Career exploration is an important part of preparing for your chosen profession. There are many ways to explore careers in healthcare. We recommend starting with questions. The better your questions, the better your exploration. We encourage you to reflect on your interests, values, and goals; your skills, personal characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses; and what you think you need and want in a profession.
This webpage is designed to do two things: 1) pose questions that will help you begin exploring careers in healthcare, and 2) share resources that will help you begin to answer these questions.
For many, career exploration is daunting. There are so many careers to choose from. Where can you begin to learn about them? Talking with professionals in the fields you want to explore is important. How can you connect with these people? You have so many other responsibilities and obligations. When can you find time to explore careers?
- We suggest starting your career exploration by asking and reflecting on questions about your interests, values, goals, personal characteristics, and career priorities. We also encourage you to view this process of reflection as a step you will always be taking. This kind of reflection is something that — ideally — all of us do throughout life. The next five tabs in this menu offer questions to help you begin (or continue) to reflect on the kind of career you want and how you might be wired to contribute most meaningfully to the world around you.
- Whenever you feel ready, you can take the step of beginning to research healthcare careers directly. The final tab in this menu offers resources to help you begin this work of exploring and learning about healthcare careers. Other exploration steps into learning about specific careers — when you’re ready for them — are informational interviewing and shadowing healthcare professionals in your field(s) of interest. Actually talking with and observing professionals do the kind of work you think you want to do will give you great insight into how different professions align with your interests, values, goals, personal qualities, and career priorities.
- Additionally, finding opportunities to volunteer and work in healthcare settings are other critical steps to take. Ideally, these will be sustained, ongoing experiences that you find time to build before applying to health professional programs.
- When you have sufficient confidence in a chosen career, you will want to learn about prerequisite courses and experiences you need before applying to programs. We can help you make plans for doing both. But you can begin these step by exploring the “Learn More About Healthcare Career Preparation” menu below — and also by signing up for our online pre-health orientation, “Pre-Health 101.”
There is no one right sequence to the steps listed here. You get to decide how you want to pave your particular path. It’s also important to be ready for challenges and potential barriers you may face on the path you pave. Please remember that we are here for all the support you want to get from us as you explore and plan — and when you encounter challenges or barriers to progress on your chosen path. Life rarely happens in a straight line. Please come and talk with us about your exploration, interests, and plans!
You may have well-developed career interests. Or, you may have just started thinking about what you want to do as a future career. Think broadly about your interests and what draws you to them. The following questions can help get you started.
- What would you spend your time doing if you had an extra hour in the day — or, if you had a whole day or an entire week free?
- When you look at and think about the world around you, what are you most curious about?
- When you look at and think about the world around you, what do you feel drawn to?
- What do you enjoy watching?
- What do you enjoy reading?
- What do you enjoy studying in detail?
- What courses do you naturally gravitate towards?
- After what kind of project do you feel the greatest sense of accomplishment?
What we value shapes how we use our time and energy. What we value drives the choices we make, including the careers we pursue. Our values may change over time. In light of changes and developments in our lives, we may reprioritize what we value.
Values shared by most healthcare professionals are equity, commitment to human service and well-being, empathy, hard work, curiosity, science, kindness, and compassion. Caring for people as a healthcare provider means doing everything you reasonably can to promote as much wellness as is possible in the life of each patient or client you serve.
Take time to reflect on (and investigate) your values.
- List what you think you need to be true of your life — i.e., what can you not live without?
- List what you think you want to be true of your life — i.e., what would you be miserable without?
- Make a list of what you value. Then ask people who know you well to make a list of what they think you value. Compare these lists. Are they the same?
- Write a eulogy for yourself. Think about what you want people to say and think about how you lived your life after you’re gone. This will give you great insight into what is most important to you.
- Activities vs. Values. Make two columns on a piece of paper. In one column, list all the activities you do each week — e.g., the percent of time you spend working, studying, doing hobbies and other things you enjoy, etc. In the other column, list your values in descending order (as best you can) from what you value most to what you value least (but still value). Compare these lists. Do they align?
(Exercises adapted from the University of Minnesota Pre-Health Student Resource Center)
We all have hopes for what we want our life to be like. We may spend a lot of time thinking about, and even mapping out, specific goals. We may spend less time doing these things. As you explore your career options, be sure to take time to reflect on goals that are important to you.
- Describe in three sentences what you want to accomplish in life.
