Here you’ll find the most frequently asked questions we’ve received about health care careers. If you can’t the find answer to your question, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll work with our health career experts to find the answer.
Finding Career Information
Q. Why is ExploreHealthCareers.org free? I always heard that free information is “worth what you paid for it.”
A: ExploreHealthCareers.org is free because its mission is to provide easy access to all students seeking information about health careers. First-generation, low-income and disadvantaged students are least likely to have resources available to them to inspire and motivate them to succeed. We believe everyone can be successful in whatever career they choose. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but with the right tools and free resources, the playing field can be leveled so that all students receive an equal opportunity.
ExploreHealthCareers.org is able to provide valuable information at no cost thanks in part to generous support by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation from 2007 to 2010. The American Dental Education Association also contributes resources, talent and expertise to ensure that the project is successful.
Q. Is there unreliable information on the Internet about health careers?
A: Unfortunately, yes, there is. ExploreHealthCareers.org makes sure the information on this site is reliable by having national associations representing the careers or an accrediting organization review it. We ask experts in the field to review what we write before it is posted and when the information is updated.
Q: Which health professions need the most new workers?
A: The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that these health care jobs will grow the fastest between 2012 and 2022, in order from highest demand to lowest:
- Personal care aides
- Home health aides
- Interpreters and translators (find out more about health care interpreters)
- Diagnostic medical sonographers
- Occupational therapy assistants
- Genetic counselors
- Physical therapist assistants
- Physical therapist aides
- Physician assistants
- Occupational therapy aides
- Health specialties teachers, postsecondary
- Medical secretaries
- Physical therapists
- Orthotists and prosthetists
- Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary
- Nurse practitioners
- Dental hygienists
- Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors
Q: Why are the health professions experiencing workforce shortages?
A: The shortage is caused by two factors: increased demand for health care, which is expected to increase even more with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and a shrinking supply of trained professionals. The number of people in older age groups with increasing needs is growing faster than the total population. There are not enough young people training for health professions to meet this growing need.
In fact, there are not enough health professions students to replace the health workers who will retire in the next decade. In addition, many health workers are leaving the field because they are burned out. Stress is an issue in some health care jobs and something you should understand as you consider a career in the field. That’s why ExploreHealthCareers.org’s career database provides reliable, objective and independent information about health careers. We want you to be able to make informed choices about your career. Read more about workforce shortages in the Health Policy Topics section.
Q. Is health care a “recession-proof” industry?
A. While no job is recession proof, the health care industry does offer a level of job security that most industries don’t. Despite economic downturns, people continue to get sick and need health care. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations and industries related to health care are projected to add the most new jobs between 2012 and 2022. Total employment is projected to increase 10.8%, or 15.6 million, during the decade.
Q: Do health care workers ever get laid off?
A: No job or profession is immune to lay offs. However, there is growing demand for health care workers, particularly those on the frontlines of delivering care. Take a look at ExploreHealthCareer.org’s Career Explorer for more information on specific careers and the demand for each.
Q. Is health care a good field for working parents? For people whose first language is not English? For workers who are disabled?
A: Yes, yes and yes! Some health fields offer greater flexibility than others for managing work/life and family balance. Many health careers offer “regular” 9-to-5 work hours, while others let you choose work hours that fit your family’s needs. You can use ExploreHealthCareer.org’s Career Explorer to find out more about which careers might be just right for you and your family.
Workers who speak English as a second language (ESL) are especially needed because of today’s diverse patient population. Health care interpreters facilitate communication between patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) and their physicians, nurses, lab technicians and other health care providers. There is good career potential in this profession. To become a health care interpreter, you need to be far more than simply bilingual, although that’s a good start.
Workers who are disabled can find employment in the health care field, depending on their needs and limitations and the requirements of the job. Take a look at the Career Explorer section for jobs that will work for you.
Q. What types of health workers will be needed to address the aging population?
A: People who work in nursing homes as nursing assistants, as well as certified nursing assistants and home care aides who work in the patient’s home will be in high demand. In addition, more advanced fields will require specialists in geriatrics. This specialty is offered in numerous fields, including public health, medicine and nursing to name a few.
Career Education and Preparation
Q: What types of skills are health employers looking for?
A: Well, first of all, you have to genuinely like and want to help people. Compassion, empathy, intellectual curiosity and good communication skills also go a long way in helping someone to become an excellent health care provider. Next, you will need education. Depending on the career, you may get training on the job or attend a community college, college or university and, in some cases, go on to graduate education. Find out if a health career is right for you.
