Health Sciences Careers: Helping Students Succeed

Throughout 2017, Career College Central will focus on a specific career area in each edition, beginning with health sciences in the first quarter. In the Careers: Helping Students Succeed series, we will look at personality traits that predict success in each field, address learning styles common to students who choose these programs, and showcase employment predictions for various industry career paths.

What does success look like? It’s a loaded question, to be sure, and one with as many answers as there are people to answer it. Increasingly, though, success tends to look different to millennials and other younger demographics than it has in generations past. Money, power and material possessions are no longer the hallmarks of a successful career and a meaningful life. Instead, myriad studies show millennials want purpose, experience and balance from their lives and careers. They want to enjoy the journey, so to speak—live to work instead of work to live, with the ability to embrace life and find purpose in every stage while earning a paycheck that affords them stability, flexibility and the opportunity to treat themselves.

Considering this paradigm shift, isn’t it time we started thinking differently about what student success means? After all, the students are.

The U.S. unemployment rate is currently 4.8 percent—the lowest it’s been since 2008—and increased regulation on colleges and universities is helping ensure students are graduating prepared for employment in their chosen fields. That’s a good baseline. But placement rates are no longer enough to imply successful higher education experiences.

Instead, we need to begin helping students set themselves up for enjoyment, fulfillment and—yes—success at every point in their journey. This means working with them in the admissions office to ensure they’re choosing a career path that fits their personality, skills and vision of work-life balance. It means training instructors to understand, recognize and apply the various learning styles common to people who are drawn to each area of study. And it means giving students the tools to understand their employment options postgraduation, secure entry-level jobs that will allow them to continue learning; growing; and living their lives in a way that makes them feel content, fulfilled and successful.

Who chooses a health sciences career path?

Traditionally, the idea of a health care career conjured up thoughts of eight years of medical school to become a doctor, building a family practice in a small town, then turning the practice over to a younger physician to enjoy a comfortable retirement, built through years of exceptionally high earnings. But not anymore.

A health sciences career appeals to today’s students for different reasons than it would have in the past. While baby boomers entering medicine were probably drawn by the prestige and the paycheck, today’s health sciences students care more about entering a profession where their skills will always be in demand and they can truly make a difference in peoples’ lives. Throughout the health sciences career group is a range of professions that could be perfect for a wide range of personalities, abilities and interests. Fields include medicine, dentistry, occupational therapy, physical therapy, public health, hospital administration, nursing and more. Some positions deal heavily with patients, while others don’t interact with patients at all. Some are suited for people who prefer excitement day to day; many others are ideal for those who prefer routine tasks. Some are heavily tech-based, and others less so.

Additionally, many health care careers allow (or even demand) a sense of adventure that fulfills millennials’ desire to broaden their horizons, connect with different types of people and see the world. Not only are medical cases often a challenge to be solved, but because communities all over the globe, from the most populated to the most remote, need health care workers—and because the skill sets are often transferrable—there are often opportunities for travel and relocation.

The field of health sciences is appealing to many students, but most practical for just some.

Personality traits of successful health care professionals

When it comes to helping students decide on a career path, written personality tests can only go so far. While they may provide a handful of career options the student has never considered before (or confirm options already being considered), the questions are often either too specific or too vague to be truly helpful. Plus, it’s common for test takers to answer based on what they wish were true of their personality and predilections, rather than what is actually true—whether consciously or not. Admissions professionals can work with students to discuss aspects of their personalities, work habits and life goals to determine which fields (and specific professions within those fields) would be right for them.

For students looking to begin a career in health sciences, these personality traits can help predict happiness and success in the field:

Caring and compassionate: Depending on the level of patient contact a health sciences worker will have, compassion is arguably the most critical personality trait. A study published in Academic Medicine found that when health care professionals show empathy at appropriate times, their patients tend to be happier and more likely to continue with treatment. Patient-facing professionals will often interact with patients and families on some of their worst days—through painful illnesses, extensive injuries and even death—as well as some of their best days (such as births and recovery from life-changing surgeries). Emotions and vulnerabilities will be running high, so health care workers need to be able to react to a spectrum of behaviors with comfort, understanding and reassurance.

Level-headed: In contrast, most health sciences careers also require level-headedness and emotional stability, as well as an ability to leave work at work. Whether patient-facing or not, the medical field is quite stressful. Workers who cannot emotionally distance themselves from patients at the end of the day often run into problems in their own lives. Those who wish to be successful in a health care position need to have healthy strategies for coping with stress, sadness and frustration at work, and need to be able to compartmentalize and make decisions based on science and reason, not emotion.

Optimistic: A study by the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer found that patients who are optimistic about their futures recover better from lung cancer than those with pessimistic outlooks. So, it stands to reason that health sciences workers who can pass optimistic views on to their patients can potentially help them heal. Optimism in health care also helps patients and fellow health care workers keep their spirits up and contributes to happiness when off the clock as well.

Organized and detail-oriented: Filling out patient records, dispensing and administering medications, filing insurance codes, drawing blood: In these and numerous other tasks routine to health science workers, one mistake could have devastating results. Whether they’re making rounds in the emergency room or sitting at a computer in a cubicle, health care professionals need to be able to keep many patients, aspects of care, codes and regulations straight. People who are organized, thorough, pay attention to details and effectively manage their time are usually best suited for a career in the health sciences.

