Comparing Medicine to Other Health Careers
There are many ways to work within the health care sector without being a doctor, so future health professionals should be aware that medical school is just one of many paths into the health field.
A job as a physician is not the only way to cure disease and promote well-being. The number of clinicians besides physicians is enormous, ranging from nurses and occupational therapists to dentists and veterinarians. Other types of health care providers include physician assistants, psychologists, podiatrists, clinical social workers, physical therapists, pharmacists, audiologists and speech language pathologists.
In addition, some health workers specialize in alternative or complementary health care, such as chiropractors, homeopaths, naturopaths, massage therapists and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. Plus, a variety of nonclinical health professions do not involve treating illness but nevertheless allow someone to improve health outcomes, including careers in medical research, health policy, health communications, hospital administration and public health.
Louis Ignarro – a Nobel Prize-winning, Ph.D.-trained pharmacologist – says one important factor to consider when choosing a health career is to think about what type of lifestyle you prefer.
The lifestyles of a physician, biomedical research scientist, and nurse, for example, are very different. The most important factor in making such a career decision is motivation. Why do you want to make this your professional career? In medicine, there must be a strong desire to help others. In biomedical research, there must be a strong desire to advance knowledge by making discoveries that benefit humankind.
The consensus among professionals from a variety of health care fields is that time, cost and work-life balance are important considerations. Aspiring health workers should assess the amount of time and money it would take to train for various health careers, and they should also think about the typical work schedule within those fields, according to health workers.
It is suggested that potential physicians ask themselves the following four questions to gauge whether medicine is the correct calling for them.
- “Do I feel a deep commitment to caring for and serving patients and families from all backgrounds?”
- “Am I willing to engage in a profession that is demanding and requires a long journey?”
- “Is medicine the right path for me, or have I fallen in love with the more romanticized version of the profession?”
- “Have I aligned my academic performance with what’s required for medical school acceptance?”
Rebecca Mannis, a Ph.D.-trained learning specialist and developmental psychologist, says it’s essential for potential health professionals to consider which health job aligns best with their temperament and allows them to use their talents. They should determine which type of job would allow them to contribute to the world in a way that would make them feel proud and satisfied.
It’s also valuable to research whether a particular health profession is expanding and the challenges that people within that field are facing, Mannis says.
Experts also emphasizes that because health care graduate programs typically require entrance exams and prerequisite classes, college students who are interested in health professions should start their career exploration process as soon as possible so that they can plan their college experience accordingly.
Moreover, because a lack of motivation tends to reveal itself in a med school applicant’s personal statement, it’s important that someone who is interested in medical school sincerely soul-search about why they want to become a doctor before they sit down to write that statement.
Physicians tend to agree that a medical career is not the right path for everyone, since it requires years of training and is extremely challenging.
A career in medicine requires a high degree of resiliency and emotional intelligence, since doctors often deal with stressful and upsetting situations such as when a patient’s condition does not improve as much as doctors hoped despite the doctors’ efforts.
However, because of the variety of medical specialties, there are jobs for doctors across a wide range of personality types – including both introverts and extroverts – since some medical specialties involve a lot of social interaction while others do not.
Undergraduates with an interest in health professions should consider shadowing people within those professions, recommends Bradley Rabquer, an associate professor of biology at Albion College in Michigan and director of the college’s Lisa and James Wilson Institute for Medicine. Informational interviews can also be helpful, says Rabquer, who has a Ph.D. in biomedical science and vaccine immunology.
Sometimes students preparing for health professions don’t realize that they are primarily interested in solving systemic problems within health care, as opposed to treating the particular ailments of individual patients. For those types of big-picture thinkers, a career that focuses on either the business or policy side of health care could be a great fit.
The best way for potential health workers to determine whether a health care environment is somewhere they belong is by entering that environment and seeing how it makes them feel.
The only way you’ll truly know if you resonate towards a certain health profession is to immerse yourself in it.