Career Advice for Job Seekers

Head + Heart = Health Professional

sarah ennenga Avatarsarah ennenga
September 20, 2007

Health-related careers: who, what, and why If you hadn’t noticed, health-related careers–sometimes called “allied health” professions–have changed. In the past, working in a health-related career required direct and close supervision by a doctor or nurse. With today’s strong academic programs and a greater need for people to get health care without delay, health-related professionals often work much more independently.
In some health-related careers, you’ll help people at different points in their wellness, illness, or rehabilitation. In others, you won’t work with patients directly–or even at all! In some careers, you’ll work in a hospital or clinical setting. In others, you’ll work in a school, a private home, industry, or even in an office of your own. The options are wide open.

The need for health-related professionals will grow dramatically in the coming years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Through the year 2014, one third of industries with the largest wage and salary growth are projected to be health professions, and almost half of the fastest-growing occupations are health professions. These include medical assistants, physician assistants, medical records technicians and transcriptionists, physical and occupational therapists, dental assistants, biomedical engineers, and cardiovascular lab technicians.
Three things will feed the growing need for health professionals:

  • the population is aging
  • increasingly complicated medical technology is being created and used
  • the healthcare industry wants to hold down costs.

Your piece of the pie So how do you decide which piece of the healthcare pie might satisfy you? Your options can be divided into categories based on some general interests and skills.

  • If you like direct, hands-on work with people–the kind of work where relationship-building and understanding come into play–you might choose one of the rehabilitative specialties like massage therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, or audiology. You’ll work closely with patients, families, and other medical professionals in a variety of settings such as hospitals, clinics, homes, and schools. But if you’re a self-starter, you can also hang up your shingle and become self-employed in any of these careers.
  • If you prefer less direct patient contact but enjoy operating and handling different types of mechanical equipment, a technological or technician’s job may be right up your alley. Check out the fields of nuclear medicine or surgical, cardiac, or respiratory technology. Biomedical engineering, orthotics, or prosthetics can satisfy your inventing and design interests. You’ll work in hospital, lab, or research settings.
  • If you’re organized and efficient–a more business-minded, behind-the-scenes person–health administration, health services management, or medical records could be for you. You’ll work in settings such as hospitals, outpatient facilities, and private medical offices.
  • Artistic people would do well in art, music, or dance therapy; fields that need enthusiastic individuals who work well with people of all ages in large groups or one-on-one. Skills in observation, evaluation, and interpretation are as important as creativity and flexibility in a therapy setting.
  • Lab workers are an important link in diagnosing and treating medical conditions. These professionals need to be self-motivated and able to work alone. If these qualities sound like you, consider a career in clinical lab sciences, pharmacology, or toxicology.
  • Computer skills come into play in documentation, systems analysis, billing, and record keeping. Software development for a particular healthcare provider is a need you might fill in your work as a computer specialist.
  • Using your computer and communication skills could place you in the field of medical communications and illustration. Desktop publishing, writing, and even video and audio production could be in your future. You might develop presentations and other materials that can be used for medical education, policies and procedures, or patient education.
  • If you’re multilingual and enjoy helping others, consider becoming a medical interpreter/translator. You’ll be employed by a hospital or clinic and work closely with patients, their families, and their healthcare providers.

Do you have what it takes? Each health field puts its own specific demands on your interests, abilities, and education. But you’ve also got to be a certain kind of person to work well in health care: one who is cooperative, mature, responsible, and accurate.
Whether you’re working with a single patient or assisting other health professionals, you’ll always be part of a team. It’s important to be able to express yourself and your opinions to others and to take their ideas into consideration. Cooperation is a must.
You’ve got to be mature and responsible in your actions–people depend on you. Whether it’s promising a movement workshop, reconfiguring hardware, or interpreting a mammogram, you’ll be affecting the well-being of another person; you’ll need to get things done on time and as promised, and you’ll need to document them accurately.
Educational choices Once you decide health care is for you, you have to find the right educational program to meet your career needs and your dreams. You can work in a health-related field with as little as a two-year associate’s degree or go on to get your doctorate, which will take six or more years of college. The career and level of schooling you choose will affect your salary and your career flexibility. More education may allow you to work on a consulting basis or even to own your own business.
Some fields require a minimum degree attainment before you’re hired, while others require postgraduate certification or licensing, so check the requirements carefully. If your field of interest requires a four-year degree before applying to a formal professional program, make sure the four-year program you are considering meets the admissions needs of the program you’ll apply to later on.
Here’s something you should know, too: the focus on cost containment in health care favors the career prospects of those who have been trained to work “across borders;” that is, those with training, experience, or certification in multiple areas. So keep your options open by staying alert to trends and opportunities for training in your areas of interest.
Retirements in certain occupations may open up positions as well. When you talk to experts in your field of interest, ask if this may be a possibility and if so, through what timeframe. Also, many careers, such as medical equipment preparers, massage therapists, and physical therapists are beginning to offer opportunities for self-employment. Carefully check the job outlook section under each career listing in the Occupational Outlook Handbook for more information.
Finally, look closely at how trends in population growth and technological advances might affect how your potential career is practiced. For example, some of the work of ophthalmic lab technicians can be done by automated equipment now, and medical equipment preparers are doing more in private homes and nursing homes as patients are moved out of hospitals more quickly to keep healthcare costs down.
Accreditation is important Formal health-career programs can be accredited, which means they have met certain professional standards set by the American Medical Association or a state licensing board. Accredited programs teach you in ways that the governing boards feel best meet professional standards. They also prepare you for licensing or certification exams that happen after graduation but before you’re employed. Make sure the program you are applying to is accredited. If not, make sure the program will prepare you for certification and other exams as well as employment. In general, programs that give you hands-on experience–that is, clinical experience–and classroom work make it easier to use what you learn.
How to choose your field Finding out which health-related career is right for you should be a process, not a snap decision. Start with those closest to you–friends, family, or professionals in your community who work in fields you’d like to explore. Quiz them about their training, advancement possibilities, day-to-day expectations, and their personal views on the highs and lows of their careers. Make sure you get the whole picture. This kind of research develops a network of advisors and specialists who can guide your decision- making and open doors to hands-on experiences and references in the future.
Give yourself some space to work with by starting with a broad approach such as “I like to solve problems,” and focus in from there. Do you like to work with your hands or your head? With people or alone? Do you work well under stress or better in less urgent situations? School guidance counselors and career counselors in your community can help you focus your interests.
Other places to look for help are the Internet, the reference specialists at your local and school libraries, and professional organizations. These resources can help you hook up with professionals in your field of interest or help you find materials to review.
Try volunteering, too. It will get you right on the front line of the profession you’re interested in. Remember that no one place or person has all the answers, so it pays to search around.
Health care is such a wide-open field that there’s a place for virtually everyone. But to know if it’s really the career path for you, take your time, talk things out, and “try it on for size.”
Whatever course you choose, the health-related professions offer many challenging and satisfying careers.

