Sunday, March 28, 2010

So You Want to Work in Health Care?

Published in March 2010 issue of Next Step Magazine:

If you like helping people and are looking for a challenging career with an excellent job outlook, the growing field of health care may be for you.

Some careers involve a great deal of direct patient care, while others allow you to work behind the scenes by examining X-rays or developing nutrition plans.

There are as many educational paths to a career in health care as there are occupations in the field.

“The curricula for many health careers require a strong background in science and math,” says Dr. Lori Gonzalez, dean of the College of Health Sciences at the University of Kentucky ( “But beyond the coursework, the successful health care professional has a desire to make a difference in the lives of others.”

Here’s a look at some of the career opportunities that are available and how you can prepare for them.

Job: Medical assistant
Years in school: 1-2
Training: Associate, certificate
Average salary: $22,000-$24,000
About the job: Medical assistants perform administrative and clinical tasks in the offices and clinics of physicians and specialists in order to keep them running smoothly.

Job: Registered nurse (RN)
Years in school: 3-4
Training: Diploma from a hospital school of nursing, associate, bachelor’s
Average salary: $58,000
About the job: RNs work in collaboration with physicians and other health professionals to assess symptoms, administer treatment, monitor patient progress, and act as educators and advocates for patients, families and communities.

Job: Radiologic technologist
Years in school: 1-4
Training: Certificate, associate, bachelor’s
Average salary: $42,000-$65,000
About the job: Radiologic technologists are allied medical professionals who perform diagnostic imaging procedures, such as X-rays, MRI scans and CT scans.

Job: Pharmacist
Years in school: 6-8
Training: Doctorate
Average salary: $107,000
About the job: Pharmacists dispense drugs prescribed by physicians and advise physicians and other health professionals on the selection, dosages, interactions and side effects of medications.

Job: Physical therapist
Years in school: 6-9
Training: Master’s, doctorate
Average salary: $68,000
About the job: Physical therapists work closely with injured or disabled individuals to improve function and mobility and relieve pain while promoting overall fitness.

Job: Physician assistant
Years in school: 2-6
Training: Master’s; some associate, bachelor’s degrees offered
Average salary: $65,000-$80,000
About the job: Physician assistants provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventative care to patients under the supervision of physicians.

Job: Registered dietitian
Years in school: 4-5
Training: Bachelor’s
Average salary: $42,000-$55,000
About the job: Dietitians develop nutrition programs to promote good health, prevent allergic reactions, and alleviate the symptoms of illnesses. They may oversee the nutrition of patients in hospitals and other institutions, design nutrition programs for communities, or consult with food service managers.

Job: Licensed practical nurse (LPN)
Years in school: 1
Training: Program in practical nursing at a vocational school or community college
Average salary: $31,000
About the job: LPNs care for sick, injured, convalescent or disabled patients under the supervision of physicians and registered nurses. They check vital signs, administer injections, apply dressings, collect samples, and keep patients comfortable.

Job: Clinical laboratory technician
Years in school: 2-4
Training: Associate; additional training is required for specialization
Average salary: $32,000-$62,000
About the job: Clinical lab technicians discover the presence or absence of disease by examining lab specimens.

Job: Physician
Years in school: 10-15
Training: Doctoral degree from a medical school
Average salary: $150,000-$300,000
About the job: Physicians examine patients, evaluate medical histories, make diagnoses and prescribe treatment. They may work in a particular specialty, such as anesthesiology, internal medicine, pediatrics or surgery.

Susan Tucker, a professor of Allied Health at the University of Oklahoma (, says that one good way to find a career match in health care is to meet with a health care professional or discuss options with a virtual advisor at

“A next step might be to spend some time shadowing or observing a health professional at work, which is an excellent idea to get a feel for what a day in the life of a health professional is really like,” she says.

Health care professionals agree that no matter what path you choose, one of the most rewarding aspects of this field is the opportunity to have an impact on others’ lives.

June Larson, a registered nurse and associate dean of Health Sciences at the University of South Dakota (, says, “I have had the opportunity to work with people at the most vulnerable times in their lives, and they have given me so much more than I ever gave them. In that interchange between the nurse and the patient, there is a helping/healing relationship that binds you forever.”

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