You know you want to help people. That’s a given. Maybe you like working with kids, seniors, or cutting-edge technologies. But how do you turn a passion, an interest, or an idea into a long-term career in healthcare? Which profession speaks to you and what does it take to get started? The following guide helps students, young professionals, career changers, single parents, and anyone thinking about a medical career to enter the industry prepared. See which occupations align with your professional interests, and explore the education and training options you’ll have as you navigate college, certification, online learning, and more. Learn what it takes to become a medical professional today.
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- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
- Dental Hygienist
- Healthcare Administrator
- Medical Assistant
- Medical Biller or Coder
- Nurse Practitioner
- Occupational Therapist
- Pharmacy Technician
- Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)
- Physician Assistant
- Radiology Tech
- Registered Nurse
- Sonographer & Ultrasound Tech
- Surgical Technician
- Veterinary Technician
See Where You Fit
Healthcare has a career for nearly everyone, and it all starts with finding your niche. For some that may be easy, but for others, it means answering a few simple questions.
Do You Like Working with Patients?
Before entering the industry, it’s important to ascertain your level of interest when it comes to patient care vs. administration. Some medical support roles consist almost solely of direct patient interaction, while others concentrate more on the business side of things. Roles also exist that combine both for those who like diversity in their workdays. The following section highlights some of the jobs available in each area, but readers should remember that work environments and specific responsibilities vary by employer.
Yes! I want to work with patients every day
People who want to work closely with patients can choose from a variety of healthcare professions. While registered nurses may spend their days assessing patient conditions, recording medical histories, drawing blood, administering medicines, directing rehabilitative treatments, and performing diagnostic tests, home health aides help patients with everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, preparing meals, bathing and dressing, administering medicines, and helping with physical therapy exercises. If these day-to-day responsibilities sound appealing to you, the good news is that many positions with extensive face-to-face opportunities exist. Learn more about these patient-focused careers and how to get started.
- Registered Nurse
- Home Health Aide
- Occupational Therapist
- Physical Therapist Assistant – Coming Soon!
- Dental Hygienist
Even if you have a passion for helping patients recuperate and recover, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to work with them all day, every day. Finding equilibrium between care for others and care for self is critical, and taking on a job with moderate patient contact can help provide that balance. Professionals such as pharmacy techs, radiologic technologists, and dental assistants have the opportunity to interact with patients on a daily basis, but they also spend time on other responsibilities, such as paperwork, scheduling, and handling insurance matters. Many roles requiring moderate patient interaction exist, so prospective students should familiarize themselves with each to find a position that ticks all the boxes.
- Medical Assistant
- Radiologic Technologist
- X-Ray Technician – Coming Soon!
- Pharmacy Tech
- Surgical Tech
- Dental Assistant
Many people lack interest in professions requiring in-depth medical knowledge, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude them from working in healthcare. Plenty of administrative roles exist that use their knowledge of business, technology, and billing to make the process of scheduling, receiving, and paying for care a more streamlined process. Individuals who enjoy working with data often gravitate towards positions as medical coders and billers, while those who want a change of pace from human patients may enjoy working with animals as vet techs. Read up on these roles to see if they provide a solid fit.
What’s your preferred work environment?
Medical care facilities exist in many different forms, creating opportunities for those enthusiastic about this field to find the perfect job setting. Some healthcare professionals thrive on the hustle-and-bustle of large, busy facilities while others may feel more drawn towards smaller, local clinics that provide more opportunities to get to know patients and coworkers. Review the locations listed below to get a sense of the best location for their individual needs.
Hospitals For medical professionals in training who want to work in fast-paced environments where no day is the same, hospitals can provide a great work setting. These facilities employ many different types of healthcare workers, allowing patient-facing and administrative professionals alike to find fascinating employment.
Long-term care facilities Long-term care facilities appeal to individuals who appreciate continuity of care and working with the same faces over longer periods of time. These environments tend to be slower-paced than hospitals and offer less pressurized work environments. Nurses, health aides, physical therapists, and administrative professionals can find work in these facilities.
Nonprofits These locations often appeal to individuals wanting to work more on the business and/or policy side of things. Many nonprofit organizations exist within the healthcare world that encourage awareness, education, and community involvement in specific health promotion and wellness causes. The American Heart Association acts as an example of this type of setting.
Physician offices Individuals looking for more traditional schedules often appreciate physician offices, as these typically follow 9-5 schedules. They also appeal to medical professionals who want to work with a smaller staff and see fewer patients throughout their days. Examples of common roles in these settings include registered nurse, x-ray technician, dental hygienist, and medical biller.
What are your strengths?
Working as a medical or health professional requires a wide range of skills and competencies. Before applying for a position, assess your existing strengths to determine how you can further cultivate and utilize those in a complimentary career. For instance, if you’re considering a job as a registered nurse but don’t have the physical stamina to withstand long hours and lifting heavy objects, you might want to rethink this path.
