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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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.
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.
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.
Who needs it: Nearly all patient-facing careers, but absolutely critical for registered nurses, practical nurses, nurse practitioners, and occupational therapists.
Who needs it: Any professionals working in administrative roles, but also nurses and physicians entering patient data.
Who needs it: Doctors, nurse practitioners, and any team captains who oversee others in their wing or office.
Who needs it: No medical professional is an island; all individuals employed in this space must be able to work well with others.
Who needs it: Anyone hoping to receive employment in the field must demonstrate this critical skill.
Who needs it: All individuals working directly with patients must possess medical knowledge, but even admin staff should know medical terminology.
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?