Find success in healthcare despite common misconceptions

February 9, 2021

Tiffany Belcher

The global coronavirus pandemic has inspired many to pursue a degree in healthcare. These future healthcare heroes are eager to make a difference in these unprecedented times. But for some, there are perceived roadblocks obstructing their commitment to an academic path. Common misperceptions include that they must be a genius to get started, they should fit into a certain social-economical demographic, and that they will sacrifice their lives for the job. 

Almost everyone can identify with one of these barriers. For many, belief in these assumptions make healthcare degrees seem unobtainable. Lifting the veil over some common misconceptions on obtaining a degree and working in healthcare will leave the potential student with renewed motivation. There are many flexible healthcare careers, there’s no need to be a genius to get started, and healthcare employers tend to be more inclusive than employers in other industries.   

What gave birth to these common misconceptions about healthcare professionals?  

A variety of experiences can build a veil of misconception. The most powerful and convincing of these are our personal experiences in a hospital or at a doctor’s office. We arrive at the healthcare facility when we are ill or injured, and a team of expert staff comes rushing to our aid. They know exactly what to do, what to say, and in most cases, we leave in better condition than when we arrived. Even a routine physical can leave us feeling energized and anew. The expertise, demeanor, and dedication from the medical team inspires trust from the patient but also gives them a feeling of comparative inadequacy. 

Other experiences that build a veil are our indirect and cultural exposure to healthcare. Our society holds healthcare providers in high regard because of their ability to alter the course of disease and save lives. We hear stories and see television specials about miraculous healings and compassionate treatment from healthcare professionals. Because we haven’t yet acquired the skills to do this, we may believe ourselves unworthy of the same respect.  

It’s important to remember that healthcare professionals are just people, like you and me. At one point in their lives, they were also tossing around the idea of a healthcare degree. So how did they move from that place to the well-regarded, seemingly sacrificial professionals many of us aspire to be? The answer is the commitment to a path, trust in the educational experience, and faith that there will a perfect job waiting at the end.  

Is it intelligence or just experience and knowledge? 

When we visit the doctor’s office, it’s easy to assume that everyone who works there is smarter than us. They are quick to use fancy terminology and eager to explain to us what it means assuming that we don’t already know. These qualities inspire trust and admiration from patients, but they can also generate a sense of incompetence on the patient’s behalf. This feeling of inadequacy translates to a belief that some people may not be competent enough to work in healthcare. 

For the most part, students can trust their degree program to teach them all they need to know to become experts in their field. 

So, what if you are a slow reader, nervous test-taker, and bad at math? The good news is these traits are not indicators of low intelligence, nor are they indicators that you will not do well in a healthcare career. These traits are common in many students. They are expected to the extent that almost every academic institution has reading centers, math centers, and test-taking guides dedicated to helping learners at any level navigate their courses.  

Healthcare workers are not expected to have memorized every definition and bodily process they learned in college. Once graduated, healthcare workers have access to job aids and reference tools so they can double, and triple, check their knowledge on the job. Many healthcare employers offer continuing education courses to keep their staff up to date on healthcare trends.  

The best advice that can be given to students who are questioning their intelligence is for them to know themselves. Know what their struggles are and take the time to focus on improving in those areas. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, trust your resources, and have confidence in the ability to become an expert.   

Sacrifice  

I’m not going to lie, obtaining a degree in healthcare is a commitment, ranging on average 2-8 years. Depending on the position desired, there may be a series of fellowships, internships, and additional certifications required after graduation. The road can be long, and it may seem that there’s no end to the sacrifice once the graduate secures a job. We’ve all seen movies and sitcoms about doctors and nurses who spend seemingly long hours at the hospital and their relationships, home life, free time, and personal health deteriorate as a result. If you’ve ever had an extended stay at a hospital, it can seem as if the same nurses and doctors are there taking care of you for days on end.  

For students with families, this perception is the number one reason they haven’t started a degree in healthcare. Even if a potential student can accept a few years of sacrificial dedication to obtain a degree, they will not be willing to make the same sacrifice for decades to follow. Working long hours in a healthcare facility with little time for oneself or loved ones can lead to a real condition known as burnout.  

Addressing burnout in the healthcare industry 

Burnout is a well-known phenomenon in professional settings. It is defined as the exhaustion of physical or mental ability due to prolonged stress. But there is hope that this condition if it arises at all, will be short-lived for the healthcare professional. Healthcare organizations recognize burnout to be a dangerous state leading to medical errors, lack of job motivation, and low morale (Schwartz, et al., 2019). When healthcare personnel suffer from burnout, the organization suffers from high turnover, low staffing, and the threat of lawsuits. A new trend adopted by healthcare organizations gives promise that great personal sacrifices will be few and far between. This trend is called work-life balance.  

The goal of work-life balance is to ensure that each employee has the freedom to take care of themselves. This effort enables staff members to have adequate meal-times, ample time-off, and maintain designated ‘beginnings’ and ‘ends’ to their workday through boundaries that are respected and honored by the employer. Staff at these organizations are encouraged to take breaks, keep in touch with their families throughout the day, and speak-up when they feel they are experiencing burnout.  