Passionate: While health sciences careers do allow for many of the lifestyle benefits millennials care about, they aren’t just a means to an end. Medical professionals are put through the wringer while at work—physically, mentally and emotionally—and need to have a strong passion for the field that will sustain such exhausting work. Students who truly care about helping others and feel a passion for the people they’re working with will fare much better in the health sciences in the long run.

Professional: Especially in patient-facing professions, health care workers need to be able to adopt an air of warm professionalism. It’s not uncommon for health care workers to be part of situations that patients find painful, difficult, embarrassing, scary, frustrating or demeaning. They need to be able to face these situations and communicate with patients using the appropriate amount of decorum, honesty and respect the patients deserve.

Enjoying the journey: Teaching health sciences students

School doesn’t have to be stressful! Today’s students don’t want to feel like they’re slogging through months of rote memorization and frustration just to get the credentials they need to start a career. They want to feel fulfilled by their education, gain real knowledge and build connections with people along the way. One of the best ways to help them do so is through an understanding of various students’ learning styles.

As technology has evolved alongside our understanding of how students learn, it has gotten easier for instructors to develop multimedia curricula that touch on all seven of Howard Gardner’s seven intelligences, incorporating exercises and modules that work best for each type of learner.

Among students who choose programs leading to careers in the health sciences, two learning styles are most common: physical and interpersonal.

Physical learners: Physical learners do best when they’re able to use their bodies and hands in the classroom. Instructors can use hands-on learning, role-playing exercises, and acting out scenarios and situations. These students thrive in instances where real-world medical equipment and tools can be used for training purposes.

Interpersonal learners: interpersonal learners flourish when they’re able to interact with others. By being allowed to talk with classmates, do group work and having ample one-on-one time with instructors, their strengths can shine. Give these students the choice of connecting with instructors in person, online, on the phone or via webinar.

Due to the nature of many health sciences programs, especially those that lead to patient-facing careers, it makes sense to incorporate physical and interpersonal learning in the classroom by way of hands-on equipment training, acting out interactions with patients and physicians, and more.

Living to work: Health sciences career options

Whatever success means to someone, there is a way he or she can achieve it in the health sciences field. Career colleges and technical schools offer many degree and nondegree programs that can help meet the surging demand for health care professionals and start students on the path to fulfilling patient- and non-patient-facing health sciences careers where they can work days, nights, weekends, full time or part time, in any number of environments. Here is just a sampling of the fast-growing career options available. 

Dental Hygienists

Entry-level education: Associate degree

Median pay (2015): $72,330 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (19 percent projected growth)

Patient-facing? Yes

Working environment and flexibility: Almost all dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices, and about half worked part time in 2014.

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians

Entry-level education: Associate degree

Median pay (2015): $63,630 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (24 percent projected growth)

Patient-facing? Yes

Working environment and flexibility: Most diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians work full time at state, local and private hospitals.

Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

Entry-level education: Postsecondary nondegree award

Median pay (2015): $43,170 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (16 percent projected growth)

Patient-facing? Yes

Working environment and flexibility: Most LPNs and LVNs work full time at nursing and residential care facilities, but one in five worked part time in 2014.

Medical Assistants

Entry-level education: Postsecondary nondegree award

Median pay (2015): $30,590 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (23 percent projected growth)

Patient-facing? Yes

Working environment and flexibility: Most medical assistants work full time in physicians’ offices, and some may work evenings, weekends and holidays.

Medical Records and Health Information Technicians

Entry-level education: Postsecondary nondegree award

Median pay (2015): $37,110 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (15 percent projected growth)

Patient-facing? No

Working environment and flexibility: Most medical records and health information technicians work full time at state, local and private hospitals. Some may work night and weekend shifts.

Phlebotomists

Entry-level education: Postsecondary nondegree award

Median pay (2015): $31,630 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (25 percent projected growth)

Patient-facing? Yes

Working environment and flexibility: Most phlebotomists work full time in state, local or private hospitals, or they may also work in medical and diagnostic laboratories.

Registered Nurses

Entry-level education: Associate degree

Median pay (2015): $67,490 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (16 percent projected growth)

Patient-facing? Yes

Working environment and flexibility: Most registered nurses work full time in hospitals, physicians’ offices and outpatient centers. Some move frequently, traveling to areas around the country and the world where there are nursing shortages. One in six registered nurses worked part time in 2014, and the majority worked in shifts covering all 24 hours for patients who need constant care.

Radiation Therapists

Entry-level education: Associate degree

Median pay (2015): $80,220 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (14 percent projected growth)

Patient-facing? Yes

Working environment and flexibility: Most radiation therapists work full time in hospitals, physicians’ offices and outpatient centers.

Surgical Technologists

Entry-level education: Postsecondary nondegree award

Median pay (2015): $44,330 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (15 percent projected growth)

Patient-facing? Yes

Working environment and flexibility: Most surgical technologists work full time in hospitals, physicians’ offices and outpatient centers.

Join Career College Central next issue for Mechanical Sciences Careers: Helping Students Succeed.

 

Mar 2017