Q: Do you have to go to a four-year college to work in health care?
A: Many health care jobs require less than four years of college, including opportunities in the allied health professions. ExploreHealthCareers.org can help you find a health career based on your educational goals.
Q. Can I start working in the health field after high school and then go back to college?
A: Of course you can! Contrary to popular belief, there is no one right path to enter the health care field. Many health care workers started their careers in frontline jobs that require only a high school diploma. On the job, they learned about other health career opportunities, and they pursued additional training to qualify for promotion—often with their original employer. Starting out as an orderly, a general aide or even working in the housekeeping or food service department of a health facility is a terrific way to “get your foot in the door” toward a higher-paying health career.
Q. I saw a subway ad for a health career training program—how do I determine if it’s a good school?
A: That’s a good question. Not all schools are accredited. Accreditation is one of the most important factors to consider when selecting an academic program. It may not be the only criterion you use, but it is one piece of the puzzle to help you decide if a specific program and school is right for you. Find out more about accreditation and how to find an accredited school. You can also read this blog post on what you should know about choosing an non-accredited school.
Even if a school is accredited, that doesn’t necessarily make it a “good” school for you. Do your homework before you pay your tuition. Ask yourself questions like these:
- Does the school meet my educational goals?
- Is there academic support?
- Are the teachers engaged and enthusiastic about their topics?
- Do I feel comfortable on campus when I visit?
- Is the school’s lab well equipped and the library fully stocked?
- If the educational program is online, does it offer clinical experience and a way to connect directly with students and instructors?
Q. What is a health care career enrichment program?
A: Health care career enrichment programs are programs that help enrich and enhance your preparation for entry into health profession programs.
A common type of an enrichment program is one that offers some type of academic enrichment, i.e., coursework to supplement, enhance and advance your understanding of science and medical-related courses. Another type of program is experiential, which usually involves shadowing health professionals to see what they do.
Participating in a pre-health enrichment program is not essential, but it can help you narrow your career focus and make valuable contacts who can serve as mentors and provide references throughout your career.
Q: Why is it important to increase the number of minorities in the health professions?
A: Diversity encompasses not only race and ethnicity but also socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation, education, age, etc. Increasing the number of health care professionals who are from underrepresented minority and low-income backgrounds and who are culturally competent, will improve access to and quality of care for everyone. Ultimately, increasing the number and diversity of health care professionals will save lives.
ExploreHealthCareers.org is committed to promoting and supporting diversity in all of its expressions.
Q: What is a “medically underserved community”?
A: The term “medically underserved” is a federal designation based on a very complex formula created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
The federal government designates “Health Professional Shortage Areas” (HPSAs) and “Medically Underserved Areas” (MUAs) based on:
- The ratio of primary medical care physicians or dentists per 1,000 population
- Infant mortality rate
- The percentage of the population with incomes below the poverty level
- The percentage of the population age 65 and older
All of the above factors can occur in rural and even specific urban areas. Members of federally recognized American Indian tribes are automatically designated as medically underserved for dentistry. These groups often don’t get the care they need and may have to travel far to see a doctor or dentist.
HRSA has more information about medically underserved areas.
Q: How many medically underserved communities are there in the United States? Is my community medically underserved?
A: The number and location of medically underserved communities and health professional shortage areas changes frequently. You can find current information on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) website.
Q: How does ExploreHealthCareers.org propose to reduce ethnic and racial health disparities?
A: Health care disparities occur when certain ethnic groups receive inadequate or poor healthcare, based on their race, ethnicity or social economic status. Studies have shown that even when members of minority groups have the same incomes, insurance coverage and medical conditions as whites, they receive poorer or inadequate care.
Take a look at the Health and Health Care Disparities section in the Diversity Matters section for more information about this important topic.
By encouraging more people from diverse backgrounds to explore careers in health, we are creating a workforce that is sensitive to the cultural needs of a diverse and aging patient population.
Q. My friend said you have to be rich to be a physician, is that true?
A: Not true. Many health professions, including physician and veterinarian, require additional schooling beyond four years of college. While tuition can be expensive, there is financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships and loans, and loan forgiveness programs to help pay for school.
While tuition for college and medical school can be expensive, there is financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships and loans and loan forgiveness programs to help pay for school.
