Last Updated on August 25, 2022 by Laura Turner
Choosing a career is among the most stressful decisions a person makes. Even narrowing the choice down to a healthcare profession still leaves you with many options to pick from. Healthcare professions available include physicians, physician assistants, social workers, registered nurses, pharmacists, veterinarians, audiologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech therapists.
Despite the guidance of advisors and coaches within school settings, many students are challenged by the task of finding which profession best suits their needs and goals. This makes it vital to ensure you have adequate support during the process of choosing your career.
Determine your interests
One of the first steps in choosing a career in healthcare is to determine your interests. You may recall the career tests you took in junior high, which consisted of questions about your personality and style of working, success in areas such as mathematics, science, and English, and interpersonal relationships in a school environment. The concept behind these career tests is to provide valuable insight into what type of career would be best for you.
Understanding what interests and excites you will take time and personal reflection. The classic (and annually updated) What Color Is Your Parachute has exercises that can guide your thinking. If science and helping others are both of interest to you, then a healthcare career may be a good fit.
Curious about what healthcare profession might be a good fit for you? SDN has a health professions career quiz to help you figure it out!
Assess your strengths
In addition to knowing your interests, you need to also understand your strengths. If you have always performed poorly in chemistry and mathematics but wish to become a physician or veterinarian, you may struggle in the programs required for those professions.
Knowing where your strengths lie also includes your ability to tolerate certain job roles. If you want to enter a hands-on helping field but struggle at the site of blood or bodily fluids, being a registered nurse or a surgeon may be out of the question for you. Social work, physical therapy, and speech therapy are better choices for you as there is a lower chance you will deal with bodily fluids.
As with determining your interests, personal reflection is key for identifying your strengths. Additionally, obtaining the perspective of others, such as friends and teachers, may identify strengths you may not be aware you have.
Do your research
Knowing what each profession requires of you is also a good way to decide if the profession matches your interests. But you also need to look at the requirements. Becoming a physician requires four years of medical school and at least three years of residency after completing your undergraduate degree. If that much education seems like too much for you, becoming a physician assistant or a registered nurse may be a better option for you.
The only way to know what each profession consists of is to do research on the requirements and job duties. If you discover the daily duties of a registered nurse do not interest you, then you can direct your time toward another academic program.
Another good example is the rehabilitative sciences, where there are several options for those interested in these fields. Roles such as occupational therapy assistants, physical therapy assistants, and speech therapy assistants involve treating patients and improving functional skills. While there is a difference in pay which correlates to the amount of school completed, the job duties are related to those of doctoral-level occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech therapists.
ExploreHealthCareers.org can help you learn more about the basics of different healthcare professions, including a Career Explorer that allows you to identify professions based on the length of education required and average salaries.
Student Doctor Network also has resources to help guide your decisions. There are a range of doctor interviews in SDN question and answer articles that can provide you with a sense of day-to-day life in different professions. The SDN forums have “Ask Me Anything” threads for many communities, including for Medicine and Dental, where doctors have answered questions about what their job is like.
Finally, many healthcare professional organizations such as the American Pharmacists Association offer career guides.
Find a mentor
Mentors are people who provide advice and guidance or serve as role models throughout a working professional’s career. Mentors can come in the form of prior supervisors, professors, academic advisors, colleagues, or friends already working in the field.
Shadowing a current provider gives you a better idea of what job duties are associated with each healthcare profession. Most academic programs require observation hours with a working professional to allow students to understand day-to-day activities in the field. This allows people to determine their likes and dislikes related to the field early on. Oftentimes, healthcare professionals are willing to provide mentorship and guidance beyond observation hours. Your advising office may be able to help arrange shadowing opportunities, or you could call local providers and ask about their shadowing policies. “How to Find Someone to Shadow” provides additional strategies.
Choosing the healthcare profession that is a good fit for you can be difficult. However, there are steps you can take along the way to ensure you are getting the support and education you need to prepare for making your choice. There are many resources available that can assist in providing answers, details, and direction during this process. In addition to in-person support such as mentors and academic advisors, there are many online options to share resources and information. Social media groups, job postings, healthcare websites, departmental websites at universities, and virtual career fairs all can provide valuable information. While choosing a career is a large decision to make, doing research will allow you to be more informed regarding which choice may be a good fit.
Brittany Ferri, Ph.D., OTD/L, is an occupational therapy consultant, certified clinical trauma practitioner, and certified light therapist. Her specialties are mental illness, health writing, and complementary modalities. She is passionate about disease prevention and meeting the emotional and physical needs of all her clients.