Blood makes me sick, Needles make me pass out
January 5, 2009 5:03 PM   Subscribe

Career in the medical field that doesn't involve blood or needles?

I was laid off in early December (YAY!) and shortly thereafter begin helping a lady from my church. She is in stage 4 bone cancer and is in and out of the hospital. I've basically become her companion, doing everything from dispensing meds, taking her to and from the doctor, staying with her in the hospital, etc. I've also taken care of all of her financial issues, disability, etc.

In my previous position, I did marketing and graphic design.

My question is this: What can I do in the medical field that would actually help people, but doesn't involve blood or needles? At the sight of blood my knees get weak and needles seriously make me pass out. Just SEEING them. I've tried forcing myself to watch medical procedures and look at pictures of wounds, etc. In the ER Sat night a nurse was teasing me about my dislike of needles by shoving a needle in my face and I about passed out.

I'd love to go to school and become a nurse, however I think that with my "issues" that's just out of the question. But I want to help people! I've enjoyed what I'm doing, basically acting as a social worker. I realize that I could always do social work, but I'd like to hear of a few other things I could do.

I'm willing to go to school/college. I'm 30 if that helps.

Suggestions? Ideas?
posted by TurquoiseZebra to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Physical therapist?
posted by zippy at 5:08 PM on January 5, 2009

What about mental health work, ie being a counselor? Or you could be a nutrionist or personal trainer.
posted by lunasol at 5:12 PM on January 5, 2009

There's positions like "Patient Advocate" that many hospitals have these days that will act as arbitrators between patients and care professionals. You would definitely see a lot of needles because you'd be visiting patients in their hospital rooms, but I don't think you'd be directly involved in caring for them. There's also tons of administrative positions where you would deal with and talk to patients and help them with various problems, but wouldn't be involved directly with their care.

One point that comes to mind is to look for positions oriented towards education or creativity in hospitals. The hospital that I have experience with from my college days had a creative graphic design staff to produce videos, multimedia presentations, pamphlets, and other materials to help children and the elderly understand what's happening to them and what to expect.

What you have when you see blood is probably "just" a bona-fide panic attack. I can safely say from personal experience that I would have a panic attack from the sheer sight of a needle like you say, but then I dated a veterinary student and helped her with her studies and her own herd of animals. It just became common place to deal with all sorts of disgusting things (feces, urine, blood, wounds, bugs, parasites, etc.) on a daily basis and I did get over it.
posted by SpecialK at 5:13 PM on January 5, 2009

Home health care workers do exactly what you did with your friend from church, but with a bit more of the messy stuff: I believe they sometimes need to empty cath bags, etc. But I don't think they deal with needles. Ultrasound technicians also don't deal with needles, I don't think, but that might not fit your description of helping people?
posted by brina at 5:13 PM on January 5, 2009

Physical or occupational therapy would be a good choice. Roughly speaking, physical therapists take care of the bottom half, occupational therapists take care of the top. So as a PT, expect to help people stand, walk, run, etc. As an OT, expect to deal with arms, hands, and necks a lot.

I'm not a PT or an OT but I work with some of each.
posted by echo target at 5:14 PM on January 5, 2009

Hospitals do have social workers on staff, as well. (Not sure if that's what you meant when you mentioned social work in your question.) I spoke with one regarding my mother recently. I've also spoken with senior advocates, too, that work for my mom's HMO and offer help finding local programs.
posted by faunafrailty at 5:16 PM on January 5, 2009

If you like what you're doing, keep it up. There will always be people who need caretakers- the elderly, children and developmentally disabled children and adults, just for starters. If I were you, I would get my CPR/First Aid certification and maybe take some psych classes (I know there are a lot of autistic children who need caretakers, if that's up your alley) and just keep asking around and making contacts. There are some state-run groups that provide caretakers for people in need, but they probably don't pay well. Find an organization that provides support for whatever you're interested in and contact them.
posted by easy_being_green at 5:19 PM on January 5, 2009

I am an EMT. The first time I rounded in the ER during training, I passed out cold watching an IV stick. The second time I rounded in the ER, I passed out cold watching an IV stick. The third time, they made me sit down, and I watched, got queasy, but didn't pass out. Now, a few years later, it's a total nothing.*

All of this is to say that it is possible to "get over" a pretty serious reaction to blood / needles. Granted, I was pretty much the laughingstock of class for a while there. But your "issues" are a lot more common than you'd think- many of the doctors and nurses told me stories of their own little mishaps during training.

