Before you start your health career journey, it is important to reflect and evaluate your interests, personal qualities, and abilities. Take a few minutes to consider the following questions:
Do you like to interact with people?
Healthcare occupations vary depending on the depth and frequency of patient interaction. For example, nurses and occupational therapists see a high volume of patients in their practice and so it is important for them to have a particularly warm and caring personality. On the other hand, medical technologists and biostatisticians are more task-centered in their work wherein their practice involves little to no personal contact with patients. These type of settings can be found in pharmacies, laboratories, or corporate/nonprofit/government offices, just to name a few.
Are you comfortable with science?
Science is a common subject many pre-health students take over the course of their undergraduate career. While some fields incorporate a high degree of science, others need a much lower amount of science. Common science subjects include: chemistry, physics, and biology; programs may also require exposure to some laboratory sciences, which usually accompany the respective lecture (i.e. Intro to Bio lecture + lab). Our Exploring Health Careers Grid outlines this variation.
Are you prepared to keep up with the developments in the field?
Healthcare is a continually evolving field, which reflect the advances in technology, improvements in clinical settings, and changes in patient demands over time. Good health care practitioners are committed to providing the best care, which requires continuous studying and learning that may lead to additional training even after you’ve already established your practice. Re-certifications every few years are common in many health fields.
Are you comfortable in a health care setting?
In many health careers, your work environment may involve the company of sick, disabled, or dying patients. You may work in a hospital, a community health center, a private practice office, or even a patient’s home. You may live in the city, the sub-urn, or in under-served areas, which are often in the rural or inner-city neighborhoods. In addition, you may be a member of a small staff or a huge organization and may be working at the local, state, or even national level. There are many different health care settings; the challenge is to find the best fit for you.
Are you a team player?
Health care is a team-driven industry. A doctor alone cannot diagnose and treat the patient; it is a group effort that often involves different health careers: a medical technologist can process patient samples while a pharmacist explains the prescribed medication to the patient. A patient’s recovery relies on the collaborative ability of a health care team and how each team member performs their specific function. Even health care professionals who work in private practice usually interact closely with staff members and colleagues.
What lifestyle do you envision?
How do you feel about facing life-and-death situations on a daily basis? How do you feel about working extremely long hours, coping with stressful emergencies, and shouldering heavy responsibilities? How much time do you want to spend at work, versus at home? When would you like to start a family?
Be realistic and be honest with yourself. If you feel that you can handle long workdays and are capable of handling stress, then pursue a health career that will demand that of you. However, there are still plenty of other fulfilling health careers that do not have such rigorous demands; if you would rather have a career that involves shift work and encounters less medical emergencies, then choose a career that fits your lifestyle needs.
The bottom line is: choose the career you ultimately want, even if the path is long. Particularly in healthcare, schools are sometimes reluctant to accept workers from fields that are in short supply. For example, because of the current nursing shortage, some medical schools resist admitting nurses unless the applicants have compelling reasons to change careers.
Other Factors to Consider
Comfort Level of Handling Bodily Fluids
Occupations in healthcare vary greatly regarding the handling of bodily fluids such as blood, urine, and saliva. Some professions require daily handling of bodily fluids while others do not require you to even see bodily fluids. Our Exploring Health Careers Grid outlines this range.
Professional careers in healthcare are growing rapidly, not only in terms of the number of jobs available, but also in terms of what kinds of jobs are available. Healthcare is expected to continue growing as our population increases and ages.For more information on job outlook, click here.
These fields offer relatively high stability: jobs may last for many years, and because demand in both fields is rising, new jobs are being added.
Careers in healthcare offer exceptional geographic mobility because jobs in these fields are everywhere. In terms of vertical mobility, careers in healthcare tend to be static, tied to the degree completed. In general, you train for and remain in a specific career: medical technicians are not “promoted” to doctors any more than paralegals are “promoted” to lawyers. Changing careers requires additional education, training, and licensing. Physicians tend to head their careers’ hierarchies; other careers usually serve in support positions or as related specialists.
Healthcare is fairly stratified, although that is slowly changing. Each career has a set number of years spent in training, a specific degree required to practice, and an income range related to the amount of training required. Levels of independence and authority also vary with each career, with doctoral levels offering the most.
Those marked with an asterisk (*) are available in Hawai’i.
The following careers begin after you have completed your Bachelors degree and require a Masters or Doctoral degree. For more information, click on the career that interests you:
|*Allopathic Medicine||Optometry||Osteopathic Medicine|
|*Pharmacy||Physical Therapy||Chiropractic Medicine|
|Dentistry||Physician Assistant||Naturopathic Medicine|
|Occupational Therapy||Veterinary Medicine||Podiatric Medicine|
Bachelors or Masters (and Doctoral) Level
In these fields, you can begin working with a Bachelors or Masters degree, although some continue on to the Doctoral level. For more information, click on the career that interests you:
|*Public Health||*Social Work|
|*Dental Hygiene||Occupational Therapy|
Comparing Certain Healthcare Careers
Generally speaking, pre-health students should keep their options open as long as possible and prepare for several fields simultaneously. As an entering freshman, you should have 4-6 possible fields in mind; by the end of your sophomore year, you should narrow that list down to 2-3 fields; by the end of your junior year, which is when you begin applying, you should have one “first choice” field plus an alternative plan.
A few health fields are closely related and some students find it helpful to compare them in order to determine which field would be a best fit for their personal and career objectives. If you’re interested in exploring the differences among closely related fields, please visit the following page: Profession Comparison Charts.
For more information on what to consider when choosing a career in healthcare:
- Discuss your options with an academic advisor;
- Visit PAC to discuss types of jobs and degree levels, and to research various careers; and
- Read Chapter 1 of NAAHP’s Health Professions Admissions Guide: Strategy for Success, 6th edition; a copy is available in PAC.
- Peruse the following webpage: Directory of Health Degrees in Hawaii.
- Check out the AHEC Health Career Navigator
For exploring other careers related to health or science:
- Check out some Careers in Biology;
- Browse the webpage: Explore Health Careers
- Read through the handout: “Choosing a Major for Professional Schools in Health” and
- Answer the question: “What can I do with this major?”