Patient communication: Healthcare professionals in patient-facing roles must be able to communicate clearly and effectively with those they serve. This may involve teaching them or their families about prescriptions, demonstrating physical therapy movements, or explaining how to care for a wound.
Who needs it: Nearly all patient-facing careers, but absolutely critical for registered nurses, practical nurses, nurse practitioners, and occupational therapists.
Computer literacy: The healthcare industry uses a number of mainstream and propriety software to manage patient data, scheduling, and billing. Because of this, individuals must have a thorough knowledge of both general computer use and specific programs.
Who needs it: Any professionals working in administrative roles, but also nurses and physicians entering patient data.
Leadership: Many healthcare positions exist as supervisory roles – especially ones requiring advanced degrees or existing experience – making it imperative that candidates know how to effectively manage and lead their staff.
Who needs it: Doctors, nurse practitioners, and any team captains who oversee others in their wing or office.
Interpersonal relations: No matter their position, healthcare professionals work with many different types of personalities and must be able to collaborate with them. While nurses interact with many different types of patients and colleagues, admin staff also work closely with medical and other admin staff.
Who needs it: No medical professional is an island; all individuals employed in this space must be able to work well with others.
Attention to detail: Whether administering medications, taking x-rays, filling a cavity, or handling insurance claims, this industry demands attention to detail as a matter of course. Individuals must be focused on their task at hand at all times.
Who needs it: Anyone hoping to receive employment in the field must demonstrate this critical skill.
Medical knowledge: Health professionals working on the medicine side must possess distinct sets of knowledge related to their job. Registered nurses must know how to draw blood, home health aides must know how to deal with bed sores, and sonographers must know what to look for in ultrasounds.
Who needs it: All individuals working directly with patients must possess medical knowledge, but even admin staff should know medical terminology.
Physical stamina: Many roles in this field require employees to work long shifts, stay on their feet for hours, pick up heavy objects, and always be on the go. It’s important for individuals considering these positions to have the stamina needed to hold the job long-term.
Who needs it: Nearly all patient-facing careers, but especially registered nurses, LPN/LVNs, home health aides, and veterinary technicians.
Understand Training Options
After deciding a career in the medical and healthcare industry meets your personal and professional needs, it’s time to consider what education you’ll need to start working. Some occupations have clear guidelines surrounding educational requirements, while others provide flexibility when it comes to selecting school type, program format, and level of education. Whether hoping to become a registered nurse, medical assistant, home health aide, or any of the other positions highlighted in this guide, the following sections help prospective students think through important questions related to how to pick the perfect program for your needs.
Higher Education by Level
Healthcare careers exist at every educational level, but those aspiring to higher-paying roles should consider their path carefully. Certificates and diplomas can be completed in less than a year and allow you to begin working quickly, but they may limit earnings. Associate degrees allow for higher salaries and build a foundation for further education, but may still limit a graduate’s ability to take on managerial positions. If you’re aspiring to these types of roles – but not physician positions – often complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Once you have a shortlist of medical professions to explore, ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s the minimum amount of education I need to become a competitive hire?
- What’s the minimum education I need to foster career growth?
- What level of education do most people in the field have?
Education by Delivery
These days, students can choose from a variety of delivery methods when it comes to healthcare education and training programs. While some learners may decide to pursue a traditional program at a brick-and-mortar campus, others may feel that distance learning works best with their schedules. Others may want a mix of both and feel drawn to hybrid programs. For a detailed breakdown of today’s most popular learning options, read our complete guide to online schools & programs in medical and health. And as you dive into finding a specific healthcare profession, consider questions similar to these:
- What type of education program fits your wants and needs? Campus, online, or both (blended)?
- Is online learning possible for a portion of your training? Does part of your training require face-to-face work with patients?
- Will I need a specific certification to get hired?
Which School Makes Sense?
With numerous educational paths available for many healthcare careers, picking the right one can take some time and consideration. Positions that don’t require bachelor’s degrees allow students to receive training from several different sources, but learners should consider their long-term career goals before picking a program. Some individuals may want to stay in the same role, while others may aspire to higher-paying positions or jobs requiring managerial skills. When researching how to become a medical assistant, radiologic technologist, or any medical profession with multiple options for education, ask the following school-related questions:
- Do I want a general education in addition to my career training? Could a general education set me up for career growth down the road?
- Do employers offer on-the-job training? Will that be enough to start (or grow) my career?
- What can I afford?
Get Specific, Get Info
Although this guide contains plenty of actionable advice about healthcare careers and education in general, anyone truly considering this path needs to get specific information to make an informed decision. Prospective learners need to understand points of entry, projected growth rates, potential salaries, and, perhaps most importantly, educational requirements. Education is a major investment, but finding the right program can help get your foot into the door of a dream career. What do you want to become?