Compassion for others. Grace under pressure. A thirst for knowledge and a commitment to excellence in the classroom and beyond. You recognize these qualities in your child, and as he/she grows and develops throughout high school and your conversations turn to possible career paths, one or both of you may wonder if he/she might be a great fit for a career in healthcare. The ability save someone's life; to make a difference in the well-being of people by preventing disease, fighting illness and improving their every-day lives by helping them see, walk, breathe, move and speak better (just to name a few) - these can be rewards of a healthcare career. But to get into that “it’s a matter of life and death” career space, a job in healthcare requires a deep commitment on any level. A diligent approach to studying, the potential of many years in school, dedication to accuracy on the job and, most of all, an unwavering desire to help others is what it takes to achieve and sustain a successful career in this exacting field.
What if your child may not be a great fit for the rigors of med school or doesn't want to spend that much time in school, but still shows passion for impacting the lives of others? Take heart: healthcare is a booming field, and the commonly imagined paths of doctor or nurse are but two points of entry into the 21st century world of healthcare, one whose enormity now offers a widely varied number of steady jobs that don't require a medical license (which means less time spent in school).
In December, 2015 the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reported that healthcare will be the fastest growing industry in the United States and will add more jobs than any other to the employment sector between 2014 and 2024. Together with the social assistance sector, healthcare is poised to add another 3.8 million jobs to our economy during this period.
How do you figure out if healthcare is right for your child, and if his/her answer may already be 'I'm interested,' what does your student need to be doing now, as high school begins, to get onto the path toward a healthcare career? With this five-part series, OurHealth aims to guide you so that you can guide your child on the journey to a career in healthcare. In our first four installments, we will cover high school, undergraduate, graduate curricula/clinical studies and finding a job in your chosen healthcare career, respectively (see our sidebar at the beginning of the article).
Following the fourth installment, we will begin an ongoing series in which we will focus on one position in healthcare and describe the specific steps one must take from the beginning of his/her education through the first day on the job.
Build a foundation for success
While a career in healthcare is more accessible than ever before, it still requires advanced planning and a strong high school transcript that includes extra-curricular activities, high SAT and/or ACT scores and a spotless personal conduct record to gain entry onto its path. After all, the reason healthcare careers are so demanding in study for and practice of is because they focus on the health and lives of people, an area where there is no room for error.
Starting in 9th grade, when most students enter high school, a child’s transcript becomes an official record of his or her success, one that’s scrutinized for acceptance to colleges and universities. So it’s important to start out strong from the gate, both for producing a competitive high school track record and to build the necessary skills with which to error-proof oneself as much as possible over the long haul of studying for and performing in a healthcare career.
First, set your child up for success. That means creating solid study skills that will serve him/her well in high school and college. Even more foundational, says Kevin Harris, assistant vice president of health sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, is for a student to discover and work with his/her natural learning style first. “Understand who you are as a learner. Take some assessments online, which will help you consider your personality, your cognitive abilities and your temperament. There are all kinds of worthwhile assessments that can help you understand what triggers learning for you and what keeps you motivated,” he says. “We tend to introduce that [assessment] only for study skills. It's a lot more than study skills or test taking - it's how do you become a life-long learner.”
Visit www.vark-learner.com and www.educationplanner.org for learning styles self-assessment questionnaires for students to determine if they fall into visual (learning by seeing), aural (learning by hearing), read/write (learning by reading and taking notes), or kinesthetic (learning by simulation/demonstration) and for strategies to help your student learn better using to his/her style.
Test taking, of course, is a big part of the study skillset, and one to actively develop, even if your student already gets good grades. “Just because school is easy, doesn't mean they have the best study habits,” says Murphy. “Now is the time to make sure they've got good study habits and not just good grades. They're looking at a lot of years in the classroom and need a strong outcome. Many medical professions have a state board or require a certification so they have to be a strong test taker which means they have to know how to study for a test,” she says.
