Healthcare Career Guide for Students
If you're a high school or college student considering a career in healthcare, congratulations! The healthcare field is full of exciting opportunities for people of all education levels and abilities. Read on for key factors to keep in mind as you weigh the pros and cons of a career in healthcare, as well as snapshots of several healthcare jobs and links to additional resources.
Is Healthcare for You?
Healthcare isn't right for everyone. Although the work can be highly rewarding, it can also be physically and mentally exhausting. Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding if this field is for you:
- Almost all healthcare positions require a high school diploma, and most require additional education. To best prepare for a healthcare career while you're in high school, you should get a solid grounding in the sciences.
- Before you make up your mind about a specific healthcare profession, consider shadowing a person who is in the line of work you've chosen. Contact a professional healthcare association in your area or talk to your school guidance counselor about how to set up such an experience.
- Usually, your earning potential as a healthcare professional will increase along with your level of education. However, money isn't the main reason most people decide to work in healthcare. Salaries aren't as high in healthcare as in other industries, and most healthcare workers say they chose to enter the field because they like helping others.
- Many healthcare professions require you to pass a certification or licensure exam before you can work. Your educational program should prepare you for the exam, but the test could still be difficult for you.
- Patients need attention 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so the action never stops in healthcare. This means healthcare workers have to be flexible. For example, you may have to work shifts in the middle of the night. You also have to be adaptable to rapid change in the healthcare industry. You may work in several different settings during the course of your career, from hospitals to clinics to community-health agencies.
Which Job Would You Like Most?
Everyone is familiar with the work of doctors and nurses, but there are many other kinds of healthcare practitioners who make a difference to patients as well. Here's a list of some of the many career opportunities available in healthcare today, divided into categories based on how long it takes to prepare for that profession.
Two Years of College or Less
- Dental hygienists carry out oral-care procedures and educate patients about the daily care of their teeth. Visit the American Dental Hygienists' Association.
- Emergency medical technicians provide immediate emergency medical treatment at the scenes of accidents and injuries and transport patients to hospital emergency rooms. Visit the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.
- Licensed practical nurses (also called licensed vocational nurses) provide bedside care to patients under the supervision of registered nurses. Visit the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses.
- Registered nurses provide specialized and skilled patient care and oversee care given by licensed practical nurses and nurse aides. Visit the American Nurses Association.
- Respiratory therapists treat patients with breathing and heart-lung conditions. Visit the American Association for Respiratory Care.
Four-Year College Degree
- Dietitians provide advice on nutritional food selection and preparation to enhance or maintain patients' health. Visit the American Dietetic Association.
- Medical technologists perform clinical laboratory tests and procedures ordered by physicians. Visit the American Medical Technologists.
- Physician assistants offer preventive care and perform diagnostic and therapeutic tests under the direction of a physician. Visit the American Academy of Physician Assistants.
Advanced College Degree
- Dentists prevent, diagnose and treat diseases of the teeth and mouth tissues. Visit the American Dental Association.
- Genetic counselors provide information and guidance about medical issues that have a hereditary basis. Visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors.
- Occupational therapists use educational, vocational and rehabilitational techniques to help disabled people improve their qualities of life. Visit the American Occupational Therapy Association.
- Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat and manage eye diseases and disorders. Visit the American Optometric Association.
- Pharmacists prepare and dispense medications prescribed by physicians. Visit the American Pharmacists Association.
- Physical therapists treat disease and injury using methods such as exercise, heat, light and massage. Visit the American Physical Therapy Association.
- Physicians are medical doctors who treat disease and injury. They prescribe medication for preventive and curative treatments. Visit the American Medical Association.
- Podiatrists specialize in the care of the feet. Visit the American Podiatric Medical Association.
- Speech-language pathologists and audiologists specialize in preventing, diagnosing and treating problems related to speech, language and hearing. Visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
- Veterinarians specialize in the care of animals. Visit the American Veterinary Medicine Association.
Learn more about healthcare careers.