Want a Career in Healthcare? Here Are 4 Things You Need to Know Before Making the Change

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The pandemic has upended a lot in our lives, especially when it comes to our professional lives. As a result, many workers are thinking about making a permanent change. In fact, according to a survey by HR tech company Morneau Shepell, 24 percent of workers are considering changing jobs or careers thanks to the pandemic.

One industry in particular seems to have caught the eye of many potential career-changers: healthcare. There’s good reason for that. It can be a rewarding and lucrative field for those who are cut out for it, and it has weathered the economic crisis of the pandemic better than other fields like hospitality and entertainment.

However, a career change is a big decision, so it’s wise to stop and think before making any moves. And healthcare, for all its shine, certainly has drawbacks, too. Here are some important things to know before entering the healthcare industry, especially during a pandemic:

1. You Need to Have Realistic Salary Expectations

A recent survey conducted by Student Loan Hero found that 43 percent of people under 40 are considering going back to school. What’s more, 30 percent of women considering returning to school are interested in studying medicine or nursing. That’s a noble cause, especially after this past year, but keep in mind that not all healthcare jobs guarantee a fat paycheck. While the median pay for a pharmacist in 2019 was a little north of $128,000, EMTs and paramedics earned just $35,400.

These are, of course, average numbers. To get a more accurate idea of what you can expect to earn, research entry-level earnings in your area. If you can, connect with someone who is already doing the job you want to glean some valuable firsthand insights. What has their earnings trajectory looked like?

Setting realistic salary expectations can help you accurately weigh the pros and cons of pursuing a career in healthcare. In some cases, it may even guide you to a different but more lucrative role in healthcare — or it may guide you away from the field entirely.

2. Understand the Job Market

Even if you pursue a career in a well-paying healthcare specialty, that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a position waiting for you when you enter the job market. Much of that depends on where you’re looking.

For example, Washington, D.C., and Wyoming have some of the highest nurse-to-population ratios. If you’re working in one of these places, it may prove trickier to find a job with a fresh nursing degree, thanks to all the competition. If your local job market is a tough place to break into healthcare, you may want to consider relocating, if necessary.

It’s also important to note that, despite the significant role the healthcare industry has played in stemming the tide of the pandemic, it was also affected by the economic turmoil of the last year. The sector lost 502,000 jobs in 2020, according to a recent HealthLeaders analysis.

Healthcare employment does seem to be recovering faster than overall employment, which is certainly encouraging. However, it will take some time before healthcare employment levels return to pre-pandemic normal.

3. You May Have a Long Road Ahead

Changing to a career in healthcare will almost certainly require going back to school. Depending on the type of healthcare provider you plan to become, you may have a long road ahead in terms of schooling and certifications. And the final price tag can be steep. It isn’t uncommon for doctors to accrue hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical school debt.

You may also be required to complete prerequisite courses before beginning a formal program, especially if your current degree is light in foundational science coursework. This additional schooling will only add to your financial responsibility. Before taking the plunge, clarify for yourself what courses and degree programs you’ll need to complete to enter the field. How long will it realistically take, and how will you pay for it ?

4. Healthcare Careers Aren’t for the Faint of Heart

The emotional and physical strain of working long hours in a high-stakes role can be overwhelming, especially as we all continue navigating a pandemic. It’s little wonder that roughly one in three physicians experience burnout at any given time.

Even if you aren’t working in the emergency room, healthcare providers often have to juggle plenty of additional responsibilities on top of patient care. Tasks like medical billing, marketing, and general office management may come with the territory, especially if you work for a small practice or start your own.

This is all to say that changing careers isn’t always a simple journey. Before you take the leap, be sure to do your research. Connecting with people who are already in the industry is a great place to start. What are the things they wish they’d known before joining the field? Their hindsight could provide the most valuable guidance for your future.

Marianne Hayes is a longtime freelance writer and content marketing specialist.

By Marianne Hayes