Steering Students Toward Healthcare Careers

Success looks different for your students than it did when you were growing up. Studies show that millennials want purpose, experience, and balance from their lives and careers. They want to enjoy the journey, so to speak—live to work instead of work to live. They want the ability to enjoy life and to find purpose in every stage. They want to earn a paycheck that affords them stability, flexibility, and the opportunity to treat themselves.

Considering this paradigm shift, isn’t it time you started thinking differently about what student success means? After all, your students are.

The U.S. unemployment rate is currently 4.8 percent—the lowest it’s been since 2008—and increased regulation on colleges and universities is helping ensure that students are graduating prepared for employment in their chosen fields. That’s a good place to start. But placement rates are no longer enough to imply successful higher education experiences.

Instead, we need to start helping students set themselves up for enjoyment, fulfillment, and success at every point in their journey. This means working with them to make sure they’re choosing a career path that fits their personality, skillset, and vision of work/life balance.

As a high school counselor, you’re in one of the best positions to guide students toward what’s really a good fit for them. But how will you know?

Who chooses a health sciences career path?

Traditionally, the idea of a health-care career conjures up thoughts of eight years of medical school to become a doctor, building a family practice in a small town, and then turning the practice over to a younger physician to enjoy a comfortable retirement, built through years of exceptionally high earnings. But not anymore.

A health sciences career appeals to today’s students for different reasons than it would have in the past. While baby boomers entering medicine were probably drawn by the prestige and the paycheck, today’s health sciences students care more about entering a profession where their skills will always be in demand and they can truly make a difference in peoples’ lives. Within the health sciences career group are professions that could be perfect for a wide range of personalities, skillsets, and interests. Fields include medicine, dentistry, occupational therapy, physical therapy, public health, hospital administration, nursing, and more. Some positions deal heavily with patients, and others don’t interact with patients at all. Some are suited for people who prefer day-to-day excitement, many others are ideal for those who prefer routine tasks. Some are heavily tech-based, and others less so.

Additionally, many health-care careers allow—or even, at times, demand—a sense of adventure that fulfills millennials’ desire to broaden their horizons, connect with different types of people, and see the world. Not only are medical cases often a challenge to be solved, but because communities all over the globe (from the most populated to the most remote) need health-care workers, and because the skillsets are often transferrable, there are often opportunities for travel and relocation.

The field of health sciences is appealing to many students, but only practical for some.

Personality traits of successful healthcare professionals

As you get to know your students, you can help to determine which career paths would work for them.

You probably use written personality tests, but those alone can only help so much. While they may provide a handful of career options the student had never considered before (or confirm options they’d already been considering), the questions are often either too specific or too vague to be truly helpful. Plus, it’s common for test-takers to answer based on what they wish was true of their personality and predilections, rather than what is actually true—whether consciously or not. Admissions professionals can work with students to discuss aspects of their personalities, work habits, and life goals to determine which fields would be right for them, and which specific professions within those fields.

For students looking to begin a career in health sciences, the following personality traits can help predict happiness and success in the field:

Caring and compassionate: Depending on the level of patient contact a health sciences worker will have, compassion is arguably the most critical personality trait. A study published in Academic Medicine found that when healthcare professionals show empathy at appropriate times, their patients tend to be happier and more likely to continue with treatment. Patient-facing professionals will often interact with patients and families on some of their worst days—through painful illnesses, expensive injuries, and even death—as well as some of their best days—births of new babies and recovery from life-changing surgeries. Emotions and vulnerabilities will be running high, and health-care workers need to be able to react to a spectrum of behaviors with comfort, understanding, and reassurance.

Level-headed: In contrast, most health sciences careers also require level-headedness and emotional stability, and an ability to leave work at work. Whether patient-facing or not, the medical field is quite stressful. Workers who cannot emotionally distance themselves from patients at the end of the day often run into problems in their own lives. Those who wish to be successful in a healthcare position need to have healthy strategies for coping with stress, sadness, and frustration at work, and need to be able to compartmentalize and make decisions based on science and reason, not emotion.

Optimistic: A study by the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer found that patients who are optimistic about their futures recover better from lung cancer than those with pessimistic outlooks. So it stands to reason that health sciences workers who can pass optimistic views onto their patients can potentially help them heal. Optimism in health care also helps patients and fellow health-care workers keep their spirits up, and contributes to happiness when off the clock as well.

Organized and detail-oriented: Filling out patient records, dispensing and administering medications, filing insurance codes, drawing blood: in these and numerous other tasks routine to health science workers, one mistake could have devastating results. Whether they’re making rounds in the E.R. or sitting at a computer in a cubicle, health-care professionals need to be able to keep many patients, aspects of care, codes and regulations straight. People who are organized, thorough, pay attention to details and effectively manage their time are usually best suited for a career in the health sciences.

Passionate: While health sciences careers do allow for many of the lifestyle benefits millennials care about, they aren’t just a means to an end. Medical professionals are put through the wringer while at work—physically, mentally and emotionally—and need to have the passion for the field that will sustain such exhausting week. Students who truly care about helping others and feel a passion for the people they’re working with will fare much better in the health sciences in the long run.

Professional: Especially in patient-facing professions, health-care workers need to be able to adapt an air of warm professionalism. It’s not uncommon for health-care workers to be part of situations that patients find painful, difficult, embarrassing, scary, frustrating, or demeaning. They need to be able to face these situations and communicate with patients using the appropriate amount of decorum, honesty, and respect the patients deserve.

Enjoying the journey: Teaching health sciences students

If you’re looking to guide your students toward a health-care career, it can be helpful to coordinate with their teachers. After all, you probably see different things in your office than they do in their classrooms, and students display different characteristics depending on who they’re with.

When you’re talking with a student who’s determined to pursue a health sciences career, it might be a good idea to talk with his or her teachers about their goals and how best they can achieve them.

Helping students achieve their career goals might be supported by looking into their learning styles.

Students who choose programs leading to careers in the health sciences often learn best in one of two styles: physical and interpersonal.

Physical learners: Physical learners do best when they’re able to use their bodies and hands in the classroom. Instructors can use hands-on learning, role-playing exercises and acting out scenarios and situations. These students thrive in instances where real-world medical equipment and tools can be used for training purposes.

Interpersonal learners: Interpersonal learners flourish when they’re able to interact with others. By being allowed to talk with classmates, do group work, and have ample one-on-one time with instructors, their strengths can shine. Give these students the choice of connecting with instructors in person, online, on the phone, or via webinar.


Usually, students who are set on a career in health care don’t need to be convinced to pursue it. They may, however, need to be guided on the best path toward security and success, especially since there are so many more avenues to success in the health sciences than there were in generations past.

If you need additional resources on helping your students find success in the field of health sciences, reach out to Imagine America.

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