Career* Career Growth Education**
Clinical Laboratory Services    
• Clinical Laboratory Technologists Very Good 4
• Medical Lab Technicians Less Good 2
• Medical Technologists Less Good 4
Food & Nutrition    
• Dietetic Technicians or Dietetic Clerks Very Good 2
• Dietitians Very Good 4-6
Medical Communications    
• Scientific Photographers Good 2-4
• Medical Records and Health Information
   Technicians (coding and/or transcriptionists)

Very Good 2-4
• Health Educator Very Good 6
• Health Sciences Librarians (HSL) Less Good 6
• HSL Technicians Good 2
• Medical Illustrators Good 4-6
• Medical Writers Good 4
• Medical Records Administrators Excellent 4
• Medical Records Technicians Excellent 2-4
• Medical Language Interpreters/Translators Very Good 4
Health Administration    
• Medical and Health Services Managers
  (hospital administration and health
Very Good 6

• Dentists Less Good 8+
• Dental Assistants Excellent 1-2
• Dental Lab Technicians Less Good 2-4
• EMTs/Paramedics Excellent 1-2
• Pharmacists
  (A PharmD degree [6 years] is required by
   most schools)
Very Good 4-6
• Physician Assistants Excellent 4
• Medical Assistants Excellent 2
• Chiropractors Very Good 6-8
Vision Care    
• Optometrists Very Good 6-8
• Optometric Assistants Excellent 1
• Ophthalmic Lab Technicians Less Good 1
Technicians and Technologists
• Surgical Technicians Excellent 1-2
• Cardiovascular Technicians Excellent 2-4
• Respiratory Technicians Very Good 2-4
• Pharmacy Aides Good 1
• Pharmacy Technicians Excellent 1-2
• Nuclear Medicine Technologists Very Good 1-4
• Radiation Therapists Very Good 2
• Radiology Technologists Very Good 2-4
Rehabilitation/Preventative Medicine  
• Art, Dance, Music Therapists Good 4-6
• Physical Therapists Excellent 6
• PT Assistants Excellent 2
• Occupational Therapists
  (As of 2007, a master’s degree [6 years] will
   be required)
Excellent 4-6
• OT Assistants Excellent 2
• Orthotists Very Good 4-6
• Prosthetists Very Good 4-6
• recreational Therapists Less Good 4
• Speech Pathologists Good 4-6
• Audiologists Good 4-6
• Athletic Trainers Excellent 4
• Rehabilitation Counselors Very Good 6
• Massage Therapists Very Good 2-4
Science and Mechanics    
• Biomedical Engineers Excellent 4-8

• Medical Equipment Preparers



Growth Key:

Excellent = Employment is expected to increase 27% or more
Very Good = Employment is expected to increase 18-26%
Good = Employment is expected to increase 9-17%
Less Good = Employment is expected to increase 0-8%

* From The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2006-2007, covering the years from 2004-2014
** Education above four years would require an undergraduate degree and then further studies
Where To Look For More Information
The Internet:
• Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook
• Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections

• Encyclopedia of Associations
• Directory of Accredited Institutions
• Department of Health and Human Services Report of the National Commission on Allied Health, 2000

School Guidance Counselors and Career Counselors

Article by Anna Viadero and courtesy of

New Job Postings

Advanced Search

Related Articles

No Related Posts.
View More Articles