Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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How To In Healthcare: Part IV - Time to Put the Skills to the Test

Written by  Tina Joyce

OurHealth Richmond magazine’s series “How-to in Healthcare” is a step-by-step guide to pursuing a career in healthcare.  

In Part I, OurHealth offered insights into the fascinating world of healthcare education. Anyone with a passion for serving others, a love of science or a fascination with the way the body works is a prime candidate for a career in healthcare. These traits often develop in childhood, which is why we began our expert advice with tips for the families of students interested in healthcare opportunities in college.

In Part II, college and university professionals gave advice on certificate and degree programs for students transitioning into healthcare professions after completing two- or four-year degrees.

In Part III, we began outlining the steps for entering graduate and medical school programs and exploring the best options for individual students.

Now, in our fourth and final article, we seek to open the doors to employment. Even when students are diligently focused on completing their educational requirements, they can easily lose sight of the details of creating an appealing, hire-worthy portfolio.

Education plus experience should equal employment. Why, then, are so many graduates moving back in with their parents to pay off their college debt?

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges,1 78 percent of medical school graduates have $180,000 in debt upon graduation. This certainly isn’t the figure their parents will boast about in the next Christmas letter. But if medical students and graduate students seek careers proactively, beginning early in the educational process, they can lighten these financial burdens and broaden their future opportunities.

Of course, not everyone seeking a career in healthcare has to complete four years of undergraduate work and medical school. But training for any healthcare profession takes time and financial commitment. These are valuable commodities and should be used wisely.

Students should seek wisdom, education and experience. One of the best ways to gain wisdom is to ask the wise. By gathering information from people working in or retired from the healthcare professions, you create opportunities to learn from others—both from their successes and from their mistakes.

As early as high school, students can start preparing their professional portfolios to include pertinent work experience and positive references. Building relationships is crucial. You might admire a particular educator or medical professional you meet through study, practicums or residencies. If you want their help, simply ask. Ask them,

  • What was your path through education?
  • What would you do differently?
  • What was the best advice you received in school?
  • What was your greatest professional struggle?
  • What was your greatest professional reward?
  • What was your first job in the field?
  • What’s the most important thing I can do to prepare for my first interview?
  • What stands out the most to you in a résumé or CV?
  • What healthcare associations do you belong to, and which do you benefit from the most?
  • What have you learned the most about from your patients?

By the time a student is in the final stages of education, a career path will hopefully have become clear, and the student can focus on landing the job or career of their choice. It is important to be flexible, persistent, and patient.

Whether you can choose a particular location for work depends on several factors. Can you relocate, and are you willing to? What connections do you have at a particular facility? (Do you know someone who works there now or has in the past?) Does your educational institution offer career placement services? What credentials (academic or experiential) does the facility require for employment?

Students completing residency programs are often approached by recruiters. Drug companies and staffing companies that focus on healthcare recruitment might contact residents or graduating students about opportunities. It is vitally important to examine every employment offer with discernment. Proceed cautiously and do your research.

It is especially advantageous to get to know someone at the facility you’d like to work in. Volunteering and working part time are great ways to gain insight into an organization before applying for permanent employment. If you earn the respect of employees, board members, or supervisors, your chances of being asked to submit a resume and of gaining an interview increase drastically.

Building Your Résumé or CV

Students should consider several factors when building a résumé or a curriculum vitae. First, the difference between them is important. A résumé simply and concisely presents your skills and your qualifications for a particular position or career. It should be one or two pages long. A CV includes a more complete history of your academic credentials. CVs are used by students seeking fellowships, grants, postdoctoral positions and teaching and research positions at postsecondary colleges and universities. The length can vary a lot.2

A typical résumé includes the following information:

  • Cover letter. This provides a permanent written record of the submission of the resume. It says what is being sent, to whom and by whom.
  • Name and contact information. Your residential address might be the most appropriate.
  • Education. List your degrees and certifications and the educational institutions and programs you attended.
  • Work experience. List the companies or organizations you have worked for, the location of each, the dates you worked for them and your job titles and duties.
  • References (possibly). This is a list of people willing to write letters of recommendation for you, including their contact information

A typical CV includes the following information:

  • Name and contact Information. Contact information at your current institution or place of employment might work best.
  • Areas of interest. List your varied academic interests.
  • Education. Specify your degrees, earned or in progress, institutions and years of graduation. You might include the title of your dissertation or thesis here.
  • Grants, honors, and awards. List any grants you have received, honors bestowed on you for your work and awards for your teaching or service.
  • Publications and presentations. Give a list of your published articles and books and presentations you have given at conferences. If there are a lot, you might make one section for publications and another for presentations.
  • Employment and experience. This section can include separate lists for teaching experience, laboratory work, field work, volunteering, leadership and other relevant experiences.
  • Scholarly and professional memberships. Here you list the professional organizations you belong to. If you have held an office or position in one of them, you can say so here or in the Experience section.
  • References. This is a list of people willing to write letters of recommendation for you, including their contact information.

A résumé or CV cannot be built overnight. Compiling accolades and experience takes time, and if you wait until graduation to start, then by industry standards you are far too late. Many key components of a résumé can be acquired only through volunteer work, hours of commitment to a job or residency program or rigorous academic training.

Regardless of age or year of school, students should always be thinking about building a résumé. It takes far more work than checking a box to indicate “done” on an application. Volunteer work and work experience should reflect not only your values but your passion.

Employers are always seeking the “best fit” employees for their organizations. Students should also seek the “best fit” employers to help them fulfill their goals and purposes.

