Health care is one of the largest and most diverse career fields, providing countless professional paths and potential job opportunities. With so many career options on the table, it’s never too early to start exploring and planning for entering some of the most in-demand professions today. Brenda Zink, department chair for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math at Northeastern Junior College, shares her tips for the best way to prepare for a health care career, from choosing which classes to take in high school to finding a path that meets your passions.
Build a Foundation in High School
One of the best ways to prepare for a health care career is to explore relevant subjects early and in as much depth as possible. For instance, Zink suggests taking additional math and science courses in high school: “Don’t just take the minimum and be done,” she advises.
Making that extra effort early on not only prepares you for the rigors of college classes but it can also help you meet the prerequisites for advanced science courses. Thinking further ahead, Zink adds that the material in these classes serves as significant preparation for college entrance exams and graduate program exams like the GREs and MCATs.
Participating in community service or health-related extracurricular activities, joining math or science clubs, and even working part-time in high school can also prepare you for both college and career in several ways. First, the added involvement can help with college applications. These experiences can also give you a glimpse of what it’s like to work with people in need and alongside health care workers. Finally, clubs and activities can extend learning beyond the classroom, so look for ways to participate in science-related projects, competitions, attend guest lectures, and take advantage of any opportunity to learn more about the STEM fields.
Do Your Health Care Career Homework
If you’re drawn to the health care field, you likely have a desire to work with people and a passion for helping others. That’s a common thread among health care workers! But what are the best health care jobs for you? Aside from looking into specific aspects of medicine or patient care that interest you, you might want to consider factors such as:
- The top health care fields in demand in your area (or areas to which you’d commute or relocate). The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook is a good place to start exploring health care careers.
- The average starting salary in your area for health care jobs that interest you.
- Growth and advancement opportunities within the specific health care fields you want to explore further.
If patient care isn’t your primary interest, you can look into non-clinical jobs within the health care professions including, health informatics, health care administration, medical coding, medical equipment sales, medical transcriptionist, and health records management, to name just a few.
There’s a lot of health care career information available online, but getting a first-hand look at the profession can also be incredibly valuable. Zink encourages high school students and current Northeastern students to shadow health care professionals at work.
“Go observe for a day — go observe for a couple of days,” says Zink, adding that watching for just minutes or hours doesn’t give the full picture of a day in the life of a particular health care career.
Health Care Education: Choosing Your Degree Program
You’ll find an array of well-paid jobs in health care in our region and beyond, and Northeastern’s associate degree programs prepare you for many of them.
Often, health care positions require a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Northeastern’s health care transfer programs — two-year associate degree programs designed to build a foundation for further study in the health sciences — are a high-quality, affordable pathway to a four-year or graduate degree.
Some of the top health care fields in demand today fall into the technician category: radiology technician, surgery technician, and respiratory technician, to name a few. Northeastern’s two-year degree options prepare graduates for entry into health care technician programs across the country.
If you’re considering a career as a health care practitioner, an associate degree also will allow you to complete general education and prerequisite math and science courses affordably and closer to home before moving on to advanced and focused studies. Northeastern’s health care transfer programs include:
- Nutrition and Food Science - Dietetics
- Pre-Occupation Therapy
- Pre-Physical Therapy
- Pre-Physician’s Assistant
- Pre-Veterinary Science
- Speech Pathology - Audiology
Zink explains that, as part of the Colorado Community College System, relevant credits earned at Northeastern are guaranteed to transfer to other colleges and universities in Colorado. Northeastern graduates also pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees across the country.
“Our students go everywhere,” she says.
You Still Have Time to Figure It Out
Choosing a career path can sometimes seem daunting; however, Zink reassures students that it’s OK if you haven’t figured out exactly what health care career you want to pursue or which bachelor’s degree you want to pursue after Northeastern.
“A lot of people will change direction, and it’s OK. Your foundational classes will be the same,” she says of the associate degree credits that transfer into a bachelor’s program. “That’s what these first two years are for; you can build your foundation while you figure it out.”
As you take classes, explore health topics, and discover the broad range of professions available, you’ll get a clearer picture of where you might see yourself working in the future.
If you’re considering a health care career, Northeastern Junior College is ready to help you reach your professional goals. Explore our health transfer associate degree programs here.