Harris agrees. “Knowing who you are as a learner is the big picture, but it's also important to become adept at the skill of test taking, and it is a skill. It can be learned,” he says. “A lot of students will say, 'I'm not a good test taker.' There is no such thing. There are only people who have not nurtured the skill.”
One way to become a better test taker, according to researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, is to incorporate what they call “retrieval practice” into a student’s study habit skillset. Retrieval practice is as it sounds – the practice of calling up information from memory. Once a student is asked to recall or produce a piece of information (who was the fourth president of the United States, for example) he/she is much more likely to remember it in the future. While retrieval is often used as a method for assessing how much a student has learned (test taking), being tested multiple times on facts a student needs to know for a test before he/she takes the actual exam is more effective than simply reviewing those facts, according to Washington University researchers. In short: start taking practice tests. Encourage your student to ask teachers for any available practice tests, to test him/herself on course material rather than simply reviewing books and notes, and offer to test him/her periodically prior to exam time. (For a more on retrieval practice, visit Washington University’s retrievalpractice.org.)
Do your homework on healthcare careers
With the foundation in place, do some exploring. Research career options in the healthcare field, says Murphy, because the industry offers a wide variety of positions that extend beyond a doctor or nurse. “It's easy to point to a doctor or a nurse, but there are so many career paths within healthcare – medical assistant, lab technician, medical coding and reimbursement – each of which require different levels of education,” she says. “Therefore, early in the high school career is a great time for parents and students to start researching and looking at 'what interests me and what type of time commitment am I looking at?' and start to plot a path.”
Healthcare career options don’t always require an advanced degree and licensure – some administrative and support staff positions can require a four-year degree or a two-year associate’s degree, along with additional training and certification in some cases. Medical health services managers, for instance, are responsible for the day-to-day administrative management of physician’s offices, hospitals and clinics and typically require a four-year Bachelor’s degree in health administration. An occupational therapy assistant (OTA) assists an occupational therapist in helping patients who’ve lost or have difficulty with key every-day independent living skills such as brushing their teeth and getting dressed due to injuries or illnesses like strokes and heart attacks or lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy. OTA requires a two-year associate degree (offered by Bryant and Stratton College) along with additional fieldwork in a healthcare setting such as a hospital or doctor’s office, and a certification exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.
(Noteworthy: U.S. News and World Report ranked OTA #1 on its best healthcare support jobs list and #25 on its Top 100 Jobs list for 2016.)
Consult online resources for healthcare career information with your student as well – websites such as www.explorehealthcarecareers.org, www.allalliedhealthschools.com and www.healthcareerpathway.com offer specific information on a vast number healthcare careers, including individual career educational requirements, links to schools that offer those required degrees, cost of education and job market predictions for specific positions.
Research colleges online and ask questions of admissions representatives to find out what their graduate placement rates are in your student’s healthcare interest area. “When we are in the exploration phase for college, we should be able to dive in once we see the career path and pull up schools to see which are having success with certain programs of study,” says Murphy. Also consider making appointments with colleges as early as 9th and 10th grade and along with taking a campus tour, make appointments with admissions representatives to ask about specific degree options and find out what their corresponding course maps are to get an idea of what your student’s actual classwork might look like at that institution. Ask about opportunities for your student to sit in on actual classes in his/her interest area(s).
It’s smart research to include scholarship opportunities while you’re exploring careers. Together with AP and dual enrollment classes offered by high schools, considerable savings on tuition await. In fact, according the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the percentage of first-time, full-time four year, degree-seeking students receiving some kind of financial aid increased from 80% to 85% from the 2007-2008 to the 2012-2013 academic year. Research a wide variety of scholarships online via the College Board’s Big Future (www.bigfuture.collegeboard.org) and the U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid site (www.studentaid.ed.gov).
