The healthcare industry offers a huge array of opportunities for people who want to launch a rewarding career with only two or fewer years of higher education. And while it’s great for people who want to work in allied-health support jobs to have so many occupational choices, the abundance of alternatives can be overwhelming.
Experts offer tips on how prospective healthcare workers can narrow their options and find the right fit in allied health:
1. Do Your Research
Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ overviews of healthcare occupations and its list of fastest-growing professions, many of which are in allied health, recommends health workforce specialist Kate Tulenko, MD. (Confirm that an occupation is in high demand in your geographic area by browsing local job postings as well.) Also, browse the American Medical Association’s Health Care Careers Directory, which features a comprehensive listing of health professions. “There are dozens of professions in there that many people have never heard of,” Tulenko says, like phlebotomist.
2. Recognize Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Some people are wonderful at working directly with patients in hands-on roles like medical assistant, while others are more suited for behind-the-scenes jobs like registered health information technician. “It’s really the people who enjoy developing relationships and connecting with others who would be more successful in bedside roles,” says Lisa Boesen, a speaker and career coach with expertise in healthcare. But even people who work in technical or business jobs in healthcare must have a sense of empathy and strong customer service skills, Boesen says.
Adds Christina Thielst, a former hospital administrator who is now a consultant: “Anyone working in healthcare will need to be organized, reliable, trustworthy, competent and have good communication skills.” Those who work at the bedside “need to have some compassion and understanding about how to deal with difficult people and situations,” she says.
3. Talk to Folks in the Field
Spend a few days conducting informational interviews with or shadowing allied-health workers who have jobs that interest you. Going out in the field is a great way to discover whether you’d like or dislike a certain job. “Many people spend more time and effort looking for a new car than researching their lifetime career,” Tulenko says. “You need to test-drive your career, too.”
If you don’t know anyone in the field, contact the healthcare professional association for the discipline you’re targeting. A professional association can often put a prospective student in touch with a working professional. Tulenko says an important question to ask someone working in the field is “What do you like least about your job?” or “If there’s one thing you could change about your profession, what would it be?”
4. Think ‘Big Picture’
Consider the long-term career potential when choosing an allied-health support occupation, Boesen says. With additional education, for example, a pharmacy technician job could be a stepping-stone to a pharmacist job and then a pharmacy manager job. “Think about the possibilities for future growth,” Boesen says. When you choose a field with advancement opportunities, “there are some options, and you can move in the direction of your ultimate goal.”
5. Be Selective About Your Program
Once you’ve decided on an allied-health career, choose your training program carefully. “Make sure you go to an accredited program,” Tulenko says. In addition, make sure that the program’s six-month employment rate for graduates is more than 50 percent. Also, “ask about internships, what type of career services are available and whether they have a mentorship program in place that will pair you with someone more experienced in the field,” Tulenko says.
6. Hang On to Your Enthusiasm
It will be easier to remain happy in your allied-health career if you’re passionate about what you do. After you’ve done your research and think you’ve found a good occupational fit, you should be in high spirits. “Does the job seem interesting and do you get excited thinking about it?” Thielst says. “If so, it is probably going to be a good fit. If you don’t get a good feeling inside when you think about the job, keep looking.”
Learn more about healthcare careers.