Young Midwesterner needs help finding a field of study
August 8, 2011 2:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm a young female in the Midwest, motivated to work in medical science, but am otherwise directionless. Help me put my puzzle pieces of strengths and weaknesses together to decide on a field of study?

I'm a 23 year old female living in a Midwestern city with a metro-area population of about a million people. I was a pretty average high school student, but only because I didn't realize the impact my academic performance could have on my early adult years. If I could do it all over again, I would have pushed myself to excel. I took classes at a vocational college during my junior and senior years and later transferred those credits to a local community college. A year later, I graduated with an Associate's Degree in Networking Technology... An area I really have no interest in. 

My parents aren't able to financially assist me with college, so once I graduated, I immediately got a job to pay off my small student loan. I've worked in a couple of call centers and currently work as an underpaid analyst at a grocery retailer. Since the moment I graduated from junior college, I've been trying to decide what to go back to school for, but I don't have any particular passions or interests that have both an academic path and stable job market. If I was going to return to college for fun, I'd be a Cultural Anthropology major, but I'm really trying to be smart about the decisions I make now.

What I do know is that I'm sick of sitting in an office chair for 45 hours a week, week after week, working towards absolutely nothing. I have the motivation and drive to get myself something else and somewhere else in life, but I'm having trouble picking my jump-off point. I have an interest in science, but I haven't taken a science class since high school. Medical sciences especially appeal to me and offer the opportunity for many different kinds of jobs, but I was hoping the hive mind could help point me to the fields that I might be best suited for.

Extremely organized and detail-oriented
Excellent written communication 
Creative problem solver
Strong prioritization skills
Responsible (trustworthy, able to (and prefer to) work alone and motivate self)

At every job I've held, I've created a detailed technical manual to help myself understand the intricacies of the work and perform my job better. After my current employer learned that about me, I was assigned to the task of creating a manual for my analyst position and developed an in-depth 100-page technical manual. I think technical writing comes naturally to me and I just wanted to mention it in case it brings any fields to mind that involve something similar. Technical Writing as a profession itself seems like a difficult freelance effort and doesn't interest me very much.

Aversion to working with the public
Average to below average math skills
Travel limited (highway phobia)
Prefer not to work in an office setting

I have this weird thing about touching strangers, so I don't think I could handle Nursing or other hands-on patient-oriented jobs. I like the idea of working in a lab, but like I said, I haven't taken a science class since high school and don't really have a frame of reference. Other than that, I'm kind of directionless. Since I have to depend on myself to pay for college, I'll have to work full-time while I attend classes. Are there any medical fields you think might be a good fit for me?
posted by goodetyme to Work & Money (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This would probably be in an office setting, but you could do project management for research studies at a hospital. Or you could be a business analyst supporting health IT projects.
posted by teragram at 2:32 PM on August 8, 2011

Take some science classes to make sure you will, in fact, enjoy working in a lab. Intro-level classes may not be indicative--you'll have to take higher level science like cell biology or biochemistry to really get a feel for independent lab work that will be similar to what you would be doing as a job. If you like working in a lab, medical technology (processing lab results) is pretty widespread, but you may find some kind of biochemical research more fulfilling. Technical writing is highly prized in both fields.

Can you go to a state school? In-state tuition is awesome financially. Also, there may be some small liberal arts colleges that are strong in science which have excellent financial aid programs around you. They would also let you explore anthropology electives. This brings me to my next point.

Depending on the course majors and prerequisites, you may be able to double major--one in something you enjoy, one in a science field that will help your career development. Your skill at technical writing will help you with both. Research translates well through many fields, and your lab notebooks will probably be excellent. Double majoring is not necessarily precluded by working full time through school--I did three years of a biology/Chinese degree while working 36-60 hours a week and maintained a B+ average at an academically rigorous school. It just means budgeting your time very well. Working second shift doesn't hurt either.

