Interested In A Career In Health Care?
This week our columnist Kelly Christiansen invites guest writer Dr. Ryan Baker to offer inside insights on careers within the health care industry.
Congratulations! You’ve decided upon a field full of stressed, overworked, jaded individuals. The hours can be long, the schedule varies wildly, and people (both coworkers and patients) can be frustrating and unreasonable. You’ll miss a Christmas or two with the family. The suicide and divorce rates are high. The long term career satisfaction is low. You’ll be exposed to all things gross, sad, disturbing, infuriating, and even dangerous (ask any ER nurse). It is a field where the training is long, will probably feel stupid more times than not, and will be sworn at and insulted, and there is always someone smarter than you.
Talked you out of it yet?
Let me start by saying I am completely biased. For a long time, I thought I wanted a career in health care, and I was completely right. It is a fun, fascinating, challenging field. Every day is different, and you’ll meet all kinds of people who are specifically looking to you to help them. You’ll rarely struggle to find work, and have a dependable paycheck. The things you do truly matter. Even on days where you don’t think you helped someone, chances are you did.
The field of healthcare is hugely broad. A loose definition will include everyone from the receptionist at a medical office, to the CIO of your local hospital. For the sake of this article, I’ll assume you want to deal directly with patients. Even this category is broad. A (very) basic breakdown could like:
These careers train you for a specific task. The term “Allied Health” encompasses technicians, technologists, and therapists of varying specialties and degree programs. These degrees tend to be offered at Health Care colleges, community colleges, or graduate programs. Many can be completed (at least partially) online, in the evenings, and in your spare time. They’ll generally prepare you to perform a specific task (i.e. Dental Hygienist, Occupational Therapist, Respiratory Therapist, Surgical Technologist, etc).
A very large category, indeed. The educational programs start short, and go as long as you want to stay in school. The good news is that you can start small and work your way up as there are many “bridge” programs that will allow you to get one degree after you’ve received the previous one. A CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant) will require a short certification course that will last roughly two months. An LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse- one year program), an ADN (Associates Degree), and a BSN (Bachelors Degree) will qualify you to sit for the NCLEX (licensing exam), to become an RN (Registered Nurse). If you’re ever in a hospital, you’ll notice ID badges that will have qualifications on them (i.e. RN-BSN). You can then pursue masters and doctoral degrees. Basically the longer you’re in school, the more independence you’ll have when taking care of patients. There are also innumerable certification courses that can identify expertise in a certain field (i.e. Wound Care, Critical Care, Geriatric, etc). If you like having letters behind your last name, become a nurse.
Medical school is very straightforward. Get a Bachelor’s Degree at an accredited university, sit for your MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), then go to medical school (easier said than done). After you graduate, you must complete a residency program (from three to seven years depending on specialty). After completing your residency, you’ll be eligible to sit for your board exam which will certify you as “Board-Certified” in your specialty.
That’s great, but how do I get started?
There are many individual courses you can take to enter into healthcare (i.e. medical billing, phlebotomy). However in health care, most careers will require a degree and licensing (would YOU want an unlicensed nurse taking care of YOU?). That means you’ll have to find a program to enroll in. Whether you’re in high school or starting a second career, you’ll want to take a few steps to get started on the path to a career in healthcare.
- Determine what program you want to pursue
Several factors will go into this decision. How long do you want to be in school? What programs can you qualify for (both academically and financially)? What type of job do you want at the end? If you want to be trained for a specific task, or prefer a shorter educational program, you’d probably prefer an allied health career. If you want to be a physician, you’ll have to go to medical school, rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, and will look forward to about 7-15 years of training. Nursing programs will vary widely in both expense and length.
- Find a school
There are many online-based universities and local community colleges that will provide guidance for the degree program you’re looking for. You can even start your premedical courses for medical school at community colleges or with an online MSN degree program. It is critical that you make an informed decision at this step. It’s incredibly easy to rack up student loan debt. Do not take out seventy thousand dollars in student loans to get a job that pays thirty thousand a year. Take an honest look at what your specific degree program will pay after you graduate, and find a school that can provide that program at a reasonable cost.
- Study and Plan
Health care is hard. Even the most basic fields are science-heavy and require diligent study. Don’t take a course for granted. Make sure you have all your prerequisite courses lined up, and have your courses planned out so you don’t take unnecessary or redundant coursework that could end up costing you months or years of your life.
- Graduate and get a job
Congrats! You’re now in the club of health care workers. You’ll develop a completely different perspective on illness and life than you had before you started. You’re outlook, and sense of humor will be different. You’ll work hard, but your hard work will be rewarded with security, respect, and the knowledge that you go to work every day to help others and make a difference in someone’s life.