Healthcare programs teach you the necessary skills to start a highly rewarding career within the medical and healthcare sector. Using advanced medical technology combined with compassionate care, healthcare workers provide diagnosis and treatment to millions of people, from infants to the elderly every day. Surely, there is a career waiting for you within this ever-growing field! The medical and healthcare sectors provide wonderful career opportunities for graduates from a variety of healthcare programs. While the industry certainly does employ some of the most highly trained professionals of any field, it is also true that the majority of jobs available within the healthcare sectord require less than a four degree.
Nature of the Healthcare Industry
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2008-2009 (the last year for which figures were available) there were nearly 600,000 health organizations within the healthcare industry. Of this number nearly 77 percent are private practitioner officers (physicians, podiatrists, dentists, optometrists). While hospitals constitute only one percent of all health care organizations, they employ the largest number of healthcare workers
The range of employers within the healthcare sector includes small clinics employing perhaps one doctor and nurse, community health centers employing perhaps twenty professional and support staff, to large urban medical centers employing thousands of workers in diverse careers.
Career Choices for Graduates of Healthcare Programs
Healthcare organizations employ large numbers of workers at both the professional and service levels. Together, both groups of workers constitute about 76 percent of the workforce within the healthcare sector. The next highest group of employees are administrative and office support personnel. Management and operations (finance, human resources, etc.) staff make up only about 4 percent of all workers within this industry. Other workers (e.g. maintenance and security) account for about 2 percent of workers.
Professional careers, such as physicians and dentists, social workers, psychologists, and physical therapists will require advanced level graduate study of up to ten years for physicians including internship and residency requirement depending on specialty area.
Registered nurses (RNs) may choose from a few healthcare programs, including hospital-based diploma programs (although these are fewer in number), associate degree programs, as well as bachelor’s programs. Licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs) may complete a one year certificate program offered by hospitals, community colleges, or private allied health vocational schools.
Graduates of all of the above healthcare programs often have significant responsibility with regard to patient care and may supervise the work of other staff or participate in research. However, some professional level staff, such as healthcare managers and administrators have little, if any, direct contact with patients.
Graduates of one to two year health care programs as health technology and information may become employed as diagnostic medical sonographers, radiologic technicians, dental hygienists, respiratory therapists, and health records technicians. With the exception of records technicians, these healthcare workers operate medical equipment and assist in the diagnosis and treatment of various medical conditions.
Service-based occupations are especially attractive to those with little or no specialized training or education. Such workers may accept positions as personal/home care aides (PCA/HHA), nursing home aides/certified nursing assistants (CNAs), as well as medical and dental assistants. Typically, healthcare programs for these types of jobs will take from as little as one month (PCA/HHA) up to one year (CNAs) to complete. However, it may be possible to also obtain employment with no formal training—especially with regard to medical and dental assistants.
Personal care /home health aides, as well as CNAs provide direct patient care for those suffering from a variety of medical conditions, as well as the elderly, injured, and disabled. With experience and further training, service workers may advance into positions of increased responsibility.
Healthcare Programs and Advancement Potential
Those wishing to pursue an advanced profession, such as a physician, surgeon, dentist, physical therapist, speech therapist or audiologist will need to complete graduate study, up to ten years for certain physician and surgeon specialties. Other healthcare workers such as social workers and health care managers will need a bachelor’s degree, although employers prefer candidates with a master’s degree. Registered nurses with either a diploma or associate’s degree who wish to advance into supervisory roles will also need to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.
The majority employers of healthcare technologists (e.g. diagnostic sonographers, radiology technician, etc.) require that candidates be graduates of certificate or associate degree healthcare programs that combine classroom study with hands-on training. Healthcare technology programs typically take about two years to complete.
The healthcare sector also provides many career options for those without specialized formal training after high school. As per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics “47 percent of workers in nursing and residential care facilities have a high school diploma or less, as do 20 percent of workers in hospitals.”
Some health care organizations provide onsite classroom training, as well as continuing education coursework. However, most employees who have not had formal training in healthcare programs and who work with patients will receive some type of on-the-job training. Such jobs include nursing PCAs, HHAs, and assistants/certified nursing assistants ( certification being required in nursing homes), physical therapy aides, and orderlies. Hospitals and large nursing care facilities are more likely than other types of facilities to provide tuition reimbursement for employees in these categories who seek to advance their career.
Most hospital-based tuition reimbursement programs will require that you promise to work in the facility for a certain amount of time in return for help with healthcare program cost. Some hospitals also provide cross-training for workers so they may perform duties outside their direct job description. Cross training is often conducted in conjunction with college programs, continuing education programs, or in-house professional development training.
Before enrolling in any healthcare program take an inventory of your skills and interests. Those considering a career in healthcare should have a compassionate nature able to relate to people from a variety of demographic backgrounds, very good written and verbal communication skills, and the ability to work effectively under sometimes stressful conditions. Many healthcare jobs will require that you renew your license every few years which will require that you complete a certain number of continuing education hours.
Opportunities to advance vary depending upon your job title. Those working as PCAs/HHAs and nursing assistants may advance into positions of greater responsibility with experience and graduation from degree-granting health programs. Licensed practical nurses/licensed vocation nurses may purse a an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program to become registered nurse. There is also the option to participate in an LPN-to-RN “bridge program” which will accelerate the time needed to complete the program.
As noted, registered nurses who wish to advance into supervisor or management positions will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree, with a master’s often required for higher-level administrative roles or advanced clinical practice. Health technologists often advance by pursuing formal certification that generally requires passing of a national certification examination. Sonographers may be certified in two or more areas by passing an exam in each. For example, a sonographer may hold certification in cardiovascular sonography, as well as neuro-sonography. Health care managers may advance into positions of healthcare administrators, although this will often require an advanced degree