Choosing a Healthcare Career
Healthcare career categories include:
- Patient care (human and animal, physical and mental)
- Patient advocacy
- Laboratory technology and diagnostics
- Administration and office support (hospitals, clinics, health insurance companies)
- Medical research (into new drugs and devices)
- Basic research (into how the body works and how diseases and injuries play out)
- Information technology (including Electronic Medical Records and biostatistics)
- Sales (of equipment and drugs)
- Service (of equipment)
- Public and environmental health
- Medical writing, illustration, and videography
- Patient and public education
- Medical education
- Medical law
There are many different human and animal healthcare careers, with new ones added every few years as the medical field advances. How do you choose?
The first answer is: don't choose until you are fully informed. Instead, explore as much as you can, as long as you can. Keep your options open.
The second answer is: always choose a backup career, or two. This is not evidence of low motivation; it is mature and realistic.
Modern healthcare is a “team sport." To use a football analogy: quarterbacks don’t win games by themselves. No coach will ever get the most out of a star player unless that player can work within the team.
Let’s say you have your heart set on being an orthopedic surgeon. Your practice will also involve nurses, nursing assistants, physical therapists, physical therapy assistants and a whole raft of administrative managers and office staff. It might also involve occupational therapists and mental health professionals.
Knowing about your future teammates, their abilities and limitations, and how you will depend on them, will always make you look more sophisticated, professional, and competent during evaluations all through your education and career.
Attaining a healthcare career boils down to two things: motivation coupled with suitability. Many students feel very motivated, but "wanting it" just isn't enough. Your competency for attaining a healthcare career, AND retaining practice privileges through licensing, will be judged over and over again. Success begins with knowing what you need to know.
Good Places To Learn About Different Careers
It's OK to change your mind
Another great reason to explore multiple career options is that a large proportion of healthcare-interested students end up changing their minds about which career to pursue. Having a Plan B (and C and D), which can save you a lot of time, effort and money later.
Some very successful students have kept their career options open until near the end of college, and have aggressively pursued job shadows where they made a point of asking “what are the pluses and the minuses of this profession?” They've learned, sometimes, that a certain career isn't what they thought it was; or that they are just not a good fit for a certain career.
"I hate/am no good at math"
Honestly, if you feel this way and aren't willing to try to change, healthcare is not the field for you. From the clinic to the office to the laboratory, healthcare absolutely depends on personnel capable of skillful evaluation of quantitative measures for a math-hater to ever appear "suitable". Find something else to do.
Once You've Chosen
Your next step is self-education about the reality of the career. This should include job shadows of practitioners. However, do NOT go on job shadows until you are prepared.
Many students don't understand "credentials". Credentials are proof-of-training and proof-of-competence that allow a person to practice a healthcare career. Keep reading, below, but you should go to the Credentials page next.
Your #1 best source for accurate information and preparation will be the career's professional association. Essentially all of these have websites, often with pages especially for young people exploring the career. Here is a short, alphabetical list of some of these associations:
- American Academy of Physician Assistants www.aapa.org/
- American Chiropractic Association www.acatoday.org/
- American Dental Association www.ada.org/
- American Medical Association www.ama-assn.org/ama
- American Nurses Association www.nursingworld.org/
- American Occupational Therapy Association www.aota.org/
- American Optometric Association www.aoa.org/
- American Pharmacists Association www.pharmacist.com/
- American Physical Therapy Association www.apta.org/
- American Podiatric Medical Association www.apma.org/
- American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science www.ascls.org/
- American Society of Radiologic Technologists www.asrt.org
- American Veterinary Medical Association www.avma.org
- National Athletic Trainers Association www.nata.org/
- Society of Clinical Psychology www.apa.org/divisions/div12/aboutcp.html
For Success, Become Your Own Expert
The things you need to know change, year to year. Working healthcare professionals who were educated more than 10 years ago may have a misleadingly outdated view of what your career track will be like, today.
You can also get skewed information from other students in the "exploration" stage. In contrast, students who have just been admitted or hired make WONDERFUL resources.
Ultimately, your interests are best served by you becoming your own expert by consulting many sources and doing appropriately skeptical "fact checking".
Last updated on 8/8/2013. Direct concerns about this page to firstname.lastname@example.org.