When you're trying to find your first job as a healthcare professional, it may seem the cards are stacked against you. After all, employers prefer job candidates with healthcare experience, and can't get that requisite experience unless someone hires them, right?
It's a vicious circle, but you can escape it. With some patience and persistence, you should be able to work in your chosen healthcare profession. New healthcare professionals talked to Monster Healthcare about how they landed their first jobs -- and how you can, too.
Build Your Network
If your healthcare education included an internship or clinical rotations, you made valuable contacts that can likely help you in your job search. "Don't be afraid to talk to people and ask for help," says Christine McElroy, MS, who lined up a job while still in graduate school and began working as a genetic counselor at Children's Hospital Oakland in June 2000. Your school adviser or internship supervisor can inform you of healthcare job openings and expand your pool of acquaintances as well as be a valuable reference.
McElroy interviewed with only two employers before accepting her current position. She learned about the first opening from a former classmate who called to tell her about a position in her workplace. She learned about the other opening through the National Society of Genetic Counselors email listserv, which periodically posts job listings. While a student, she also attended the society's meetings and says the events were "hot spots" for meeting others in the field. "Don't be shy about networking," McElroy advises.
Besides networking through professional healthcare associations, you can demonstrate your dedication to potential healthcare employers by getting out in the field and volunteering. "There's no better way to find a job than to volunteer first," says occupational therapist Julie Henderson, director of restorative services at the Human Rights Initiative in Dallas. "You're looking for a job anyway, so why not go volunteer a couple of hours a day at different places within your field?"
As a student, Henderson worked with classmates to develop a new occupational therapy program geared toward the homeless population, and she knew she wanted to continue with community work. Although she took some part-time home-health contracts to pay the bills right after she graduated, she knew she didn't want to do it full-time. "I didn't think I'd be effective as a healthcare professional if I didn't like my job," she says.
Holding out for the right fit was a good strategy for Henderson. She ended up taking the place of another occupational therapist at the Human Rights Initiative who remembered hearing about Henderson's program for the homeless. Henderson now works with political refugees and people who have been granted asylum by the US government.
Henderson sees clients in the community most days. When she is in the office, she's surrounded by attorneys. "I'm the only medical professional in a law office. It's unique," she says. Henderson advises other healthcare professionals to consider such alternative paths. "Just find the nontraditional stuff and sell yourself." she says. "It's the easiest way to get a job. You're not fighting anyone else for a job, rather creating one."
Weigh Your Options Carefully
If you're lucky enough to have a healthcare degree currently in high demand -- like pharmacy or nursing -- you're likely to receive multiple healthcare job offers. Be sure to weigh the decision carefully, and don't be blinded by big money, says Michael Dietrich, PharmD, assistant professor for pharmacy practice at Midwestern University College of Pharmacy in Glendale, Arizona.
"My advice to students is to keep an open mind," Dietrich says. Unless the offered is significantly below market level for other such healthcare jobs, "I tell students that they need to remove money from the equation and figure out what is going to make them happy as a professional," he says.
To ensure you're choosing a good fit for your healthcare career, Dietrich suggests you ask yourself, "Will I be happy here?" and "Can I do what I want in this system and succeed?" before "How much will I be making?" and "Will I be able to buy that car and house now?"
Learn more about healthcare careers.