By Caroline M.L. Potter
While much of the economy has faltered, the healthcare sector has remained hot. Why? "People get sick, and we have to be here to take care of them -- no matter what the economy looks like," says George Rainer, vice president of human resources for Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York.
But what if a career as a hands-on caregiver, such as a physician or nurse, isn't right for you? There are still ways to build a successful career at a medical center near you.
A City Within a City
"What a lot of people are unaware of is that hospitals are really small cities," Rainer says. "They have just about every job imaginable within the four walls." His colleague Karin Weisenberger, RN, senior director of HR and a trained critical-care nurse, concurs: "We have so many nonclinical positions here, many of which don't require degrees, in service areas as well as clerical positions throughout the hospital. And there are many nonclinical positions in admitting and billing."
There are professional-level positions, too, in administration, education, fund-raising, legal, marketing, operations, quality assurance and finance. "Most hospitals have large accounting departments, and it's not always essential to have direct healthcare experience," says Rainer, who was downsized out of a job with one of New York's largest banks in tough economic times two decades ago.
A Matter of Degrees
Because of the array of opportunities at most hospitals, there's a place for holders of a variety of professional degrees. A degree specifically focused on healthcare, but not caregiving, can help you get ahead. "Administrators for most departments have a clinical degree and perhaps a degree in health administration or public health," Weisenberger says. "But you'll also find practice managers at our outpatient facilities who have MBAs or degrees in public health administration."
She also says that her hospital offers programs for people in nonclinical positions to go back to school and earn clinical degrees. "And some of our nurses are now pursuing nonclinical positions through administrative degrees," she adds.
Adds Rainer, "There is a very high emphasis on continuing education when you work in healthcare."
Working in a hospital isn't right for everyone, but the rewards far outweigh the challenges. In addition to stability, there's the "feel-good factor" you'll experience every day. "There's an intrinsic reward you get from being in the business of helping people," says Rainer. "I rarely have patient contact, but I still enjoy the feeling of knowing I am helping people indirectly."
Weisenberger and Rainer agree that there are no unimportant jobs at any hospital. "Every person here carries a lot of responsibility because nothing must go wrong, whether you're in hospitality, engineering or in the operating room," Rainer says. "There's always an emphasis on quality."
You can do a job search on Monster for hospital jobs, visit each medical center's career section on its Web site or peruse newspaper ads for openings. But what if you don't see an opportunity that fits your qualifications? Rainer advises job seekers to drop their resumes off in person at a hospital's human resources department. "HR receptionists are able to pick out people who are a cut above the rest, so there's a higher likelihood that you'll get attention," he says.
Weisenberger, a Winthrop employee for nine years, urges interested candidates to attend local healthcare job fairs. "Look in your major local papers, such as The New York Times, for healthcare job fairs and see if the hospital you're interested in will be there," she says. "Go and you'll have a better chance of getting the ear of someone you might not have had the opportunity to meet at the HR department."
Also, consider volunteering at a hospital first to see if it's right for you and to stand out as an applicant. "When people volunteer, it's a good indication that they're a cut above other applicants, that they're going above and beyond," Rainer says. "We're trying to find those people, the ones who are willing to make a difference."
Learn more about healthcare careers.