How to work in healthcare without becoming a doctor or nurse

Not everyone who wants to work in a hospital setting also wants to become a doctor or nurse. There are many different benefits to working in hospitals, including job security, salary, skills development, promotional tracks, pension, and healthcare, so it stands to reason that hospital jobs remain very popular. 

Hospitals are incredibly large, busy, and complex institutions that require hundreds of people to manage smoothly. Think about it – every company has workers who provide immediate profit and value to the company itself, but there are also just as many workers in operations, human resources, management, and other supportive roles. 

Hospitals have a need for more professionals in these supportive roles than any other company setting because of the varied and complex work that happens in clinical settings. Take the example of a person with a broken arm. Firstly, an individual who thinks that they have a broken arm speaks with a trained receptionist, who then directs them to an x-ray technician. Those x-rays are examined by a doctor, who will determine what kind of treatment the person needs. If the person just needs a cast, this is where a nurse may step in to provide care. After the individual has gone home, they will receive a bill from the hospital and begin to liaise with their insurance company. 

In that relatively straightforward care scenario, you can see that there are a lot of healthcare professionals and support staff, along with many people who are working behind the scenes, such as receptionists, managers, operations heads, HR managers, and those who work in billing. There are many different career paths in hospital settings for people of all skillsets, professional backgrounds, and experience levels to pursue. 

The downsides of pursuing nursing or doctoral degrees 

There are many people who feel called to the nursing profession or who have dreamed of becoming a doctor for years. For these people, the long years of education and training, the school debt, and the overtime at work is worth the effort and investment because they are pursuing a deeply held passion. 

However, many other people want to work in clinical settings, but do not feel called to the medical profession and do not want to invest tens of thousands of dollars – and years of their lives – into becoming a doctor or nurse. It takes a significant amount of effort and financial and temporal investment to become a medical professional, and it is simply not worth the effort for many people. 

Additionally, as you will see from the careers listed below, hospital careers outside of the nurse and doctor roles are also important, interesting, challenging, and essential to the success of the healthcare sector. You may have a passion for fitting prosthetics, helping stroke victims to speak once more, or tailoring diets to fit a patient’s needs. Many of these roles do not require the same amount of education as becoming a doctor or nurse, yet they are just as important to the healthcare field and they can truly change lives. 

Health administrators 

Administrators are essential to the functioning of every organization – including in the healthcare sector! Administrators are essentially the glue that keeps operations going. They solve problems, and work with multiple different parties to find the best solutions. 

No two days are ever going to be the same for health administrators because they are continually working with different groups in the hospital, encountering new issues, and managing various projects. This is a great role for someone who is organized, efficient, has commercial savvy, and who loves a good challenge or puzzle to solve. 

The path to becoming a health administrator is not necessarily as straightforward as becoming a nurse. In fact, many successful administrators have ‘fallen’ into the role after beginning in operations or management and slowly working their way up through the healthcare ladder. 

One way to kick-start your career as an administrator is through pursuing higher education and really honing your skills and developing your experiences. For example, the Telfer master of Health Administration online program offered by uOttawa is designed to help professional administrators develop their skills, learn the latest technology and management strategies, and become leaders in the space. 

One of the other benefits of the uOttawa program is that it is fully online, which makes it a much more accessible program for individuals who are also working part-time to full-time or caring for family members. Online learning has quickly become one of the most popular ways to study at the postgraduate level because of the flexibility it affords to learners. 

Dietitians and nutritionists 

One career path that has become increasingly popular in recent years is the dietitian and nutritionist career. Dietitians and nutritionists are trained and licensed professionals who are experts in food and nutrition. In a hospital setting, they use their expertise to support patient health, manage disease and boost care plans. 

Healthy eating, plant-based foods and nutritious meals that are also delicious are extremely popular topics on social media, and a number of bloggers and influencers who focus on health, nutrition and diet have become incredibly successful. 

This cultural focus on healthy eating has led to increased awareness of the dietitian and nutritionist career paths, and it is now a fairly competitive job market. The good news is that there is also hugely increased demand for guidance and advice from trained professionals in this space. 

Imaging technicians 

Radiologic and MRI technicians are highly trained professionals who operate a range of different imaging services such as x-rays, CAT scans and MRIs. These tests are extremely sensitive and require a series of specific (and incredibly important) protocols to be followed, which, if not followed correctly, could potentially result in the death of the patient or the destruction of expensive equipment. 