Social work does sound like it would be a great fit, but if you want to be a nurse, talk to the nursing recruiters at local hospitals. Nursing is one of few rapidly growing fields in the US, and there is a chronic shortage of nurses. I'm sure that they would be willing to help you figure out a way to get over this, and also help you figure out what preliminary coursework you'd have to complete.

Good on you for helping someone who obviously needs a hand!

*I knew that I was totally over the whole blood "thing" when a crew came back from a call in the middle of dinner. They had delivered a baby. One of them started describing the placenta in very graphic terms, then took a look at the pizza. "Hey, it looked pretty much like that! Like pepperoni and tomato sauce!" And ... we kept on eating.
posted by charmcityblues at 5:19 PM on January 5, 2009

When you say actually help people you mean like right there in the room, and not just somewhere out there are some people who would otherwise be dead if it weren't for the stuff you were doing, right? Because there is always the wine, roses and pure glamor of research science.

I'm with you on the needles thing, btw.

I'm lying about the wine, roses and glamor. There really are some not dead people who had reached the "get your affairs in order" point of things though, which makes the lack of wine, roses and so on more acceptable.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:27 PM on January 5, 2009

Technician jobs, definitely. Having had various procedures over the years (from being administered radioactive iodine to having routine echocardiograms), I can say that I've had some real sweetheart technicians who have absolutely helped me with their calm demeanor, willingness to answer my questions, etc.

Another field -- which I would actually consider going into, if I ever decided to redo my whole life -- would be genetic counseling.
posted by scody at 5:29 PM on January 5, 2009

Pharmacy rocks. I went back to school at 33 to become a pharmacist. I work in a hospital and love it. I'm a pretty squeamish soul. If you like working with people there are a lot of opportunities to do things other than stand around and count pills. Pharmacy has gotten a lot more clinical than many people realize.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:51 PM on January 5, 2009

Mrs. Advicepig felt the same and started taking classes with the intention of going to pharmacy school. Sometime during anatomy class, the wonder of the human body won out over the visceral reaction. Now, she's applying to med school.
posted by advicepig at 6:00 PM on January 5, 2009

Volunteer in your local hospital to see if you can take the exposure to blood/needles/IVs. There are jobs that certainly have LESS exposure to blood and needles and such, but I can't think of ONE where you'd never see needles or blood, especially during your clinical training. I got a little woozy during a couple surgeries and seeing a patient with a big disfiguring neck dissection, but now I'm an ED doc and see it all.
posted by gramcracker at 6:10 PM on January 5, 2009

Radiation tech. No needles, and room for advancement (CT and MRI tech, etc.) I think the field's expanding, too.
posted by BundleOfHers at 6:23 PM on January 5, 2009

Genetic counseling?
posted by NikitaNikita at 6:45 PM on January 5, 2009

While I think you could like a lot of the jobs listed here, getting through some of the training and education for them might be a little tricky if you really can't handle blood. I would imagine a there's a lot of anatomy classes required for pretty much all of these degrees, and labs for those can be a little messy. If you think you are ok with the coursework, there's a lot of jobs that would be great for you.
posted by mjcon at 7:06 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Radiation tech. No needles, and room for advancement (CT and MRI tech, etc.) I think the field's expanding, too.

Techs deal with patients with IVs and/or blood transfusions hanging all the time. And likely you have to at least spend a week or a day in the ED for portable and trauma films.
posted by gramcracker at 7:16 PM on January 5, 2009

If you work in a hospital, you are going to see blood and needles. Get over your silly fear or pick something else.
posted by Electrius at 7:41 PM on January 5, 2009

Radiation tech. No needles, and room for advancement (CT and MRI tech, etc.) I think the field's expanding, too.

