How Do I Choose the Health Care Profession That's Right For Me?
Looking for a career where you can make a difference? Few options deliver on this promise as powerfully as the health professions. Whether you are looking to directly interact with patients or help improve health outcomes behind the scenes, the health care field offers a wide variety of opportunities for contributing to the good of your community — and the world.
However, the ability to make a difference is far from the only reason to consider a career in health care – high job security is also a compelling factor. According to a Deloitte report, global health care spending is expected to increase by 5.4% annually between 2017-2022, eventually reaching just over $10 trillion. That investment translates to a growing number of roles for qualified health care professionals. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2018 and 2028, employment in health care occupations will grow by 14%, a rate that is significantly higher than the average for all occupations. This growth is expected to add 1.9 million new positions to the job market — more than any other occupational group.
As the health care industry continues to grow, many students are taking advantage of these exciting opportunities to pursue a career where they can contribute to the health and well-being of others. But with so many opportunities — ranging from patient care and pharmaceutical development to research and public health — many aspiring professionals find themselves asking, “How do I choose the health profession that’s right for me?”
According to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Assistant Professor, Logan Winkelman, you should start by assessing your interests, researching your options, considering less traditional roles, and shadowing professionals in the field.
1. Assess Your Interests
To determine which health care role is right for you, start by thinking about what you want from your career.
“I would always recommend a student do a self-assessment,” Winkelman says. “It can be formal or informal, but it is important to try to get at the heart of who you are and what would satisfy you in a career. The better you know yourself, the better able you are to make those decisions about your future.”
Not sure where to begin? Winkelman suggests getting started by thinking through the following questions:
- What do I value?
- What are my future goals?
- What are my skills?
- What are my strengths?
- What are my areas of growth?
Health care is a vast field with many diverse options. By processing through these questions, you can narrow down the wide variety of health professions by eliminating positions that do not meet what you are looking for and honing in on the ones with potential.
For instance, says Winkelman, if you value prestige and high income, a behind-the-scenes job that doesn't have high salary potential would be a misalignment. Does that mean that you should not pursue that type of role? Not necessarily. But she says that it is something to be aware of. If you have your heart set on a position that does not provide everything you are looking for, keep in mind that you may be able to fill these additional needs or desires through a hobby or other activity outside of working hours.
“There are a lot of things to consider but really, the better you know yourself, the easier it will be for you to connect the dots to a future career,” Winkelman says.
2. Research Your Options
Whether you are currently a student or have not set foot in the classroom for years, your next step is to do your homework. Researching the different health professions in areas that interest you will help you narrow in on the perfect role. For example, if you like kids, your first instinct may be to pursue a career as a pediatrician but did you know that family nurse practitioners perform similar responsibilities? By exploring both options, you can determine which role suits you best.
“There are so many different careers that students simply aren't aware of,” Winkelman says. “They may know the major ones, like a nurse, physician or pharmacist, but there are other positions that are rising in popularity that are less well-known.”
To jumpstart your research, Winkelman recommends using O*NET OnLine, a career database that offers a wealth of occupational information, including salary data and job outlook projections based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Once you have found a few — or perhaps many — roles that pique your interest, compare the roles and responsibilities to the information that you gathered about yourself. This should help you narrow down the positions to those most likely to lead to a satisfying career down the road.
3. Think Outside the Box
What comes to mind when you think of health professions? For most, physicians and nurses take the top spots. But if you are interested in joining the health care field, you may want to consider one of the many other diverse roles that are currently on the rise.
As you research your options, spend some time thinking outside the box. A good place to start is with positions for allied health professionals. The Association of Schools Advancing Health Professions defines these roles as any position “involved with the delivery of health or related services pertaining to the identification, evaluation, and prevention of diseases and disorders; dietary and nutrition services; rehabilitation and health systems management, among others.” These positions, which play an important part in health care delivery, are distinct from the practices of medicine and nursing. They include roles such as dental hygienists, dietitians, medical technologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and radiographers.
According to ASAHP, allied health professionals make up almost 60% of the health care workforce. As demand for health care services increases, so will the demand for allied health professionals whose collaborative work with physicians, nurses, dentists, and other providers is critical for the health of the nation.
