Compassion for others. Grace under pressure. A thirst for knowledge and a commitment to excellence in the classroom and beyond. You recognize these qualities in your child, and as he or she grows and develops throughout high school and your conversations turn to possible career paths, one or both of you might wonder if a career in healthcare might be a great fit. The ability to save someone's life or to make a difference in the well-being of others — preventing disease, fighting illness and improving their everyday lives — by helping them see, walk, breathe, move and speak better (just to name a few) can be the rewards of a healthcare career.
But getting into that “life and death” career space requires a deep commitment on many levels. A diligent approach to studying, the potential for many years in school, dedication to accuracy on the job and, most of all, an unwavering desire to help others is what it takes to achieve and sustain a successful career in this exacting field.
What if your child might not be a good fit for the rigors of med school or doesn't want to spend that much time in school but still shows passion for impacting the lives of others? Take heart: Healthcare is a booming field, and the commonly imagined paths of doctor or nurse are but two points of entry into the 21st century world of healthcare, one whose enormity now offers a wide variety of steady jobs that don't require a medical license (which means less time spent in school and less financial investment).
In December 2015, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that healthcare will be the fastest growing industry in the U.S. and will add more jobs than any other field to the employment sector from 2014 to 2024. Together with the social assistance sector, healthcare is poised to add another 3.8 million jobs to our economy during this period.
How do you figure out if healthcare is right for your child? And if they are already interested, what needs to be done in high school to get on the path toward a healthcare career?
With this four-part series, OurHealth aims to guide you so that you can guide your child on the journey to a career in healthcare. In our first four installments, we will cover high school, undergraduate, graduate curricula/clinical studies and finding a job in your chosen healthcare career, respectively.
Following the fourth installment, we will begin a series that focuses on one position in healthcare and describes the specific steps that students interested in the field must take from the beginning of their education through their first day on the job.
Build a foundation for success
While a career in healthcare is more accessible than ever before it still requires planning along with a strong high school transcript, participation in extracurricular activities, high SAT and/or ACT scores and a spotless personal conduct record to gain entry onto its path. After all, the reason for all the demanding preparation and practice for healthcare careers is their focus on the health and lives of people — an area with no room for error.
Starting in ninth grade when most students enter high school, their transcripts become the official record of their school success — one that’s scrutinized for acceptance to colleges and universities. So it’s important to start strong out of the gate, both to produce a competitive high school record and to build the skills needed to prepare for and perform in a healthcare career.
First, set your child up for success. That means creating solid study skills that will serve them well in high school and college. At the foundational level of learning, it could prove beneficial for students to discover and work with their natural learning style before focusing on study skills. Visit www.vark-learn.com and www.educationplanner.org for learning style self-assessment questionnaires students can use to determine if they are visual (learning by seeing), aural (learning by hearing), read/write (learning by reading and taking notes) or kinesthetic (learning by simulation/demonstration) learners. Strategies to help students learn better using their preferred learning style are provided.
Test taking, of course, is a big part of the study skillset and one to actively develop, even if your child already gets good grades. Though school and good grades might come easily for your child, it’s not necessarily an indicator that his or her study habits and test-taking skills are well-developed. Investing time now in building studying and test-taking skills will help your child perform at a high level through what could potentially be more than four years of college plus any board certifications or licenses associated with specific careers.
One way to become a better test taker, according to researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, is to incorporate what they call “retrieval practice” into a student’s study habit skillset. Retrieval practice is as it sounds – the practice of calling up information from memory. Once a student is asked to recall or produce a piece of information (who was the fourth president of the United States? for example), he or she is much more likely to remember it in the future. While retrieval is often used as a method for assessing how much a student has learned (test taking), being tested multiple times on facts a student needs to know for a test is more effective than simply reviewing those facts, according to Washington University researchers. The takeaway is that practice tests help students retrieve information. Encourage your child to ask teachers for any available practice tests on course material rather than simply reviewing books and notes, and offer to test him or her periodically prior to exam time. (For more on retrieval practice, visit Washington University’s www.retrievalpractice.org.)
