Where could a career in healthcare lead you?
There is so much more to ‘working in healthcare’ than being a doctor or nurse in a hospital.
A huge variety of different professionals are needed to keep our healthcare systems functioning. With so many roles to choose from, which option most interests you?
We spoke to three healthcare professionals who work for the NHS about what their role entails.
What healthcare roles are available?
“When I left school, I had no idea of the breath of careers possible within a hospital,” says Hannah, a diagnostic radiographer. “I had a naive understanding that only doctors and nurses worked in hospitals and, although I always had an interest in anatomy, I never wanted to be a doctor or nurse.” In fact, hospitals require a huge range of different healthcare professionals who all work together to support patients, including radiographers, psychiatrists, epidemiologists, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, physiotherapists, healthcare assistants and paramedics. “Hospitals would not be able to function without all these professionals, and many more,” says Hannah, and there are also many more healthcare practitioners who work outside a hospital environment.
What do radiographers, psychiatrists and epidemiologists do?
“My job as a diagnostic radiographer involves taking X-rays to investigate bones, which enables diagnosis and guides treatment of conditions such as fractures, chest infections and arthritis,” explains Hannah. This requires her to work in a variety of locations, performing X-rays in hospitals (in A&E, on the wards and in surgical theatres), minor injuries clinics and at GP appointments.
Luke is a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who specialises in mental health. “I review people with mental health conditions to diagnose and help manage these, which involves both hospital and community-based work,” he explains. When working in hospital, Luke recommends medications and therapies for his patients and deals with any of their medical problems. He also diagnoses and treats his community-based patients who are not in hospital. “Psychiatry, as a discipline, is working towards a more community-based model, allowing people to live their lives as normally as possible while they are being treated for mental health conditions,” he explains. Mental health is important for everyone in society, so psychiatrists deal with a wide variety of people. For example, Luke has conducted psychiatric assessments of high-security prisoners, worked with elderly people with dementia and helped teenagers who have eating disorders.
Shona is a non-clinical healthcare professional, meaning she doesn’t interact with patients. As an epidemiologist, she monitors infections in hospitals and tries to understand how to prevent them. “This involves creating graphs and using statistical analyses to explore infection data,” she says. “I look at whether infection rates are increasing or decreasing, where patients are getting infections and which patients are most at risk.”
What does it take to work in healthcare?
“Working as a psychiatrist can be emotionally demanding, as you often encounter people who have experienced trauma or are going through some of the most difficult times of their lives,” explains Luke. “It is therefore very important to maintain other interests outside of work. This will help you be at your best, so you can support patients going through these challenging moments.” When he isn’t working, Luke enjoys climbing, running and playing board games, which keep him refreshed and excited about work.
For Hannah, the most challenging aspect of being a radiographer is X-raying patients who have suffered physical trauma. “The critical condition and high pain levels of these patients often means you can’t move them,” she says. “This means I must think outside the box and be creative in how I take their X-rays. It really puts my radiographic skills to the test, but I also enjoy the challenge of X-raying trauma patients for this reason.”
Why should you consider a career in healthcare?
“I enjoy the variety within my job,” says Hannah. “One day I can be taking X-rays during surgical procedures, such as fixing a hip fracture, which involves working closely with the surgeon, nurses and theatre staff, and the next day I can be working at a small community hospital X-raying minor injuries. I also really enjoy working with my patients. I especially like my elderly patients – some of them tell the most amazing stories!”
“Psychiatry (and healthcare in general) is an immensely rewarding career where you can make real differences to the lives of those you encounter,” says Luke. “I’ve always loved finding out about people, and psychiatry lets me spend time getting to know people and the joys and difficulties in their lives.”
“I find it rewarding to know that, even though I don’t interact directly with patients, my work still makes a difference and improves the care that patients receive in hospital,” says Shona. “I also enjoy the variety in my work, and the fact that there is always something new to learn.”
What qualifications do healthcare professional need?
With such a wide range of different healthcare professions, there are also many different routes you can take to a career in healthcare. To become a doctor, you will need to study medicine at university, like Luke did. You can then choose to specialise in whichever branch of medicine most interests you. “Many people might not be sure of the difference between psychiatrists and psychologists,” Luke explains. “Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialise in mental health, whereas psychologists usually study psychology as an undergraduate degree, before doing specialist clinical psychology courses.”
Hannah initially studied archaeology at university. During her master’s in bioarchaeology, she read lots of medical journals that often included X-rays. “That was when I first realised my interest in bones and anatomy could be turned into a career,” she says, so she returned to university to study medical imaging and diagnostic radiography. “A course in radiography not only teaches you the practical skills required for the job, but also teaches the scientific theory behind what you are doing, including anatomy, physiology and physics,” she says.
Shona’s undergraduate degree was in biomedical science, which is the science of how the human body works at all scales, from molecular and cell biology to anatomy and physiology. Some people who study biomedical science go on to work in hospital laboratories, testing samples from patients for infections and diseases. Prior to becoming an epidemiologist, Shona spent several years in healthcare administration, working in quality improvement. “I was responsible for helping wards and departments make changes to improve things for their patients. However, I felt there was so much more that could be done to prevent people from needing to come into hospital in the first place, so I returned to university for a master’s in public health.” Public health is a broad field that covers epidemiology, statistics, health economics, sociology, health promotion and research methods, so can lead to a wide range of healthcare careers.
How can you get started on a career in healthcare?
If you are interested in a career in healthcare, speak to people already working in the field to find out more about what their job involves. If possible, try to arrange work experience in a healthcare environment. This may be a requirement for getting onto a university course, and even if it isn’t, having healthcare work experience will put you ahead of those who don’t. “Medicine is becoming more competitive each year and it’s no longer enough to just have good grades,” says Luke. “Successful applicants will also have extra-curricular interests and will have spent time volunteering.”
“While university is the traditional route to train as healthcare professional (and is essential for many healthcare roles), apprenticeships are now available in some areas, including radiography,” says Hannah. The advantage of an apprenticeship over a university degree is that you would learn on the job while being paid.
So, what type of healthcare role most interests you? How could you start preparing for it? And where could a career in healthcare lead you?