Creating a Network

Forbes magazine published a “top ten” list of contacts you should have in your network. “The trick,” the article says, “is to make sure you are building a diverse network by adding people from different industries, backgrounds, age groups, ethnic groups, etc. that fit into different roles. Building a deep network by only including people from your current profession or business focus leaves too many stones unturned, limiting potential opportunities.”

An active network naturally encourages dialog about new employment opportunities. Lunch with an association president or local hospital board member can lead to insights about upcoming job openings. Regardless of whether you are pursuing a new job or planning to change jobs in the medical community, you should remain active and involved in organizations that fit your personal and professional interests.

The following five tips can help you build and expand a professional network so you can explore more employment opportunities, according to the Harris Casel Institute.

Step 1: Maintain an active LinkedIn profile.

This vast professional platform is a great way to network with others if you stay active on it. Create a profile and market your experience for free. LinkedIn helps you stay up to date on healthcare news and advances. Optimize your profile with keywords related to your specific healthcare profession.

Here are some ways you should use LinkedIn:

  • Start conversations. Comment, share, and converse with other healthcare professionals. Get your name out there by asking crucial questions or requesting people keep you in mind when giving updates. Commenting on blog posts regularly is a way to become a part of a wider conversation. Give positive feedback on other professionals’ posts to build your own online presence.
  • Endorse colleagues. On LinkedIn, you can endorse others as a friendly gesture. If you do, there’s a greater chance they’ll endorse you back. Endorsements look good to potential employers.
  • Include a picture. A profile picture improves your chances of endorsements and consideration from employers. It also personalizes your profile. A picture helps people put a name to a face and makes it easier for others to notice you at events.

Step 2: Get involved in healthcare organizations.

Getting involved is a crucial part of networking. You might search for associations, societies and groups that revolve around a particular healthcare specialty of your expertise or interest. If you’re interested in medical assisting, you could look at joining the American Association of Medical Assistants. As a member of an organization, you can learn about new developments in your field and gain the benefits of being part of a local or national healthcare community.

Step 3: Take part in events.

Keep your eye out for healthcare events. You can search forums, LinkedIn, and healthcare websites for local events where you can meet other healthcare professionals. Events are great occasions for networking with others. If you show up to lots of them, people might start recognizing you.

Step 4: Volunteer.

You can show your passion for your profession by volunteering at a local healthcare organization. Not only does this look good on your résumé and help the community, it lets you meet others who are just as passionate about improving people’s health. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to expand your network and learn about new developments in the healthcare world.

Step 5: Build your professional presence.

It’s always a good idea to differentiate yourself from your competition. Make sure your online presence and interpersonal skills stand out. Highlight traits of your personality that are good or unique. You could come to be recognized for your passion on a specific healthcare subject. If you build on a specific trait, you might be recognized for it, which makes you stand out from the crowd.

With dedication and a positive attitude, you can start building strong professional relationships with others in your healthcare field. You might expand your knowledge and professional horizons too, which could help you to advance in your career and build your technical skills.

Preparing for an Interview

Once you’ve made contact with a potential employer or have an interview scheduled, there are steps you can take to ensure it’s a positive interview. First, conduct more in-depth research. Before seeking an interview, a student should ideally have done research and applied only to organizations that share their mission or goal. It would be a waste of time, and misleading to an employer, to take an interview for a job you have no intention of accepting.

Learn about the organization, its history and its vision. Learn who the key stakeholders are and who makes the final hiring decisions. Then ponder interview questions and prepare appropriate, honest answers.

According to the Integrity Training Institute, “Most managers hire for skills, but fire for character. Because of the overwhelming problems associated with hiring employees who lack required character traits, more and more healthcare managers are asking character-discerning questions when interviewing employees.”6

Below are some sample interview questions in the healthcare community.

Top Questions for Interviewing Healthcare Employees

  • Tell me about your last performance review. How were you told you could improve? Were there any recurring themes?
  • What kept you from fulfilling your duties or arriving on time at your last job?
  • Tell me about the most recent problem you had with a co-worker. How did you handle it?
  • What about your character makes you a good candidate for this job?
  • Priorities often change suddenly throughout the day. If you are asked to quickly do another task, how does it affect your mood? What if it’s the third time before noon?
  • What do you feel is an acceptable number of days to be absent in a calendar year?
  • How do you handle situations that could cause you to be late or absent?
  • How did you fill down time at your last job?
  • How have you responded when you learned another employee was stealing?
  • How have you responded when your replacement called in sick and a substitute would take more than an hour to come in?
  • 24/7 operations are like relay races: you take the baton, run with it and pass it on smoothly. How do you make seamless transitions through shift changes?
  • In the last year, on days when your replacement didn’t shown up and your manager asked you to stay late, what percentage of the time did you stay?
  • Think about the last time your manager critiqued your work. How did you respond?
  • Give an example of a time you did something without being asked. Can you give me another example?
  • Describe a recent problem you had with one of your manager’s decisions. How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about your most frustrating experience as a __________ (job title). How did you handle it?

Being a sought-after employee or student should be a goal. Joining business associations or healthcare organizations can also add to a student’s résumé. However, nothing can replace focus, hard work and strong relationships.

Students should acquire academic integrity and valuable experience and build reputable references in the healthcare field.

In Part I, OurHealth gave parents and students direction for finding a course load suited to entering a healthcare profession. Parts II, III and IV of the series showed how students should begin with academic focus, work hard to earn stellar grades and then build connections with people in their educational institutions and professions. As individuals progress and mature, by asking key questions and seeking wise counsel they can ensure they are guided down a path to success, not toward fear of graduation.



The American Association of Medical Colleges.
The University of California at Davis.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
How to Build a Powerful Professional Network.
The Integrity Institute.