Do your homework on healthcare careers
With the foundation in place, do some exploring. Healthcare career options don’t always require an advanced degree and licensure — some administrative and support staff positions can require a four-year degree or a two-year associate degree along with additional training and certification in some cases. Medical health services managers, for instance, are responsible for the day-to-day administrative management of physician’s offices, hospitals and clinics; the position typically requires a bachelor’s degree in health administration (offered by Liberty University). A respiratory therapist treats patients with breathing problems, including asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and sleep apnea, as well as those who suffer heart attacks and strokes, and consults with doctors on patients’ course of care. Becoming a respiratory therapist requires a two-year associate degree (offered by Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg) along with additional fieldwork in a healthcare setting such as a hospital or doctors office, and a certification as either a certified respiratory therapist (an entry level certification), or registered respiratory therapist (an advanced certification). U.S. News and World Report ranked respiratory therapist as one of its top healthcare jobs and No. 65 on its Top 100 Jobs list for 2016.
Consult online resources for healthcare career information with your child as well. Websites such as www.explorehealthcareers.org, www.alliedhealthschools.com and www.healthcareerpathway.com offer specific information on a vast number of healthcare careers, including individual career educational requirements, schools that offer those required degrees, the cost of education and job market predictions for specific positions.
Research colleges online and ask questions of admissions representatives to find out what their graduate placement rates are in your child's healthcare area of interest. Consider making appointments with colleges as early as ninth or 10th grade. In addition to taking a campus tour, make appointments with admissions representatives to ask about specific degree options and find out what their corresponding course maps are to get an idea of what the actual classwork might look like at that institution.
Also ask about opportunities for your child to sit in on classes in his or her interest areas. “Explore as much as possible so that you know what's out there and what's available,” says Ann Fabrikiewicz, chemistry department chair and health professions advisor at Randolph College in Lynchburg. “Come to a college visit day and make an appointment with someone like me. I sit down with students all the time and show them what it takes to get where they want to go in four years.”
While researching careers, it’s smart to also check out scholarship and financial aid options. Together with AP and dual-enrollment classes offered by high schools, considerable savings on tuition await. In fact, according the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of first-time, full-time, four-year, degree-seeking students receiving some kind of financial aid increased from 80 percent in the 2007-08 academic year to 85 percent in 2012-13. Research a wide variety of scholarships online via the College Board’s Big Future (www.bigfuture.collegeboard.org) and the U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid site (www.studentaid.ed.gov).
Students can also explore career options through their schools. Many high schools offer an introduction to health occupations course or an EMT (emergency medical technician) course, which can give students a taste of what it’s like to work in healthcare on a daily basis. Colleges also might offer exploration opportunities for high schoolers. For example, Liberty University in Lynchburg offers “College for a Weekend” twice a semester for high school juniors and seniors (sophomores are also eligible to attend during their spring semesters), during which students attend college classes, stay in a residence hall with current Liberty University students and tour its campus. Centra College of Nursing in Lynchburg offers a Healthcare Career Camp for rising high school juniors (24 program spots are available for 2016) that features a weeklong program of exposure to a variety of healthcare careers at Centra Lynchburg Hospital, Centra Allen B. Pearson Hospital and the PACE Center. Students who attend the camp observe the daily work environments of healthcare positions including, but not limited to, hospice care, nursing, cardiovascular and cardiology services and IV therapy.
Make curriculum count
Strength of schedule should be a top high school priority in addition to making good grades. In short: make friends with math. And science. “Biology and chemistry are musts in high school,” says Sharon Walters-Bower, director of admissions at Lynchburg College. “For a student interested in a healthcare career, taking as much healthcare science as a student can is important – that includes chemistry, biology, biology 2, anatomy and physiology.”
Most high schools require three years of math for a standard diploma and four for an advanced diploma, and many college health career education programs require four years of both math and science, which includes biology, chemistry and algebra 1 and 2, for acceptance.
