MEET THE EXPERT
You may be young, but you know you want a career helping others. You admire our healthcare professionals, and feel ready to start preparing to join their ranks. If this sounds like you, high school can be a great place to begin building your foundation in healthcare. With the right classes, some extracurriculars, and a deep motivation to achieve your aspirations, your healthcare future could be closer than you think. Keep reading to learn what you can do to set yourself up for success in the medical field and take away expert advice on aligning your high school education with your career goals in healthcare.
Building Your Foundation: Courses to Take in High School
Even while still in high school, you can take classes that will help prepare you for healthcare-related college studies. Here are just some of the high school courses that can lay the foundation for healthcare majors in college, or help you jump straight into a career opportunity.
Healthcare Skills to Cultivate in High School
You’ll need to master many technical and nontechnical skills to excel in the field of healthcare; thankfully, you can start building many of them while still in high school. Below are some of the skills you’ll most want in your toolbox as a healthcare professional.
Extracurriculars That Will Add Value to Your Healthcare Career
Besides classes, many schools offer tons of extracurricular activities that will look good on your resume and help you build some of the skills listed in the previous section. If you’re dreaming of a career in healthcare, these extracurriculars can help set you up for success.
Expert Advice on Preparing for a Healthcare Career in High School
Dr. Rene Roberts is a board-certified Family Medicine physician in the Chicago area with expertise in mentoring and coaching high school and college students interested in pursuing careers in medicine. She was a competitive figure skater in high school before pursuing her career in medicine. She graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine in 2011 and completed her residency in Family Medicine at St. Josephs’ Hospital in Chicago.
1. Why might a student want to start thinking about preparing for their healthcare career while still in high school?
The journey to a successful career in healthcare is a long-distance race. It is not a sprint. Whether a high school student is interested in becoming a doctor, dentist, nurse, physical therapist, ultrasound technician, or another healthcare professional, they must prepare themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically. I repeatedly tell my high school and premedical college students I mentor that they must be willing to be stretched, challenged, and exit their comfort zone regularly to achieve that acceptance letter to the professional school of their choice. High school is the perfect time for students to start the process of self-discovery to determine if a healthcare career is truly for them. Students should ask themselves the following questions:
- What excites me the most?
- What am I passionate about?
- What is my life purpose?
- What does a fulfilled life look like to me?
- What do I like most about scientific discovery?
- How can I best serve other people using the skills and talents that I have?
Hopefully their answers will shed some insight on their strengths and how these align with a career in healthcare.
2. Outside of taking STEM classes, what else can they do to prepare at the high school?
When I mentor my premedical students as they are preparing their AMCAS (American Medical College Admission Service) applications, I ask them to take an inventory of their best skills and personality traits. In this case, becoming a great doctor takes more than book smarts. It takes empathy, integrity, compassion, dedication, accountability, resilience, and strong leadership and problem-solving skills, to name a few. I would encourage all high school students to spend quality time participating in extracurricular activities that will cultivate these personality traits. Prior to starting medical school, I was a competitive figure skater with the United States Figure Skating Association. Juggling 5 AM practices before school and off-ice training after school all while studying for my classes taught me effective time management skills. Losing a competition taught me to be resilient in the face of challenges/setbacks. I am thankful for every experience figure skating taught me, as I use these same skills today when I practice medicine.
Likewise, it is imperative that students strive to become the most well-rounded student possible. I cannot stress this enough. A career in healthcare is going to take more than just book smarts. A career in healthcare means you must be confident as well as comfortable working with patients who do not look like you, think like you, or even grew up like you did. Students must be able to relate to different life experiences. To prepare students for this, I encourage them to seek life experiences that will force them to exit their comfort zone, challenge their thinking and life perspective. Volunteering with organizations, with children, the elderly or with people who speak a different language or have different ethnic background is a great way to accomplish this.
Participation in sports, the arts or humanities also provides for the development of a wide range of knowledge and skills that can help enrich the human experience.
3. What’s something high school students may not think about that could boost their resume?
Students should not shy away from sharing something about themselves that makes them unique and stand out from the rest of a crowded field of applicants. Often students will downplay their unique talents and think it won’t’ be relevant to their application because their talent doesn’t directly relate to the type of profession they are seeking to go into. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! A student might play the ukulele, teach children Irish step dancing or deliver home-cooked meals to senior citizens. Whatever it is that sets you apart, make sure you showcase that in your resume.
4. How can school administrators, guidance counselors, etc. help high school students reach this goal?
Please do not downplay a student’s career aspirations or talk a student out of pursuing their dreams even if they may not be the strongest student academically in high school. High school academic performance is not the sole predictor of overall future career success. Students mature at different rates and will undoubtedly need ongoing support from school counselors and administrators to support them on their journey. I remember the shock and horror I felt being told by one of my junior high school teachers that my dream of becoming a physician was a “lofty goal.” Had I taken that to heart and listened to him, chances are I may not be a doctor today. Thankfully, I had the gumption at that age to tell myself that I refused to let anyone dictate who or what I became. I earnestly implore anyone working with high school students to help feed their students’ faith and confidence in their abilities to succeed at all that they do in life.
Resources to Ready You for a Career in Healthcare
- High School Health Sciences Program
At Ozarks Technical Community College, high school students can enroll in a two-year program taking both high school and college classes alongside clinical rotations. Check to see if a similar program exists where you live.
- A High School Student’s Journey Towards a Healthcare Career
Check out this story of a student who knew early this was her path.
- National Student Leadership Conference
The NSLC provides a summer training program at top hospitals throughout the country for interested students.
- American Medical Student Association
AMSA provides a Teen Education program to help inspire high school students to consider careers in healthcare.
- Health Science High School
McClure HSHS in Georgia is one example of a new type of high school learning opportunity for students who know they want to work in the health sciences.
Check out HOSA if you want to build skills in healthcare leadership while still in high school.
- Healthcare High School Academy Program
Offered by Norton Healthcare in Louisville, Kentucky, this is just one example of programs that may be available near you.
- Association of American Medical Colleges
The AAMC provides specialized information for high school students looking to what they can to prepare for medical degrees and careers.