- What life goals would you be willing to give up, if circumstances demand? What life goals would you not be willing to give up?
- What goals do you have in your personal and family life? How will you pursue these goals while pursuing your chosen profession?
- Describe the life you want for yourself in 15 years — including career, family, recreation, hobbies, health, travel, friendships, everything that comes to mind.
- What do you want to be true of your life and wellness during the time you spend training for your chosen profession? What are you willing to give up during your time of training? What will you not give up during this time?
- What do you naturally excel at — in school, musically, physically, relationally, anything that comes to mind?
- List at least three things (ten or more, if you think of them) that you know how to do that require special knowledge and expertise. How did you learn to do them? How did you get good at doing them?
- List the same number of things that you want to learn to do that require special knowledge and expertise.
Strengths & Weaknesses
- List your greatest strengths and think of times in life when they have been evident.
- List your greatest weaknesses and think of times in life when they have been evident.
- Ask people who know you well what they see as your greatest strengths and weaknesses. How do their lists align with yours?
- What do you do to continue growing in your strengths?
- What do (or can) you do to learn more about and deal with your weaknesses? Can they be overcome, or do you need to find ways to live well with them? What are some of the things you can do to live well with them, if the latter is the case?
- How would you describe your personality?
- How would your friends, co-workers, teachers/professors, bosses/supervisors, and family all describe your personality? Ask them, and see what they say.
- How do you feel (or can you imagine feeling) in healthcare settings (including clinics, hospitals, emergency rooms)?
- Do you enjoy working as a member of a team?
- Would you be committed to a job that requires keeping up with developments in your field throughout your career?
- Are you comfortable with the prospect of dealing with emergencies and traumatic situations, people who are suffering, despondent, or non-compliant, working long hours, and making difficult decisions?
It may be challenging to come up with career priorities, if you are in the early stages of career exploration. If you are further along in exploring and learning about careers, you may, in contrast, have a very clear picture of what you want to be true of your professional life. It’s never too early to start thinking about the kind of work and work environment you want for your future.
- Do you prefer to interact with others one-on-one or in a group?
- Do you prefer to work on specific tasks or look at the big picture?
- Do you prefer to work from a detailed schedule or have flexibility in your work day?
- Do you like to have a predetermined workload or have lots of variety in your daily work?
- What frustrates you in work situations? How do you deal with frustration?
- Do you enjoy working with people and communicating with individuals of all ages and backgrounds, from all walks of life, in a variety of situations (including stressful ones)?
Circumstances beyond your control may affect the path to your chosen profession. Know where to find support as you face potential barriers. Please always come and talk with us at CPHA about options and resources. We will help you think about:
- Specific challenges or barriers you might face in pursuing your chosen career in healthcare
- How best to face and deal with these barriers
- Possible alternate plans for pursuing your chosen health profession
Examples of potential barriers may include:
- Competitive admission pools
- Academic challenges
- Emotional resiliency
- Economic cost
- Access to resources (including health professionals and experiences in healthcare settings)
What healthcare careers are out there, and how can I learn about them?
- Explorehealthcareers.org is an excellent, up-to-date, multidimensional, peer-reviewed resource that provides great tools and information for self assessment, reflection, and career exploration.
- Area Health Education Centers (AHEC): Wisconsin Healthcare Careers
- Learn more about healthcare professions
- Find health professional programs throughout the state of Wisconsin
- Explore healthcare exploration opportunities and resources
- If you are not from WI, or you want to explore careers and programs in other states, search for similar resources provided by other state chapters of AHEC.
- Medical and Healthcare Career Explorer
- How to Become a Medical and Healthcare Professional
- Changing Careers — Finding Your Place in Healthcare
- There are three sections on this webpage: Why Healthcare Careers?, Career Change Tools and Resources, and Getting to Work
- This page is framed as a resource for career changers. In addition, it focuses on a number of allied health professions. However, it also poses great questions, provides good information about careers in healthcare overall, and also connects you to useful resources.
- An excellent health career podcast: Health Careers with Dr. Marn
- The CPHA website and advising resources are also helpful. For information on careers in healthcare you may not be familiar with, check out Allied Health. There are so many careers in healthcare!
Resources from the UW-Madison Career Exploration Center:
- Career Assessment Tools (interests, skills, values, personality)
- Career Library
- Exploring Majors and Careers
- Occupational Outlook Handbook (US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- CareerOneStop (US Department of Labor) (includes self assessment tools)