Nurses and doctors. Doctors and nurses. For most of your life, you’ve probably known, at least on a basic level, who they are and what they do. And in all likelihood, you’ve seen their fictionalized adventures on television too. But where’s the primetime drama about optometry? Or health information management? Or dermatology? Okay, maybe they’re not quite as titillating on screen as an action-packed night in the emergency room, but these are incredibly rewarding careers that are often overshadowed by the more familiar roles.
Nurses and doctors, the general practitioners as you may know them, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to health care professionals. There is a wealth of health careers out there in what are known as the allied health fields. Even amongst medicine and nursing, there are niche specialties you’ve probably never heard of.
The thing is, you can do a lot with a degree in the health sciences, and you can turn your health science studies down any number of rewarding career paths. It’s just a matter of knowing what’s out there. Here's an inside glimpse at three lesser-known health care careers.
Christine Tsien Silvers, M.D., Ph.D., S.M., S.B.
Chief Medical Officer, AFrame Digital, Inc.; Freelance Medical Writer
With seemingly endless enthusiasm and ambition, Christine Tsien Silvers left a career as an emergency medical physician, in part to spend more time with her three children, but also to join a colleague in a new venture, AFrame Digital, Inc., a telehealth monitoring company. She eventually became Chief Medical Officer, working part time from home.
“I provide advice on various medical aspects of the company’s monitoring system, including assisting in research and development of new features. For example, I give input on which medical data are important to health care providers and how these data might be most effectively presented. I help to think of research projects that can further advance the monitoring system,” she says. “When we are awarded a grant, I provide ongoing input and feedback on various aspects of the study and help to write up the results for publication in the scientific literature.”
Though the changing hours can be something of a challenge, Tsien Silvers says she enjoys “participating in the development of a system that can really make a positive difference in people’s lives.” She also appreciates the freedom of working from home, which also affords her the time to write about her experiences in medicine and volunteer with her children.
For students considering a similar career in the sciences, Tsien Silvers says “there are an amazing number of opportunities in the health sciences, both traditional and nontraditional. Consider finding your career path, or niche, at the intersection of your greatest interests.”
Nutrition and dietetics
Jessica Setnick, M.S.; Owner, Understanding Nutrition; Director of Training and Education, Ranch 2300 Collegiate Eating Disorder Treatment Program
Jessica Setnick knew she wanted to help others, particularly through guiding them in making healthy food choices. It led her to becoming a nutritionist, specializing in working with those struggling with eating disorders. With a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and training in nutrition and dietetics, she became a registered dietitian.
A typical day includes seeing several patients, such as those who are in the process of recovering from eating disorders. Outside of her clinical work, she serves as an expert in the field, giving presentations; helps run the International Federation of Eating Disorder Dietitians, which she founded; and even writes—she’s the author of The Eating Disorders Clinical Pocket Guide. As an entrepreneur with her own business, she also attends to some administrative work.
“If you are interested in people, it is really fascinating to talk with individuals about their eating and help them get their eating and their thinking about eating back on track,” Setnick says. Students should have an interest in nutrition, dietetics, and psychology, certainly, and they should also be familiar with math and statistics, particularly if they have an interest in research. “Good communication skills are important too, and an open mind,” she says.
Thinking about a career like Setnick’s? She can’t speak highly enough of the field. “My favorite thing is that there are so many different ways to use my skills—speaking to professionals, speaking to the public, writing articles, writing books, giving interviews, working with individuals and families—it is a great mix of working on my own and working with others, and using different skills and activities. It never gets boring!” In this fast-growing field, students are sure to find ample opportunities. Setnick recommends visiting EatingDisorderJobs.com. “Also, I would encourage rounding out your nutrition education with another area of interest—communication, psychology, counseling, business—these are all skills that I have needed to call upon in addition to my nutrition training,” she says.
Amanda Zimmerman, P.T., D.P.T.; Physical Therapist, Strive Physical Therapy
“I always knew that I wanted to work in the medical field, but I was not sure what I wanted to do specifically,” Amanda Zimmerman says. “When I was in high school, I shadowed one of my mother’s friends who was a PT at an outpatient orthopedic facility. I was really interested in what I saw there, so I continued to volunteer at other PT facilities throughout the rest of high school.” The early exposure helped solidify her interest in physical therapy. She eventually looked for colleges and universities with combined degree (3+3) programs, where she could earn an undergraduate and graduate degree seamlessly.
Physical therapists need further education, typically including at least three years of graduate school. “Your undergraduate major isn’t as important as long as you fulfill all of your PT school requirements,” says Zimmerman, who majored in psychology as an undergraduate. However, she recommends pursuing a pre-physical therapy program before grad school.
“One of the things I love about being a physical therapist is that every day is different. I work in an outpatient orthopedic and sports clinic, so I see a wide variety of patients, from kids to the elderly to athletes,” Zimmerman says. “I know that I could never work at a desk job, and being a physical therapist keeps me on my feet and active throughout the entire day.”
Physical therapy might be a great job for you if you’re a “people person” with an aptitude for science. “You really get to know the patients that you work with and you spend quite a bit of time with them throughout the course of their treatment,” Zimmerman says. And if you’re serious about becoming a physical therapist, you should “volunteer, volunteer, volunteer!” she says. “It’s the best way to see what a job entails. I knew that I wanted to be a physical therapist in an outpatient orthopedic setting, but I still went to hospital and pediatric facilities, just to see what they would be like. While I was in school, I got to observe open heart surgery along with many orthopedic surgeries. Those experiences are incredible and you gain a lot of insight on what really goes on with a job.” Zimmerman also reminds students interested in physical therapy the importance of hard work and strong grades. “Physical therapy is an excellent field. I know that nobody I graduated with (40 in total) had any difficulty finding a job, which is almost unheard of in today’s economy.”