A similar career path that many people find incredibly rewarding is that of becoming an ultrasound technician. Many ultrasound technicians specialize in neonatal imaging and are there to help mothers see their future babies for the first time via ultrasound. While this can be an emotionally challenging role when there are health challenges for the mother or child, these situations are rare. 

Orthotic and prosthetics professionals 

Another rewarding career path is working in prosthetics. For people who are having mobility issues, getting their first prosthetic, or fixing their prosthetic, it can be incredibly emotional and significant to have a prosthetic fitted properly. 

Orthotic and prosthetic professionals are among the highest-paid non-physician healthcare providers because they are very highly trained and very good at what they do. These individuals work with patients and in their teams to design, create, measure and fit orthotic and prosthetic limbs and devices for their patients. 

They are often found working on artificial limbs, braces, and other orthotic devices. 

Speech and language pathologists 

Speech and language pathologists provide essential care to children and adults who struggle with communication and swallowing disorders. They are intimately familiar with the human mouth and throat and how language and speech patterns can develop. 

According to recent labor surveys, roughly 40% of speech pathologists work in schools to help children communicate, whereas the other 60% work in healthcare settings, including hospitals. 

Genetic counselors 

One of the newest and most exciting career paths now open to individuals in hospital settings is that of becoming a genetic counselor. Genetic counselors are healthcare professionals who have undergone specialized training in genetics and who work with patients to provide risk assessments on conditions to which they may be genetically predisposed. 

For example, if multiple individuals in your family have had a similar illness, a genetic counsellor can help you to assess the risk and learn more about the disease, your chances of contracting it, and any additional genetic testing you can undergo. 

These counselors typically work in public and private hospitals, diagnostic labs, and clinics and medical centers. 

Occupational therapists 

Occupational therapists, or OTs, are healthcare professionals who have been trained to help injured, disabled or sick patients via therapeutic exercises. OTs help patients to develop or recover skills that are needed for everyday life through exercises such as putting puzzles together, creating shapes with Play-Doh, or using tweezers to pick up small objects. 

Occupational therapists are typically found in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, or working in home health visitation programs. 

Respiratory therapists

Respiratory therapists are trained to help patients who are experiencing difficulty breathing. They have undergone training to treat breathing disorders such as asthma, lung disease and emphysema, and they work with a wide range of different people. In fact, respiratory therapists are known to work with everyone from premature babies to elderly patients. 

An associate degree is required to become a respiratory therapist and, depending on the state or province you live in, you may also need to be licensed by a board of respiratory therapists. 

Dental hygienists 

Finally, individuals who are interested in teeth and oral care but who do not want to become dentists can become dental hygienists and still work with teeth and gums every day. Dental hygienists are an essential aspect of every dental office, and they play one of the most important roles. 

They typically clean teeth through a variety of methods, take x-rays, and provide vital education to the patients on how to best care for their teeth. 

Returning to school 

Many of the above roles require the individual to have specialized training, which may be provided in a clinical setting, or which may be learned in an academic environment. There are many people who begin working at a hospital in one setting and realize that they are more interested in something else, or that they would like to further develop their career prospects and enhance their earning potential by pursuing another role. 

This form of development in the healthcare setting is so common that many hospitals and healthcare companies have arrangements in place to support employees who go on to pursue secondary training or education. Hospitals want to employ well-trained, highly motivated, and caring individuals who are passionate about their work and who come into work every day ready to better their patients’ lives, so it makes sense that they would want to support employees’ career goals. 

If you want to return to school to pursue another path or just jump up the career ladder, then you should speak with your manager and other hospital administrators who can explain to you what supports are available at the hospital and what roles would be available to you upon completion of your training. 

Many trainings, certifications and degrees are now delivered to students fully online. If you have never taken an online or remote course, they may seem like a daunting and overwhelming prospect. 

There are two things you can do easily to get ready for an online course and find out if online education is right for you. One thing you can do is take a few free or low-cost online courses, which are listed on platforms such as Coursera. This will give you a sense of what online education is like on a day-to-day basis. 

Another thing you can do is reach out to the recruitment team at the university you are interested in and ask them for any available information or resources regarding online learning. Many people find the transition to online education difficult or confusing, and the recruitment team is certain to have a number of different resources on hand that explain the process and what learning online is really like. 

Planning your future career 

Ultimately, your career is what you make it, and if you want to work in a hospital without becoming a doctor or nurse, then there are dozens of different career paths available to you that are equally rewarding and interesting. Whether you decide to return to school and retrain or gain first-hand experience, you are certain to succeed if you are pursuing a path that you are passionate about. Good luck!