To help yourself in mathematics, maybe take a few more community college courses in math as you search for a school that will be a good fit.

Do you have a problem touching strangers through gloves? As a paramedic, I have many colleagues who never ever touch a patient without gloves on, and I have seen a few nurses do the same.
posted by skyl1n3 at 2:39 PM on August 8, 2011

I have a friend who worked in a pathology lab (reading slides etc) and really liked the work. He had a 4-year degree but I don't think he had a super-duper science background.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:44 PM on August 8, 2011

Have you considered epidemiology? There are certainly types of epi practice that are quite math heavy (biostatistics), but there are other aspects of epi that are focused on community health issues, environmental health, disaster planning, and so on. To work as an epidemiologist, you probably need an MPH (Masters in Public Health), but there are often jobs that are available at the BA level that work with epidemiologists that involve project planning, tracking, data integrity, and mapping, which is becoming huge for epidemiology practice.

You don't say where you are, but to find out more about this, consider contacting your local (or state) department of public health and speak to people about the work that they do. The divisions might have names like disease surveillance, food-borne outbreaks, disease registries, and so on.
posted by jasper411 at 2:50 PM on August 8, 2011

You could consider getting a biology degree and while doing so, get into doing a little research at the school. Finding and shadowing a student researcher won't be hard and would give you some insight into that end of the field.

To further what skyl1n3 said about med tech work, some hospitals will hire a bio major right into the lab and train them to be an MLS or MLT depending on a few factors (scientist vs tech.) If you're into growing cultures and/or not creeped out by being around that kind of stuff, it gets pretty interesting and in our lab it was ok to specialize and only do one section, like pathology samples or micro samples. I myself put in 4 years in a hospital lab as a lab assistantl.

Going in another direction, and this might be too much math, but Pharmacist is still at the pinnacle of female paid professions. Yes, math. Once past that however, there are jobs that you would thrive in, in respect to your strengths. A fine example were our ICU Pharmacists who had their mini pharmacy right on the floor with us. They rounded with the docs, were consistently consulted and routinely saved lives when things went south, just by being there as human encyclopedias: affirm dosages, confirm contraindications and know whether a suddenly needed drug would interact safely with whatever was currently running on that line, or if a new line was needed. They weren't magic, they just did these checks a thousand times a day and knew it by heart. Having that kind of knowledge base was a substantial asset to us and all the while they never touched a patient.
If that's a little too much drama in the workplace, there's still good money doing it for walgreens/target/etc. The public factor comes into play but the techs do the register and you'd just have to hit the consult window and go over the fine print before handing off the meds. Not a lot of contact?

Finally, how do you feel about working with the dead? (It might be a dumb question but hear me out.)
Medical Examiners, forensic scientists, autopsy technicians, etc- there are many levels to an ME's office and again pretty fascinating stuff if you can handle that side of the medical field. There are a lot of branches in this field allowing for specialties that would keep you at arms length from the dead, if direct work doesn't suit you but the idea of forensics does.

Good Luck : )
posted by MansRiot at 3:51 PM on August 8, 2011

Can you take some laboratory science classes at a community college? If you find that you enjoy it, you might think about further education as a pathology assistant.
posted by honeybee413 at 6:24 PM on August 8, 2011

I think public health is a great field, and I would suggest you generally consider looking at graduate degrees you can get online. Some of them are quite reasonably priced and flexible, and you can work while you're getting your degree and stay in your current hometown.

I like the suggestion about pharmacist too, that's a good one. Laboratory technician as well. For me, public health is much more appealing though, and it's a 'sleeper' career choice - I certainly wasn't aware of how cool it was when I was looking for ideas back in college. Let's see, what else can I come up with - oh, radiology tech would be a consideration, and possibly even nutritionist, hospital/ICU nutritionists do have to do some work directly with patients though on diet counseling, but a lot of it is giving written recommendations to the medical teams on proper diets, calories, etc.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:34 PM on August 8, 2011

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