Healthcare has always been among the fastest-growing work fields in our society, and more so in the past decade. Thanks to the diverse opportunities it offers, plus job security and other benefits, many people want to become healthcare workers as a way to improve their quality of life and achieve professional growth, but sometimes they don’t know exactly how to pursue a healthcare worker career or have doubts about what occupation within the field could be the best fit for them.
If you are one of these people, in this article we will discuss what it's like to be a healthcare worker, what skills you’re likely to need if you want to become one, and what the pros and cons of this career are.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “Health workers are people whose job it is to protect and improve the health of their communities. Together these health workers, in all their diversity, make up the global health workforce.” In general terms, these are people who are paid to look after the health of others, thus it can be said that healthcare workers make an essential contribution to our healthcare systems.
When trying to define who is a healthcare worker and who is not, one of the most common questions people ask is if social workers are considered healthcare workers, and the answer is that it depends.
Social workers work with people and families to improve their general wellbeing, not just their health. They usually work for the government or for schools, social service agencies, and other social organizations where they advocate for broader social issues like social justice and human rights in cases of domestic violence, unemployment, etc. Those who have this occupation are not considered healthcare workers unless they work as health social workers in hospitals, community health centers, or mental health clinics.
There are other workers in the healthcare system who people tend to consider healthcare workers, but since they don’t provide healthcare services are not considered part of this group. These are pharmaceutical distributors, hospital management workers, and those who provide maintenance to healthcare buildings and equipment, for instance.
It should be mentioned that Canada is currently suffering from a substantial shortage of health workers to meet health needs, especially nurses and personal support workers. This situation is happening in other countries as well, and it has worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Healthcare workers need two different skill sets to perform their duties, technical skills, or “hard skills,” and social skills or “soft skills.”. The first set is learned through education and improved with experience, like knowing how to measure vital signs and administer medications. The latter skills are the ones that allow them to better interact with patients and coworkers, like communication, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.
We’ve chosen to further discuss soft skills because those are the ones people can begin developing even before becoming a healthcare worker and are the ones that will get them hired more easily these days, as recruiters consider them essential for a candidate to succeed.
Another reason why soft skills are so important is that these days patients are not just looking for healthcare services, they are looking for an integral experience where they feel valued as human beings, respected, heard, and properly cared for at an emotional level. Therefore, healthcare workers need soft skills in order to perform their jobs in a manner that is satisfactory to patients and their families.
Knowing how to communicate well with others is essential when it comes to healthcare workers, considering that they need to speak with patients and their families, as well as with coworkers on a daily basis. It can be said that when communication is positive and clear, there is a greater chance that patients will follow medical recommendations and lifestyle changes, and coworkers will be able to work better together, which ultimately benefits patients.
Healthcare workers rarely work on their own, so they need to be good team players. In fact, many healthcare organizations apply an interdisciplinary approach to treat patients, creating teams of healthcare workers with different specialties to care for a single list of patients. If these workers can't collaborate with one another, then they would be acting against the best interest of their patients, so teamwork skills are a must for anyone interested in pursuing a healthcare worker career.
Empathizing with patients is one of the keys to good healthcare. When healthcare workers can empathize with people who are going through difficult situations, regardless of the reasons why they ended up in those situations, they become more skillful to find solutions and deliver more compassionate and integral care.
More than any other group of workers, healthcare workers work under a lot of stress, especially now that they have been dealing with a pandemic for over a year. As a consequence, if healthcare workers don't develop stress management skills, they are at high risk of burnout (exhaustion and loss of interest in work.) Therefore, it is vital that healthcare workers learn how to manage stress and constant pressure from patients and their families, coworkers, and supervisors, plus their own families.
Healthcare worker careers are demanding and unpredictable because, for the most part, they don't stick to typical 9-to-5 office hours. This means that healthcare workers need to develop flexibility as a skill to find success in this field. That is the only way that they will be able to manage situations where, for instance, they are required to pick up an extra shift, stay late with a critical patient, or plan their personal activities around an unconventional work schedule.
Having a healthcare worker career comes with many pros, but also cons.
Among the cons of having a healthcare worker career is the fact that healthcare workers are exposed to chemical and physical hazards (drugs, allergies, sharp objects, etc.) as well as infectious agents (bacteria and viruses) and considerable stress on the job. Continuous exposure to these hazards is the reason why some healthcare workers, especially nurses, have decided to quit their jobs and change careers in the past few years.
Hospitals and other healthcare organizations are known to work diligently to prevent or reduce healthcare worker exposure to occupational hazards, but the truth is that chances of suffering from work-related injuries or illness are pretty high for healthcare workers in comparison to workers of other industries and sectors.
If there's one sector that never closes, it is healthcare. Hospitals and healthcare centers are always open, which means healthcare workers can count on working full hours every week, plus overtime. This gives healthcare workers a sense of job security and steady earnings that is unheard of in other sectors like manufacturing or retail. Added to this, healthcare workers have the opportunity to move up faster than workers in other fields, especially if they stand out from their peers for being great team players and problem solvers, and for having other desirable soft skills like the ones we mentioned earlier in this article.
One of the greatest aspects of healthcare is the opportunity to specialize in a particular area. Whether you want to become a doctor, nurse, lab technician, or any other occupation, chances are you will have multiple medical fields to choose from for specialization and you will be able to do it easily because most hospitals and healthcare centers have special training available for their healthcare workers. Another benefit is that, even if it takes you longer to figure out what you want to do, you can always explore many options before settling down with one specialty. And the best part is that every field in the healthcare sector is needed, so there will always be job opportunities for you in whatever specialty you decide to work on.
Having a career in healthcare allows people to give back to their communities by helping patients and their families get through difficult times. When healthcare workers contribute to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the people in your community they usually earn people's respect and appreciation. A great example of this is how people across the country have taken to social media, traditional media, and even placed signs on their front yards or their cars to express their gratitude to healthcare workers and the great work they have been doing since the beginning of the pandemic.
Working in healthcare gives healthcare workers the opportunity to constantly upgrade their skillset as all patients come with different challenges and require different care. This benefits them greatly in terms of medical knowledge, practical experience, and professional improvement. Also, healthcare workers get to be the first to learn about the new advancements in medical technology designed to improve the way they care for patients.
And with that, we’ve reached the end of this article. We hope to have helped you learn all of the basic concepts about being a healthcare worker. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to leave us a comment below or reach out to us through our contact form. Thank you for reading!
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