Q. I love watching medical shows on T.V. Is that what it’s really like to work in health care?
A. Not exactly. Television and movies can make any profession look more glamorous than it really is. The media also tends to focus on just a few health careers, like physicians and nurses, which can be misleading. There are actually more than 100 different health careers.
Also, most health professionals spend less time on the job talking about their romantic interests and more time actually helping patients.
If you really want to know what a health career is like, shadow or interview someone in your community who works in a health care career you are interested in. Or try volunteering at a hospital or other health care organization.
You can also take a look at the Career Explorer on this site. Our career profiles will give you an idea of what a specific job is really like.
Q. I don’t like being around blood and I’m not very good with sick people. Are there health careers that don’t involve direct patient care?
A: Absolutely! To name a few, health administration, health education and informatics. Browse the career profiles on ExploreHealthCareers.org, and you will find many opportunities that don’t involve working directly with patients.
Q. What hazards do health workers face?
A: There are serious health hazards in the health field. Health workers can be exposed to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Another potential hazard is exposure to radiation and caustic chemicals. The health care industry has adopted safety procedures to minimize risks associated with hazards like those.
However, one hazard that people often don’t think of is stress and burnout. The health care field is very demanding and stressful. In order to help others, a health care professional must be patient, calm, relaxed and compassionate. It is important to take wellness breaks/vacations when needed.
Q. Which health workers make the most money?
A: The more specialized or advanced training you receive, the greater your earning potential. This training doesn’t have to be completed before you start working&mdashyou can continue to learn and increase your earnings throughout your career.
Professionals and managers in health fields also tend to earn more than other workers.
You may be surprised to know that registered nurses are paid one of the highest hourly rates among health workers.
Q. How reliable is your salary data?
A: ExploreHealthCareers.org provides salary information to help you search for and compare different health careers. Salary data is carefully researched and approved by organizations representing the various health professions. “Average” salaries should always be used only as a guideline. Some health workers will earn more, and some will earn less. How much you can expect to earn in any position will depend on many factors, including:
- Years of experience
- Job description
- Work setting
- Geographic location
Q. What’s an example of a specialist in health care?
A: A specialist is someone who obtains advanced education in a health care field. For example, a health care professional may choose to continue his or her education beyond the medical, dental or nursing degree in order to provide specialized patient care. The number of required years of advanced education varies, depending on the profession. Many health careers offer opportunities for specialization.
Nurses can specialize too. There are pediatric nurse specialists, nurse midwives, geriatric nurses, etc. In fact, there are more than 100 nursing specialties, but most nurses don’t specialize until they have spent several years working as a registered nurse.
Q: What other health care settings are there besides hospitals and medical and dental offices?
A: Health workers are employed in a wide variety of settings:
- Ambulatory care centers, like blood and organ banks and pacemaker monitoring services
- Businesses and industries
- Correctional facilities
- Government agencies
- Home health services
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories, such as x-ray labs
- Nursing and residential care facilities, like nursing homes and alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers
- Offices of other health practitioners, such as dentists, optometrists and podiatrists
- Outpatient care centers, like kidney dialysis centers and outpatient mental health clinics
Others work as consultants. Depending on which health profession you choose, the number of potential work settings is almost unlimited.
Q. I don’t want to move away from my friends and family. Can I get a health job close to where I live?
A. Health workers are needed in every community, from the inner city to the most rural areas. The variety of jobs and the pay vary depending on geography, but chances are you will be able to find work in health care almost anywhere.
Q: How is technology affecting health care jobs?
A: Software development to support some of the technological advances in healthcare is creating new opportunities. People who write the computer programs and design the software to monitor pacemakers, track surgical operation schedules and record notes on patients in a hand-held device are in demand.
In addition, advances in bioengineering that help create knee and hip implants, artificial hearts and robots that assist with surgery are providing expanded and new career opportunities in these fields.
Advances in technology are improving the quality of life for many patients and helping to save lives.
Q. Can you provide an example of how a health worker’s vocational identity might change over time?
A: Someone who has been working in the same field for many years may grow impatient, want more of a challenge or desire a change of pace. This happens often with mid-career changers. Just as your skills, knowledge and ability may change over time, your career interests can too.
Fortunately, in health care, you can build a varied resume by taking classes to learn new skills or changing work settings. Some health care employers will help pay for school and give you time off to earn the qualifications for promotion, while others offer “career ladder” programs that let you learn new skills on the job.