective students who are considering or preparing for health careers.
Consider working with a career counselor. Ask about taking an assessment which features health careers. Online assessments such as the Strong Interest Inventory include different health professional roles. While not every career is represented, you can get an idea about which ones might fit your preferred style based on research done by professionals in those roles. ISEEK also offers a general skills assessment and a basic interest assessment.
It’s Your Move.
Start by giving yourself small tasks each week that move you toward your goal. Create a plan for yourself, and use the resources available to you. Soon enough, you will find that you have taken the steps to make the changes you want to happen in your life.
Jennifer Rosand, M.Ed. is the coordinator of the Health Careers Center at the University of Minnesota and has worked with students of all ages in health career exploration and preparation. The Health Careers Center offers pre-health preparation services for students, high school students, and career changers who are exploring health careers.