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Managing a career change in health care

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If you are ready to make a career change and you don't know where to start, here are some tips to get you started.

Healthcare workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic in recent times. The impact of COVID-19 has placed the entire sector under pressure. Heath care workers have done an amazing job under the circumstances, caring for people everywhere with empathy and skill.

If the current environment has made you reflect on your career, maybe it’s time for a change. You don’t have to move out of health care, but you could apply the skills you’ve learned in another direction. 

Take nurses, for example. At the end of the day, they want to make a difference in people’s lives. They are caring, want to treat the sick and injured, and contribute to solving health crises. Added to that, nurses are problem solvers with keen organisational skills and attention to detail.

These are the sorts of admirable qualities that are sure to see you through, no matter which direction you choose.

How to change careers in health care

If you think you’ve reached the stage where you want to try something new, ask yourself a few key questions to be sure. 

Are you still passionate about the work you do? Do you rise every morning with purpose and vigour, or do you dread the prospect of another day?

List the things you like and dislike about your current job. Which column is the longest? 

If it’s the ‘dislike’ column, then examine why these things are sticking points. How would you improve them? For example, if it’s the burden of admin, you may dream of implementing a better and more efficient system for managing staff and workloads. 

Even if the bad outweighs the good, look at the ‘likes’ with renewed interest. There may be something in there that could point to a productive future direction. 

Perhaps you enjoy helping colleagues solve the challenges of the job, in which case you might start to think about health management.

Healthcare workers are driven to help people, but what is it about patient care, for example, that brings you satisfaction? Is it assisting people deal with the emotional and psychological effects of illness? Does your passion lie in helping them to adjust after major surgery, rather than the actual mechanics of day-to-day nursing? 

Perhaps a career as a counsellor, social worker or occupational therapist is on the cards.

Keep a keen eye on trends in health care. Often, you’ll spot an area taking off that’s related to your own passion and skills. 

Say you have a technological bent (and let’s face it, all healthcare professionals need to keep up with technology), then emerging trends right across health care could spark your interest. These include data analysis, a key skill set needed in order to meet the critical importance of data-informed medical decisions.

If you’re in nursing and find yourself mentoring younger nurses, plus you possess strong communication skills and clinical experience, you might consider becoming a nurse educator. As more nurses enter the workforce to keep up with demand, there’s a corresponding need for experienced professionals to design and plan their teaching, learning and professional development.

Think laterally – beyond your current workplace or sector. Tired of bureaucracy? Perhaps you could transfer your skills to the government, working on policy development or labour reform for the betterment of healthcare workers and patients everywhere. 

Revitalising your career through postgraduate study

The best way to jumpstart your career change is through further education.

Postgraduate degrees are designed around employability, with learning applied in action. That means you can still pursue your passion, while preparing to take the next step. You’ll gain a new skillset at the same time as you build on, or perhaps uncover, your strengths.

Before you explore the options, chat with your manager first. There may be professional development opportunities available at your workplace, and you may be granted time off for study and research. 

Nursing offers a variety of pathways in both public and private healthcare environments, and future growth prospects are strong. In 2021, there were nearly 20,000 advertised jobs for registered nurses. Nurses with specialist skills in infectious diseases, and with vaccination skills in particular, were most in demand. Mental health nursing also saw a significant increase in demand, as well as obstetrics and gynaecology.

According to Izad Iqbal – Senior Program Lead in the Online Enrolment Team at a leading Sydney university – public health is a sector that offers a range of options. 

"The beauty of public health,’ he says, ‘is that it’s not segregated into a handful of jobs like social work might be. For example, you could work in mental health or specialise in policy. Epidemiology is on the rise, too. With public health, you can work in a hospital or in private practice. You can work in a corporate setting or even a non-government organisation (NGO). It gives you a wide career reach. Another growth area is health analytics, where you take a large set of data, and analyse it and then track data points to make more precise and informed healthcare decisions."

Making a career change, especially moving into a different sector or a different type of role, requires further education, and that’s where your postgraduate pathways come in. 

Options include studying towards a graduate certificate, a graduate diploma or a master’s degree in areas like public health, digital health, health informatics and health management.

Most postgraduate degrees offer a variety of specialisations or majors to choose from, enabling you to focus on your passion. 

Master’s degrees allow you to build skills and knowledge across different areas of nursing, for example, critical care and leadership. Most have graduate certificate and graduate diploma qualifications embedded within them, so you can work toward your master’s at your own pace, acquiring career-boosting qualifications along the way. 

Whatever you decide, choose a university that offers both specialist and generalist graduate certificates that all lead to a master’s degree. If life or work impact your studies, you can always take breaks as required.

Studying towards another degree can be hard enough, but factor in the demands of your current job, and it can be difficult to stay on top of your game. 

Online study takes some of the pain out of managing study and work. Online modes are designed specifically for busy professionals, helping you manage your study commitments at times that are most convenient for you. 

At the same time, online courses are just as community-oriented and academically rigorous as in-person learning would be.

Izad is in no doubt about the benefits of online study. 

"I would argue that our online students are more supported than many on-campus students. For example, online students have a dedicated support advisor. They’re available at the click of a button and will call you immediately to address your issue. Plus, you have access to all the resources through your student portal. You can tap into networks of students from all over the country and the world."

How to find out more

Explore our range of online postgraduate health courses, including counselling, leadership & management, mental health, nursing, psychology and public health, to find one that suits you. 

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