Planning for a Career in Healthcare (Without Becoming a Doctor)

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  • The healthcare industry is growing rapidly.

    Baby boomers are reaching retirement age and requiring more care as they get older, and millennials comprise the largest generation to date.

    As boomers retire and leave gaps in the medical workforce, the job openings aren’t being filled at a fast enough rate to account for all the care required.

    Couple that with the increasing and transformative role of technology in healthcare, and you’ve got a slew of job opportunities waiting to be snatched up.

    When people think of entering the medical field, they frequently imagine the years of schooling required to become a doctor or surgeon. Becoming a doctor is often touted as one of the highest professional accomplishments one can achieve. It’s also accordingly expensive, time-consuming, and competitive. Debt rates for doctors have been rising over the past years, and the acceptance rate of medical schools makes for a selective process, to say the least.

    Luckily, not all the job openings require an MD. In fact, proportionately, most of them don’t. If you’ve considered entering the medical field, but don’t want to be a doctor (or are making a mid-career switch), don’t fear. There are plenty of unique options that allow for patient care without 10 years of school.

    Radiologic Technologist

    If you’ve ever had an x-ray, CAT scan, or MRI taken, chances are the imaging was performed by a radiologic technologist. Their job is to understand and perform the imaging and tests needed for a radiologist to make a diagnosis or assessment.

    Radiologic techs work in hospitals, clinical settings, or imaging centers, though hospitals are the most common place of employment. The types of patients they work with depends on the type of facility. Techs who specialize in mammography will work primarily (though not exclusively) with women, whereas those who work in ERs are more likely to encounter trauma. The profession has multiple specialties available, each with its own unique circumstances.

    In order to become a radiologic tech, you’re required to obtain at least an associate’s degree, though a bachelor’s degree in a life science can be helpful. Programs specific to radiologic technology cover anatomy, medical terminology, radiation safety, and equipment operations. These courses prepare you to take the licensing exam with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

    This option may be a good fit for you if you still want to be able to interact with people and have a patient, calming manner. Many of the individuals you will be working with will be seriously injured or in a position where they fear there may be something seriously wrong with them. Being able to put people at ease and make them feel safe is an important part of the job.

    Clinical Research Specialist

    If you’re more interested in emerging science, then you may want to consider a career as a clinical research specialist. These individuals are nurses who work with volunteer patients in clinical trials to evaluate new medical practices, procedures, and prescriptions.

    Studies and clinical trials are generally administered in hospitals or research facilities, and occasionally those associated with a university. Research specialists will need to be well-versed in hospital protocols. In the course of a day, they will interface with patients, families, doctors, and other researchers to make sure the study is running as planned. Working within a diverse group with the intent of finding evidence-based solutions to patient care problems requires that these nurses be highly organized, familiar with managerial practices, and experienced in research and study design.

    Becoming a clinical research specialist can be done with a bachelor’s degree and extensive nursing experience, though employers prefer a master’s degree in nursing. Obtaining a upper-level nursing degree takes less time and money than obtaining an MD, but it is still a significant commitment. Getting into nursing programs can still be very selective as well, as the country is currently experience a shortage of nursing educators.

    Physical Therapist Assistant

    Finally, if you value a hands-on approach, but don’t enjoy the prospect of working in a hospital or a clinic, consider becoming a physical therapist assistant. This career offers the opportunity to work with physical therapists to treat a variety of regular patients with the goal of returning them to full physical functions.  

    Most physical therapy patients are recovering from some level of acute injury or are post-surgical patients working towards full recovery. At the onset of treatment, new patients meet with the physical therapist who performs an initial exam on the patient and confers with his or her primary doctors. Once an assessment and treatment plan is in place, physical therapist assistants help to carry out the exercise and counseling throughout appointments.

    Working as a PTA provides the opportunity to facilitate patients making positive changes in their physical abilities through hard work. You’ll develop relationships with patients through the course of their treatment. In order to be successful in this position, you’ll need a gentle, but persistent coaching mindset and the ability to motivate people. Physical therapy can be incredibly painful and frustrating, and you’ll be responsible for facilitating that journey.

    In order to become a PTA, you’ll need to complete a two year associates program and pass the national licensing exam. States may have separate requirements in addition to this baseline. Once those are met, you’re free to find a physical therapist to work with! In some cases, you’ll work on a team in a hospital, but there are many options for private clinic work as well.

    Choosing an Educational Program

    The field of medicine and healthcare is vast and offers a plethora of career options. If you feel drawn to the industry, but know you don’t have the time, energy, or desire to become a doctor, don’t give up. There are plenty of different specialities, you just have to do your research and find the education program that’s right for you.

    Understanding what you want to specialize in before attending school can help you choose the best college option for you. For instance, some programs offer a variety of nursing endorsements, while other may only have an RN or BSN track. Medical tech schools might cater to radiologic technologists, but not PTAs. Of course, the size, location, and cost of each institution will be a factor in your decision as well. Make sure to visit each campus and get a feel for the program; meeting with faculty is always beneficial.  

    Most importantly, make sure you’re choosing a program in a field you’ll enjoy. If you’re picking a career based on the ease of access or how much a graduate’s salary is, you’ll likely burn out in the healthcare field at some point. When you’re exploring options, find out if you can shadow various professionals to see if their day-to-day is something you’d enjoy.

    Off-to-College reference:

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