Which careers could be right for me?

Different healthcare fields require different skills

Different skills are emphasized in different healthcare professions also. For instance, physicians are especially expected to synthesize a great deal of highly complex information. Dentists work with their hands, and must have extremely well-developed fine motor skills, manual dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. Physical therapists must have excellent coaching skills and superior abilities to motivate others. Other professions emphasize other skills.

Healthcare encompasses the range of services provided to support health and healing, including services aimed at the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. It is currently the largest industry in the United States. Explore the possibilities to find the best path for you. A good general resource to begin researching fields is the website explorehealthcareers.org. Health Professions & Prelaw Advising provides guides also on a variety of health professions.

Questions to consider

Here are some questions that may help you decide if a health profession is for you:

Training in most health professions will require significant coursework in the sciences. If you plan to go to medical school, for instance, you will need to take many semesters of very rigorous chemistry courses. Preparing for physical therapy school will require fewer chemistry courses, and most occupational therapy programs do not require any chemistry. If you struggle in math and science classes it could indicate that some health professions may not be the best fit for you. Still, some health fields, such as healthcare administration or social work, would not require a strong science background.

College level coursework tends to be much more rigorous than what you encountered in high school, so if you feel your skills may need to be strengthened in math and science, make sure to talk to an advisor and follow advice on the best starting point for you. If you need to take some additional beginning math and science courses that's okay, as long as you do develop the strong skills you'll need.

Preparing for most health profession fields will require very intensive study. You will need to prioritize academics over other activities in college. To be competitive you will need to earn high grades, and that will require excellent time management and strong study skills. Most pre-health students find that they must make some sacrifices and prioritize academics over some of the other extracurricular activities available in college.

How did you develop the desire to become a healthcare provider? Choosing to become a healthcare provider is not a purely intellectual decision. To be successful, you need to be motivated by empathy and a desire to alleviate the suffering of others. Writing about the experiences in your life that have made you feel drawn toward healthcare may help you clarify your motivations. Shadowing or volunteering in a healthcare environment may also help you clarify your goals.

Healthcare providers typically work under very demanding circumstances. They must be able to maintain their composure when working with patients and other team members, even under stressful conditions. Do you avoid stressful situations, or are you a person who thrives under challenging conditions? Managing stress is a learned skill. Learning new ways to manage stress and develop resilience could help you prepare for the demands of working as a healthcare provider.

Healthcare providers need certain skills or abilities -- or competencies -- in areas such as critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and written and oral communication. They need teamwork skills, a capacity for improvement, excellent interpersonal and social skills, and cultural competence, the ability to effectively interact with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. They must have an awareness of the psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors that influence health and well-being. Ethical responsibility, reliability, resilience, and adaptability are also important. Do you already have some of these abilities? Read more about the competencies identified by medical schools on the AAMC website.

Parallel planning

There are many possible paths to your goal of a healthcare career. Sometimes people may believe there is only one perfect dream job for them – but the truth is that you could potentially be successful in a wide number of fields.

A parallel plan is a plan you create that you can pursue right alongside your first choice of a career. Parallel planning allows you to efficiently change paths at some point if you discover you do not like or no longer want to pursue your primary career path. Parallel planning is a way to ensure that you find a career that matches your interests, goals, and values.

Information for Pre-health Students

Current undergraduate students can find resources for getting started, preparing for your career, suggested coursework, and how to apply to graduate programs in the health professions of their choice in our HPPLA Guidebook. You can view the different pre-health sections of the guidebook by clicking below, or if you're just starting out, visit the new students section first.