Job/grad school planning filter: health-related jobs editions. Nursing, public health, social work, or something else entirely? Help me narrow my options and get myself on a better career trajectory.
Not too long ago, I was an undergraduate anthropology major with a strong interest in medical anthropology. I ate up The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
. I idolized Paul Farmer and thought a lot about how his ideas about holistic care and preferential options for the poor could play out in a US context. I did research on disability activism and identity, on activists' resistance to medical models. I took a class on violence as a public health concern, learned about harm reduction and epidemiological patterns of gun violence. Science and medical procedures interested me, and still do, but I'm more interested in social determinants of health, people's interactions with and relations to healthcare providers, and issues of health care access in underserved communities.
I knew that I wanted to do something with these medical/public health interests after graduation, but I saw pretty quickly that I wasn't going to get related work without experience. So I got an AmeriCorps position, at a health related but not explicitly clinical organization.
AmeriCorps was disastrous. Some of that was me being overwhelmed by the responsibilities of a real-grown up workplace. Some of that was my organization being unfocused,understaffed, and run by a terrible boss. Some of that was a complete lack of support from the higher-ups running my AmeriCorps program, and my organization being a poor match for AmeriCorps. In any case, I wound up quitting six months in, lost a lot of confidence in my ability to hold any job period, and decided to pursue other areas for a while.
Now I'm in a different city, working on my job-related neuroses in therapy, and realizing that I would really like to pursue health-related fields again. I'm sick of scraping together temping and babysitting gigs, and would like to get myself on a stabler long-term path. I'm currently taking one health related class at my local community college, and plan to take biology and statistics in the spring. The question is, to what end.
Ideally, I'd be in a job where I have varied responsibilities, don't sit at a desk all day, work with adult patients/clients, and look at health care issues in a broad context that takes social inequality, cultural considerations, access to resources, etc into account. In my really ideal world I'd like a position where I could do mostly direct care but also a bit of research, but I recognize that you need to work up to a job like that.
Fields I'm considering/have considered:
Nursing: I like the variety of choices within the field and the working with people component. But how do you determine whether you're going to like the field? It doesn't seem like the sort of thing you can 'test out' in an entry-level position first; by the time you get to clinicals you've already sunk a lot of money and effort in. Is there any way I could 'test out' the field in addition to informational interviewing?
Public Health: This seems to coincide best with my interests, but I'm not sure what the job market in the field is like. (I assume I'd be looking at health education or program design sorts of jobs, not epidemiology, biostats, etc.) I'm also terrified of the amount of debt I'd have to take on for graduate work. Is getting a masters' like this with an inconsistent work history a big red flag?
Social Work: Has the people components and big-picture analysis of social determinants that I want, I've done well at low-level social worker type tasks. (Client intake at a social service non-profit, helping with SSI appeal paperwork.) How could I work the medical interest in? What's funding like?
Things I am not interested in: graduate work in anthropology, medical school, counseling of any sort.
I'm already working on informational interviews of people in the field, looking for places to volunteer, etc, but how else would you choose between fields? Are there other careers that are in line with my interests that I'm missing here? Are there entry-level paying jobs I could get now that would give me a taste of any of these fields and help me narrow my options? What's the best way to leverage volunteer work in these fields into paying work?
Possibly relevant: I'm open to moving out my current city in the longer run, but probably not right now. There are many options for nursing or social work school in my area. Choices for public health are more limited, but I'm interested in some of the research that's happening at the one public health school in my area.