Looking for a place to start? Consider some of these lesser-known — but critically important — roles in the field:
Athletic trainers: Enjoy sports? Athletic trainers work with athletes to help prevent, diagnose and treat injuries, chronic conditions and other medical conditions.
Audiologists: Hearing loss is not limited to the elderly. As an audiologist, you would help evaluate and treat hearing problems across the age spectrum.
Clinical laboratory scientists: If research is your passion, you may enjoy a career as a clinical laboratory scientist — a role dedicated to performing lab analyses to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of patients.
Mental health counselor: Counseling offers a wide range of specialties. As a mental health counselor, you would be dedicated to helping patients pursue emotional and psychological wellbeing.
Physician assistants: In many settings, physician assistants — or PAs — act as primary care providers, which can include diagnosing patients, creating treatment plans, and prescribing medications.
Speech pathologists: Speech pathologists are clinical professionals who work with patients to address challenges related to speech and swallowing.
These diverse roles are just scratching the surface of the available options.
“The field of health care is just booming right now,” Winkelman says. “There is probably a health profession out there for anyone who is interested in joining the field.”
4. Shadow a Professional
Found a career you think might be right for you? Before you enroll in the appropriate health care program, consider taking your research a step further by shadowing a professional who works in that role. Job shadowing is your opportunity to get a preview of the day-to-day responsibilities of a career by spending a certain amount of time with someone as they go about a normal workday. You can shadow someone for a few hours, a full day, or even multiple days depending on their availability and your interest.
However, keep in mind that there are some health professions such as mental health counseling or rehab counseling, which would not be appropriate to fully shadow. While you may be able to meet with professionals in these roles at their workplace, you would not be able to sit in on a session with a client due to privacy regulations.
If you are interested in one of these more privacy-sensitive fields — or do not have the time or opportunity to shadow someone in the health profession of your choice — consider scheduling an informational interview. An informational interview is simply a conversation with someone who works in the role that interests you. It can occur in-person, or via a phone or video call. Informational interviews provide a valuable opportunity to ask questions about the role, while also beginning to make connections with professionals who work in the field. You can speak with a single person, or attempt to connect with several professionals to gain a more diverse perspective.
Not sure what you should ask? Consider preparing questions about their educational background, what they like most — and least — about the occupation and any suggestions they have for those just starting out in the role.
“Shadowing a health professional or conducting an informational interview offers such great insights into occupations without requiring a big commitment,” Winkelman says. “It just takes finding people in your area and asking them to share some of their time and expertise. These are the two things that I would definitely recommend for anybody who is exploring interests and has yet to narrow it down to the point where they are applying to a program.”
Launch Your Health Care Career at TTUHSC SHP
Interested in launching a career in health care? Consider applying to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Health Professions (TTUHSC SHP). At TTUHSC SHP, you can choose from 20 different graduate and undergraduate programs spanning five discipline areas that are critical to health care:
- Laboratory Sciences & Primary Care
- Rehabilitation Sciences
- Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences
- Healthcare Management & Leadership
- Clinical Counseling & Mental Health
As a TTUHSC SHP student, you will not only earn a health care degree — you will receive the support you need to launch a successful career. Each school within TTUHSC offers a variety of career development opportunities, ranging from resume workshops and job fairs to workplace skills training sessions. Students can also attend an interprofessional education symposium, which provides the opportunity to interact with all of the professions within the school. Through the symposium, students learn more about each other's fields and discover how they would work together once they enter the workforce.
In addition to these career support services, you will receive a variety of opportunities for gaining clinical experience while earning your degree. Within TTUHSC SHP, there are several clinics where students work and gain hands-on research experience to supplement their coursework.
“Beyond being highly competitive and recognized for research and academics, I think another thing that really sets us apart is our people,” Winkelman says. “From our students to our faculty, staff, and administrators, we all adhere to what we call a values-based culture, in which we place people first. From the delivery of our curriculum to the delivery of patient care, we truly care about people.”
From day one, you will always find someone at TTUHSC SHP who is willing to answer your questions and ease some of your anxiety around choosing a health profession.
“I truly believe that any student interested in a health care career can find a home at TTUHSC,” Winkelman says.
Want to learn more about a health care career? Call us at 806-743-3220 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with an admissions representative and explore how a TTUHSC School of Health Professions education can help you launch a career that makes a difference.
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