One of my good friend's fiance is a rad tech. He's always handling some pretty grizzly cases. A lot of the people that he has to deal with are in pretty bad shape, and it goes without saying that there is blood involved. Sometimes he has to do post-mortem work, too, which would also be difficult.
posted by bristolcat at 7:46 PM on January 5, 2009

If you like the hands on work,, you can train in a short time as a nurse's aide. Lot's of nursing homes offer their own course. The pay's not so hot, but there are a bazillion jobs out there. You could work in home care where the exposure to the stuff that bothers you is minimal, if any. And you'd be able to go to school for something else in the field that might interest you, since your employer might help out with the cost. You sound like you'd really excel at home care.
posted by puddinghead at 8:27 PM on January 5, 2009

Healthcare administration. With your background, you should be able to get a job in the marketing/PR/community relations department of a hospital, clinic, etc. You can then learn more about the various healthcare management roles and responsibilities and work towards them.
posted by davidmsc at 8:45 PM on January 5, 2009


Radiologists are paid pretty well, have set defined hours, and as a group self-report as being the most happy of medical professionals.

They look at pictures and don't have to deal with sick people.

If you don't actually want to get an MD, yeah, administration is another route. You'll have to deal with arrogant and busy and stressed out and constantly respiratorily ill doctors but depending on your personality, it could work out.
posted by porpoise at 8:52 PM on January 5, 2009

I think ultrasound tech is a really good idea. Especially because I don't think you need to go to school that long to do it (isn't it usually a certificate program, like 1-2 years?) Plus you actually do get to interact with patients.

That said, I agree with everyone else that with some exposure you "get over it." i thought i was going to have a panic attack when I had to dissect a fetal pig in high school. now, i spend every day in the cadaver lab and it doesn't make me squeamish at all. and i love watching surgery. so it's not an impossibility to get used to that stuff.

i think it really depends on how long you are willing to be in school for, and how much money you want to make. something like ultrasound, i think, is on the low end. (less time, less money.) genetic counseling sounds really awesome and i bet you'd make a lot, but i am assuming you need an MD or PhD to do it. and a PhD might involve animal based research (which to me is far more disturbing than working with cadavers.)
posted by lblair at 8:57 PM on January 5, 2009

I'm going way back to an undergrad class on anxiety disorders (which definitely doesn't qualify me to give advice about anything except undergrad classes), but it really sounds like you have a textbook case of blood/needle phobia. Most phobias make people very anxious, increasing their blood pressure. Blood and needle phobia on the other hand, has a biphasic response, it makes blood pressure go up and then plummet, making you faint. That sucks.

Here's the good part. From what I remember, blood and needle phobias can be treated without any drugs through a combination of exposure therapy (basically experiencing things over and over again, which is used to treat most specific phobias) while doing small exercises that keep your blood pressure up (no more fainting). These exercises include things like squeezing your butt muscles together and are completely invisible to people around them. My professor who taught me all this said that this non-pharmaceutical treatment has gotten so effective there are now tons of nurses and physicians who used to have blood/needle phobias, but have no problem anymore.

If I were in your shoes, I would contact a psychotherapist (doesn't need to be a psychiatrist) who knows how to treat blood/needle phobias without drugs. Why not try a little exposure therapy and see whether you can get this out of the way and do what you really want to do.

Good luck.
posted by eisenkr at 9:00 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Become a social worker at a hospital. They do what you described, and you are more loved than you realize.
posted by ruwan at 9:15 PM on January 5, 2009

I worked for several years as a chiropractic assistant, and it was a great job. In the area where I worked, chiropractors paid their assistants quite well, and the job most certainly did not involve blood or needles (although it did involve urine, as I had to perform quite a few UAs). The job itself was fairly straightforward, and I had the satisfaction of knowing that I was helping people feel better. :-) Oh, and as an added bonus, getting certified was not difficult at all.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 9:53 PM on January 5, 2009

Medical records? Billing and coding? Patient accounts? There are tons of positions in a hospital that are not strictly clinical, yet have a good deal of interaction with the patients - and every single one of them is involved in the broader sense of 'patient care' and (ideally) should have as it highest goals the health and wellbeing of the patient.
posted by eclectist at 11:18 PM on January 5, 2009

I've noticed that endocrinologists (when they finally become endocrinologists), don't go near blood or needles. They send the patient to the lab for tests (thus no needles) and in worse case scenarios they send the patient on to the relevant surgeon (thus no blood).
posted by mirileh at 3:21 AM on January 6, 2009

Speech-Language Pathology
posted by carmen at 6:02 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

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