Allied Health Care: Tips for Entry-Level Workers
Allied health professionals comprise nearly 60 percent of the overall health care workforce, and many professions under the allied health umbrella -- sonography, radiology, dental assisting -- are experiencing rapid job growth.
But it can be difficult for new allied health graduates breaking into their chosen professions. Newcomers to hospitals and doctor's offices often face a variety of challenges as they learn to navigate the operations of large health care organizations and work full time with heavy patient loads.
Tim Blakely, director of imaging services for Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada, has been with the hospital for 36 years. In that time he's worked with countless newcomers and offers these tips for new grads to better position themselves for success in their fields.
Allied health careers: what to expect your first days on the job
Vocational schools and community college provide a smattering of hands-on training, but most newcomers have fairly limited contact with patients prior to employment, Blakely says. Things move much more quickly in the real-world environment of a hospital than they did during training, and the pace can be quite hectic. The good news: Newcomers, in theory, possess all the skills necessary to do their jobs in high-pressure environments.
"A hospital is a very dynamic environment, everything is happening quickly, and volumes and demand can be more than expected," Blakely says. "That changes day to day, but coping with the pressure to do top-quality work in a reasonable time frame -- newcomers are not ready for that unless they have spent time in a place like this."
Don't worry about being thrown to the wolves -- hospitals and physicians offices recognize that newcomers to the health care fields need to beef up their work experience and typically schedule their workdays accordingly. Or, they schedule newcomers to work alongside seasoned veterans who can help them successfully navigate the workplace environment.
"We can keep them out of harms way with easier assignments," Blakely says. "If someone was coming in tomorrow that we felt was very technically savvy and had the service delivery skills, we would assign them a mentor or precept until we felt they were competent to work on their own and then we still schedule them in areas that are less acute until they demonstrate they can handle pressure."
Work experience versus gusto and fresh ideas
With many careers, there's simply no substitute for years of work experience. Patients may feel more relaxed around health professionals who have had years to polish their technical and service delivery skills. But newcomers to allied health professions can counter their lack of lengthy work history with healthy doses of enthusiasm and confidence knowing they are up to date on the latest trends in technology and medical procedures.
"Having that experience is key to doing top-quality work for our patients, but you have to start somewhere," Blakely says. "New grads often bring a lot of enthusiasm and will have learned some newer techniques than older, more seasoned people. They are lacking experience, but hopefully they pay attention and keep learning -- these are never-stop-learning fields."
Position yourself for success: study up and play to your strengths
Just because you are new to an organization doesn't mean you have to act like it. Learn about the organization, the equipment it uses, its vendors and its information technology systems. Studying up helps you assimilate much more quickly, Blakely says.
Lastly, be sure to play to your strengths. For instance, the field of diagnostic medical sonography includes many sub-specialties -- and some are much more stressful than others. You should know if you want to provide images of babies to joyful expectant mothers or work in preventional procedures.
"When you get into a hospital setting, you may do it all, but you ought to know where your wheelhouse, your strengths are and seek a job that best capitalizes on that," Blakely says. "You should know your own skill set and strengths and guide your job to what best works for your strengths."
Health care careers on the rise
Many careers in allied health are expected to grow significantly from 2012 through 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Much of the demand for job grows stems from a rapidly aging population of Baby Boomers who require more access to medical care, the BLS notes. New federal legislation mandating health coverage for all Americans also is expected to expand the number of patients seeking medical treatments.
Several of the most rapidly growing fields in allied health include:
- Diagnostic and medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists, which could increase by as much as 46 percent, or 42,700 jobs, by 2022.
- Dental assisting, which is expected to grow by 25 percent, or 74,400 new positions.
- Physician assistant, which could increase by 38 percent, or 33,300 new jobs.
- Radiologic and MRI technologists, which are expected to increase by 21 percent, or 48,600 new jobs, nearly twice the national average for all professions.
Many of the other careers in allied health are experiencing above-average job growth as well, the BLS reports. Students interested in allied health careers may wish to get their journey started by enrolling in a vocational school or community college program.
Dental Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
Physician Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm
Radiologic and MRI Technologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm