Exploring Health Professions
The health care industry is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7 of the 20 fastest growing occupations are health care related and this field will continue to grow in the future. When students consider entering the health care industry, most think about becoming a physician, dentist, or nurse; however, the reality is that there are many other exciting careers in health care. You owe it to yourself to explore all of your options in depth so you can judge which one is right for you. Below are some starting points to help you begin your search.
One of your first resources should be the vast amount of reading material on health professions and the health care industry. Reading articles, reviews, or personal stories from a specific health care sector will give you insight as to what a career in that field may be like. It is important to read and understand the context of each profession, the “mission”, the road to get there, and the lifestyles of professionals. Generally, Google is a great place to start to find a wide range of reading materials on careers in health care. More specifically, explorehealthcareers.org and the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics are excellent resources for up-to-date information on different health care sectors and career options. Professional association websites are also useful for learning about a specific career area:
- American Association of Medical Colleges: Information for students interested in becoming a medical doctor.
- American Academy of Physician Assistants: Information for students interested in a career as a physician assistant.
- American Nurses Association: Information for students interested in nursing.
- American Dental Education Association: Information for students interested in dental medicine.
- Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges: Information for students interested in becoming a doctor of veterinary medicine.
Another primary resource for learning about health professions is talking to people – i.e., networking. By doing this, you are not only learning about important aspects of an industry, but you are also broadening your connections for possible career opportunities. First, reach out to mentors/advisors in your life – e.g., family, friends, members of your communities, coaches, faculty, Pre-Health Advisor, etc. Each will have a unique perspective on your situation and will give you advice that others can’t. It is also crucial that you engage with people who work in the health care sector you are interested in; ask them questions about themselves, their jobs, or the industry, and be sure to show them who you are as well. Although you should feel comfortable reaching out to strangers, it is important to note that Hamilton has a significant number of alumni in the health care industry. Many of these people love hearing from current Hamilton students to give advice, answer questions, etc. To access the alumni directory, attend the Networking 101 and 201 workshops offered by the Career Center; sign up in Handshake.
After learning about a sector of the health care industry that interests you, you may want to observe the profession before experiencing it – this is often referred to as “shadowing”. Professional shadowing is extremely popular in medical professions, particularly for aspiring doctors, dentists, vets, or nurses, and is expected by medical schools to ensure that candidates have reached an informed decision. These professions are very involved, or “hands-on”, and students gain immense knowledge by simply watching health care professionals do their daily routines. In reading and talking to people, you must be mindful of how the career suits your interests, skills, and values. However, watching, or shadowing, a profession gives you direct access to that experience and allows you to make your own conclusions. It also allows you to see experiences that you may not have read or heard about, which could open the door for more opportunities.
The ultimate strategy for exploring a health profession is actually experiencing something in that profession, usually as a volunteer or intern. You may be able to identify a profession that strongly interests you; however, you will never know if it is the right choice until you try it. Even observing a profession can be dramatically different than living that profession. By being a volunteer or intern, you can fully immerse yourself in the experience and learn if it is the right path for you. It will give you additional perspectives to shape your own preferences, help you acquire necessary skills and attributes, and ultimately find the right career. By being actively involved in the process, you will learn the most direct and accurate information about that profession. It will also give you a more “real” sense of the duties associated with a health care profession. In some cases, this will help you identify professions that you do NOT want to pursue; in other cases, it will help you realize that a particular career is perfect for your interests.