Science and math classes encourage critical thinking, and because they are covered on the SAT and ACT, taking these classes all four years of high school keeps skills sharp come exam time.
Students should also focus on developing their command of English, both spoken and written, says Ralph Linstra, dean of Liberty University’s School of Health Sciences. “These have become dying skills with the advancement of technology but are very important for students in the college application process,” he says. “The student needs to be prepared for the one-on-one and group interviews with admission counselors and faculty members. A 300-500 word narrative is often required as to why the student wants to be a physician, registered nurse, physical therapist, etc., and he or she may be required to compose this document on site as part of the formal interview day.”
The great news regarding these subjects is that dual-credit and AP options are plentiful and can not only give students a leg up by strengthening their transcripts, they can also provide valuable experience in college course work. And students earn college credit for these courses, which saves money for tuition later on.
When it comes to entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT, the more high school students take them, the better, says Walters-Bower. “Students need to start taking the SAT and the ACT their junior year in high school. They need to take them three times or at least twice, because when a college or university looks at SAT and ACT scores, they calculate something called super score. They take the highest of the sub-scores and create the highest score for a student when considering his or her application.”
Widen your scope to stand out
Becoming an attractive prospect to colleges, especially those on a career path to a healthcare career, is about more than a 4.0 GPA. Colleges seek applicants who can distinguish themselves from the pack by demonstrating their ability to get good grades while also contributing to the world around them — both from a social consciousness and a time management perspective. Extracurricular activities through school and in the community help to show colleges that a student is thinking about and contributing to more than his or her grade point average but the world at large. The idea is to be well-rounded.
By broadening his or her scope, your child can become better-rounded while getting some real-world exposure to caregiving situations to help him or her decide if the environment might be a good fit for a future career. There are things high school students should be doing in the community that will help them get a sense of what healthcare is like,” says Ruth Maragni, director of student affairs at Centra College of Nursing. “They should donate their time — in a soup kitchen, helping hand out meals to the homeless at Thanksgiving, volunteering at a local hospital, going on mission trips to help people in other countries — these things expose them to a lot that they're not going to get through school. It will give them a broader picture of the way people out in the world live. These are the people they're going to be caring for if they go into healthcare.”
Reputation management matters
Finally, on the social side of the equation, students seeking a healthcare career need to be cognizant of their conduct and reputations outside of the classroom. In today’s lightning-fast information age, it’s more important than ever to be aware of what’s circulating on social media and the Internet and how their personal conduct could affect them for years to come. “Social media, if used inappropriately for any reason, will negatively affect their acceptance into college,” says Cheryl Cunningham, radiologic technology program director at Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg. “We look at applicants' past use of social media in high school.”
Because healthcare careers revolve around the handling of people's private health information and the prescription of medications to people in vulnerable states, there are few that don’t require some type of background check and/or drug screening. Therefore, what might seem like a minor or one-time "learning experience" from a developmental point of view (DUI, alcohol or drug-related charges, poor driving record, academic cheating, for example) will come back to haunt them when it comes time to apply to colleges.
Though the process of discovering and navigating an educational career path into a healthcare field can seem overwhelming at first, if parents focus on creating a partnership with their children that fosters exploration, research and a drive to do their best right from the start, young people's passions will begin to emerge and click into place along the road to the to a career in healthcare.
We hope the information and resources available in this article will help you start your journey to your career in healthcare. Throughout this series, we will provide additional information on each series’ section on our website, www.ourhealthlbss.com.
Look for Part II of the How to in Healthcare series where we will focus on your students plan for undergraduate school.
Cheryl Cunningham, radiologic technology program director at Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg
Ann Fabrikiewicz, chemistry department chair and health professions advisor at Randolph College in Lynchburg
Ralph Linstra, dean of Liberty University’s School of Health Sciences
Ruth Maragni, director of student affairs at Centra College of Nursing
Sharon Walters-Bower, director of admissions at Lynchburg College