For graduates who crave a high amount of flexibility, there are travel positions where healthcare professionals can pick their schedule and work locations.

Another valuable consideration is that healthcare professionals don’t have to work in a high-volume hospital or 24-hour care facility. There are many career options for healthcare graduates. Nurses might find themselves working from home taking calls for an advice line or doing virtual assessments by video. There are out-patient clinic positions where shifts are 8 a.m.- 5 p.m., ensuring that the worker is home every night to enjoy dinner with their family. There are low-volume long-term care and rehab facilities that only admit a handful of low-risk patients at a time. These options reduce stress and improve work-life balance.  

For graduates who crave a high amount of flexibility, there are travel positions where healthcare professionals can pick their schedule and work locations. Home health providers also enjoy the luxury of visiting a handful of patients per day on a flexible schedule. New methods for healthcare delivery unfold at a faster rate every year. In a changing world where healthcare professionals are needed in greater quantities and in a variety of settings, it will be easy to find a healthcare career that works for everyone. 

Healthcare heroes during a pandemic 

We don’t always think of healthcare as being a ‘dangerous’ field to work in, but the global coronavirus pandemic proved otherwise. Most healthcare workers did not get to quarantine when the pandemic surged. Instead, the nature of working in healthcare places these professionals on the frontlines of the pandemic, exposing them to the worst cases of the disease. It’s never been more evident that a healthcare worker’s sacrifice is more than a sacrifice of time.  

Globally, people who were permitted to quarantine or work from home watched from the sidelines as health professionals risked their lives to care for vulnerable patients. The reality of how essential healthcare workers are in these uncertain times is both a motivation for, and a deterrent from, pursuing a healthcare career. Some people don’t know if they have what it takes to be a healthcare hero and bravely battle this, or any future, global health pandemics.  

For these individuals, there is some reassurance promised by the culture of safety promoted in all health institutions. Hospitals and health clinics strive now, more than ever, to maintain adequate staffing levels and PPE supplies. Healthcare workers receive ongoing education on how to keep themselves and their patients safe.  Organizations have granted healthcare workers the autonomy to assess safety levels in their units and make necessary changes. 

Healthcare academic programs equip students with the tools and techniques they need to keep themselves safe in a healthcare environment. Most students will receive training on safe specimen handling, contaminated materials handling and disposal, blood-born pathogen training, handwashing protocols, and more. Students will be trained to fit themselves properly with personal protective equipment. They will learn how to identify and correct potential safety breaches. These skills will give future healthcare heroes the confidence they need to deliver high-quality patient care without putting themselves in danger.   

Inclusiveness 

Everyone at the doctor’s office seems to work together seamlessly with a hive-minded likeness. The level of respect and acceptance they appear to have for each other leads to the assumption that they all come from the same place. For some of us this ‘place’ has a different indication; social-economical place, gender-identity place, cultural place, spiritual place. You name it, and you can probably also assume it’s a place that you’re not from. 

Fortunately, these are once again false perceptions. Healthcare professionals work together as one because of their highly developed professional skills. Including some of the most professional skills of all; equity, diversity, and inclusion. Many healthcare organizations aim to display their inclusivity by designating committees to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Staff are encouraged to represent this effort through their acceptance of diversity.  

Bridges of trust are built when a patient can identify with those who care for them, and therefore healthcare employers tend to be more inclusive than employers in other industries. 

While most people relate inclusivity topics to gender equality, ethnic diversity, and cultural inclusion, healthcare hasn’t forgotten the inclusion of those from diverse social-economic backgrounds. Although a person’s social-economic status may change after securing a job in healthcare, there is no social-economic requirement for obtaining one. Some of the best medical professionals are those who rise from humble beginnings. Children who are raised in poverty and ill health tend to have a stronger motivation to improve their own lives and the lives of others. Therefore, they often become magnificent doctors, nurses, and more.  

Funding a healthcare degree has never been more obtainable due to student loans and grants. You don’t need any money to get a degree. In fact, the less money you have, the more free-funding you’ll qualify for. The Pell Grant is a perfect example of how social-economic diversity is encouraged by academic institutions. Low-income students can receive up to $6,345.00 per year toward their undergraduate degree (Federal Student Aid, 2021). This is money the student will never have to pay back. 

Break your own barriers 

There are no real barriers to pursuing a degree in healthcare. The only barriers that exist are the ones we make for ourselves. Our doubts and perceptions can build a wall between our current reality, and the reality of our dreams. Battling doubt and fear sounds easy, but many of us know it’s not. Think positive, do your research, and hold in your mind a vision of yourself achieving your goal. This is how we break down perceived and self-proclaimed barriers.  

Federal Student Aid (2021) Pell Grants are usually awarded only to undergraduate students. Web. R

Schwartz, S. P., Adair, K. C., Bae, J., Rehder, K. J., Shanafelt, T. D., Profit, J., & Sexton, J. B. (2019). Work-life balance behaviours cluster in work settings and relate to burnout and safety culture: a cross-sectional survey analysis.  BMJ quality & safety,  28(2), 142–150. 

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