Explore through school, too. Many high schools offer an introduction to health occupations course or EMT course, which can give students a taste of what it’s like to work in healthcare on a daily basis. Colleges also offer exploration opportunities for high schoolers. VCU Medical Center’s Division for Health Sciences Diversity, for example, partners with Richmond-area schools on its Health Sciences Academy, a health sciences education course that offers lectures from healthcare professionals and mentoring from VCU undergraduates. Program dates vary by school and students are accepted to the program via application.
Make curriculum count
Strength of schedule should be a top high school priority in addition to making good grades. “In high school, you're focusing on getting the right schedule,” says Murphy. “You want to make sure your student is taking the right classes from the get-go.” In short: make friends with math. And science. Most high schools require three years of math for a standard diploma and four for an advanced diploma, and many health career education programs require four years of both math and science for acceptance, which includes biology, chemistry, and algebra I and II.
“Let's say you do want to become a doctor. You need to attend the right college in order to be accepted into a medical school and that means you've got to be taking the right classes and getting the right grades while you're in high school. So, obviously, if you're interested in medicine, you should be focusing on sciences and math,” Murphy says. “It makes sense, but you really have to work backwards [from career to college to high school] on it.”
The great news in these subjects is that dual credit and AP options are plentiful. They not only give your student a leg up by strengthening his/her transcript, they also provide valuable experience in college course work while earning college credits.
Also, science and math classes encourage critical thinking and because math and science are covered on the SAT and ACT, taking these classes all four years keeps skills sharp come exam time.
Widen your scope to stand out
Becoming an attractive prospect to colleges, especially those on a career path to a healthcare career, is about more than a 4.0. Colleges are seeking applicants who can distinguish themselves from the pack via demonstration of their abilities to get good grades while also contributing to the world around them, both from a socially conscious perspective and a time management perspective. Extra-curricular activities through school and community help to show colleges that a student is thinking about and contributing to not just him or herself but the world at large. They show that he/she can handle more than just an accelerated course load. “Colleges are looking for that well-rounded individual,” says Murphy. “You need to be taking on leadership roles at your school and within your community, so that you can speak to those on your college application.”
By broadening his/her scope, your child can seek to develop and showcase well-roundedness, while simultaneously getting some real-world exposure to caregiving situations that help him/her decide if their environments might be a good fit in a future career. “This is a great time to volunteer at a hospital, nursing home or homeless shelter,” says Murphy. “It's a great thing to put on an application, but it also gives you a really true idea of what patient care really is, and of the breadth of it all.”
Community service, extra-curricular activities, and school leadership roles show you can take on more than just an accelerated course load. The same volunteer activities your student performs can also serve dual purpose as discovery and experience in real-world healthcare settings.
Reputation management matters
Finally, on the social side of the equation, students seeking a healthcare career need to be cognizant of their reputations outside of the classroom. In today’s lightning-fast information age, it’s more important than ever to be aware of what’s circulating on social media and the internet and how their conduct could affect them for years to come. “I think something people might not be aware of is that even in high school, you need to conduct your life with the highest ethical standards. Many medical professions require background checks, because you're talking about handling confidential information and distributing drugs to people,” says Murphy. “We live in a society where so much is put out there. You have to be very, very careful and a lot of people just don't make the connection. You have to realize that the things you do, even as early as high school, can impact you long-term.”
Though the process of discovering and navigating an educational career path into healthcare can seem overwhelming at first. Focus on creating a partnership with your child that fosters exploration, research, and a drive to do one’s best right from the start. His/her passions will then begin to emerge and ‘click’ into place along the road to the healthcare field.
We hope the information and resources available in this article will help begin your child’s journey to a career in healthcare. Throughout this series, we will provide additional information on our website, www.ourhealthrichmond.com. Look for Part II of the How-To in Healthcare series where we will focus on your students plan for undergraduate school.
American Association of Colleges of Nursing – www.aacn.nche.eud
National Center for Education Statistics – www.nces.ed.gov
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – www.bls.gov
Beth Murphy with Bryant and Stratton College in Richmond
Kevin Harris with Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond