What's my next move?
May 18, 2012 1:36 PM   Subscribe

At a work-life crossroads: 23 years old, college grad, getting laid off, about to get married and buy a house, struggling to find the next job, in school but thinking about going back for more degree(s). Seeking general advice on my next steps.

In March 2011, I graduated with a BA in Political Science with good grades, making Phi Beta Kappa and a couple other academic honors at a decent university. I had intended to go to graduate school for a MLIS, applied to the one school that wouldn't require me to move, and got accepted with a really poor financial aid offer. I felt increasing doubt that this program was the right path for me over the coming months and ultimately decided not to go. I felt hugely relieved when I emailed the school to let them know I wouldn't be attending, and have not regretted that choice since then.

I am getting married to my 25 year old partner in October. We're also in the process of trying to buy a house in our area. He works in tech/programming, and recently got a well-paying job in addition to a lucrative contracting gig, both of which have potential to lead to bigger and better things for him career-wise. Currently he can afford to support both of us indefinitely, and it appears as though his earning potential will only increase. He is smart and extremely talented, and potential employers seem to recognize this.

Through college I worked in a service position in a large hospital to support myself. After graduating and finding myself uncertain about my next move, I transferred to a high patient contact, non-clinical position in the hospital's ER. I immediately loved the fast-paced and unpredictable environment. I've been in this position for about 9 months, and like it so much that I am taking an EMT class with the intention of one day entering paramedic school.

My hospital is laying off about a third of the employees in my department due to a variety of financial problems. Because these lay offs are completely by seniority, I took a voluntary separation package because I would have been laid off had I not. This package will amount to about $5500-6000 before taxes in payments to me within the next month or so. I am released from my job on May 25.

For 3-4 weeks I have been trying desperately to find the next job. I have applied to over 50 positions, the vast majority of which are similar to what I have done in the past or what I do now (though many are in clinic settings and not in emergency or urgent care settings). This generated me 6 interviews. Two of those interviews were this week and I have not heard back, but am not optimistic based on the apparent volume of applicants they received. The rest of the employers passed.

I am increasingly concerned and frustrated by my inability to get a similar entry-level customer service job in a medical setting. This has not been an issue for me when job searching in the past. Each interview has seemed to go very well, to the point of several people hinting that they would be making me an offer, but they have ultimately passed. I suspect many of these jobs are opting for applicants with more extensive experience who will be more likely to stay in the position for years. While this is completely logical and reasonable, I'm not sure how to overcome the perception that I will only stay at the job in question until something better comes along (I have told each employer that I am looking for something permanent, which is true).

I feel that I cannot simply wait until I get my EMT certificate (in June) to look for a job in that field, because those jobs are excessively competitive in my area. While I will be (and am) looking for opportunities in that field, I don't feel like I can count on something working out right away. I am hoping/planning to start volunteering soon after I get my certificate, which is easier to break into, so I will hopefully be able to start gaining experience and improving my skills in that way.

My fiance and I have somewhat discussed the possibility of me going back to school if I can't find a job. He told me he thought I should go to medical school a couple months ago. He isn't really and hasn't been on board with me being an EMT; he doesn't like the element of danger sometimes involved and feels like it's a waste of my academic abilities. He doesn't understand why I would choose to do that when I could do something requiring more skill and presenting more challenging. I think he is selling that career path very short, but at the same time it is true that the EMT class is not an intellectual challenge and EMT level-care involves much less than I thought it would.

I'm somewhat interested in the possibility of going back to school to start a pre-med track. I would be very interested in it if it weren't for the fact that I'm concerned about the impact the years of study and potential moves required on the rest of my life. I'm sort of scared I will start down that path and wind up unable to finish with large amounts of debt accrued (I currently have no debt of any kind) and/or that the huge commitment will put a lot of strain on my relationship. My fiance says he would support me emotionally and financially if that's really what I want to do, but I'm just very intimidated by everything required at the moment.

I'm in contact with my former university's advising department to set up an appointment to ask a lot of questions about options for going back.

I also do freelance Spanish/English translating and interpreting, and made $5k or so before taxes in the 8 months I did this full time last year, but I don't want to do this as my primary career for a variety of reasons. My language abilities have generated some interest from potential employers, but evidently not enough to tip the skills in my favor.

So, MeFites, I'm looking for advice from the older and wiser (or just wiser, as the case may be), on how to sort out these issues. I'm not sure how to approach making decisions on all these things right now. Do I need to just work on getting the next job right now? And what if I continue working this hard on applications and still don't have a job in 6 months? Should I seriously consider going back to school for premed? Should I throw all my energy into looking for EMT positions and hoping I find something against the odds? Is there some other way I should be thinking about this whole thing?

Thank you in advance for any advice!
posted by wansac to Work & Money (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Why don't you continue with your plans to become an EMT if you like that job, and find a survival job to pay the bills in the meantime. Even though you don't have to pay the rent, survival in this case may mean emotional survival, since your fiance is not particularly happy with your career choice (but it seems to interest you).

At this stage of your life, you really are able to explore different things which in turn may lead to different paths. Being an EMT is by no means a dead end.

Speaking from experience (I had friends where he, a brilliant legal scholar, thought that her job as a pharmacy clerk was unsuitable, so they broke up), you really want to make sure your fiance is supportive emotionally. If he is not, you need to have that survival job to reassure yourself that you are paying your way - he won't be able to use his support as leverage against your dreams.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:50 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like working in medicine in some way does interest you, right? You said that EMT level care involves less than you thought it would, and that if finance and years of study weren't an issue, you'd be very interested in pre-med. Have you considered nursing? Even a 4 year BScN is shorter than med school, and there are post-baccalaureate programs that may be as little as 2 years long. I've discovered that there are more opportunities for nurses than you might think--like management work, or work as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, etc. etc.

I'm in a similar place to you in some ways (so not wiser at all, and only slightly older). I worked in a medical clinic for about three years, and surprised myself by loving it and wanting to continue to work in health care in some way. I'm planning to go back to school next year and nursing is one thing I'm considering. I've taken an evening anatomy course and done some other things to explore the specific field I'm interested in. (The equivalent, basically, of EMT for emergent care work.) In the meantime I've been working as a temp. So I haven't got this sorted out either, but what's worked for me so far:

Explore possibilities that might not have occured to you before in the career area you're thinking about.
Get yourself employed in the short term, even if that means temping.
Do whatever you can to get your feet wet. (Sounds like, with the EMT and the plans to volunteer, you are already on top of this.)

Good luck! I think we're in a pretty typical early/mid 20s state, and it's probably something that will pass. And if you ever feel the need for a quarterlife crisis buddy, MeMail me!
posted by snorkmaiden at 2:16 PM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

I did EMT 1 in a semester as a 17 year-old High School Senior. It's not challenging. It is dangerous and not very well-paying (unless you want to also be a fire-fighter, in which case, bonzai!!!!)

If you like working in a medical arena, and you don't want to go through years of school (and I totally support that idea) then look into Nursing, Physical, Occupational Therapy, X-ray technician, Ultra-sound, etc. Most of these are offered through Community Colleges at very fair prices.

If you really like Nursing, and want to do doctor type stuff, you can then go to Nurse Anesthetist or Nurse Practitioner. All the money of a doctor, without the crippling student loan debt.

Keep hacking away. The job market sucks for a lot of folks right now. Broaden your pool, have you thought about Pharmaceutical Sales? Or just working for a pharmaceutical company? That's an interesting career path too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:18 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think you're in a terrific position to go into a career in health care. Health care is big, and it's not an MD or nothing. There are a bunch of nurses around here (on metafilter) who do interesting and important work -- and my first thought was that you should get your nursing prerequisites taken care of while you do EMT volunteering. You should be able to do the prereqs in two or three semesters, and many community colleges offer nursing programs for not too much debt. Being an EMT and having hospital experience puts you in a good position to get a job once you got your RN.

I'm leery of all the med school debt you'll accrue, as well as the years of school. If you like patient contact, take anatomy and physiology, do the EMT stuff, and keep applying for jobs. I think your future sounds bright.

Agree with KokuRyu that your soon-to-be husband needs to get on board with figuring out how to support you, and what that will entail, financially and emotionally. If you think what you're doing is interesting, it's not a waste of your brain.
posted by purpleclover at 2:28 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm somewhat in the same boat (minus the engaged part), and though I don't feel particularly qualified to give advice, I wanted to empathize with you and give some feedback anyway.

I agree with KokuRyu - focus on finding a job while you finish obtaining your EMT certificate. The EMT course would not only keep you occupied, but I assure you, it will prove beneficial regardless of whether you choose to enter a pre-med program. Being an EMT speaks volumes about your ability to work under pressure, and that will stand out on your resume.

I hesitate to encourage you to take pre-med courses because it sounds a little like your boyfriend's disapproval of EMT work is part of why you're considering that path. Like other posters mentioned, there are other careers in health care that involve a high-paced environment and patient contact. Nursing sounds like a good fit for you (I say that as someone who nursing ISN'T a good fit for, haha) but also consider respiratory therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, radiology, or ultrasonography; with your experiences in health care so far, you'd be a strong candidate for any of those programs. You'd most likely have to take pre-reqs no matter which the track you follow, but make sure to get some volunteering or shadowing experiences to test the waters a bit.

Lastly, I hope that your fiance learns to support you unconditionally, because it's a little alarming that he seems to think being an EMT is below you even though that's something you're genuinely interested in. Your satisfaction with the work you choose to do or pursue is the priority here.
posted by constellations at 2:53 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

By the way, I hope the last part of my comment didn't come across as overly critical of your fiance; as a fellow 20-something who is trying to change careers and find her way in this shitty economy, I get frustrated with people who seem to think they're in a position to judge my actions or decisions, and from what you describe, it seems like he's doing that. My point is, he needs to be on your side during such a confusing time in your life, and his support shouldn't come with a caveat (ex. that you should be pursuing work that is more intellectually challenging).
posted by constellations at 3:03 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've discovered that there are more opportunities for nurses than you might think--like management work, or work as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, etc. etc.

I was definitely thinking as I read your post that you sound like a great nurse practitioner, but if you want to be a doctor, be a doctor. 23 is absolutely not too late or anything. You're a BABY. Don't let yourself feel like because your personal life is settled (house, engagement), your career has to be equally settled.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:20 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is paramedic training out? I get the impression their scope of practice is quite a bit broader than that of an EMT.

I've been reading that the job market for nurses is actually pretty tight these days, a change from the nurse shortage of a few years ago. It might be different if you weren't set on clinical nursing. Also, advanced practice nurses may have a bigger role as the health care market changes, so it may be worth going in with that end in mind. Similarly, perhaps being a PA would give you the medical action you like without the life-sucking elements of committing to medical school.

Lots and lots of docs are bitter about the practice environment these days. Make sure you have a plan and realistic expectations if you go that route.
posted by lakeroon at 4:54 PM on May 18, 2012

I personally wouldn't tell anyone to go to medical school right now. Unless you are the type that knew since you were a child that you wanted to be a physician- it sounds like you aren't, it will likely be a long slog for more and more headaches. There are lots of great jobs in health care that don't involve being a doc. Someone as young as you, look into physician assistants. They get to do a lot of the things that make my job cool without the same level of responsibility, both emotional and financial. The hours are predictable and the pay is pretty good. Nurse practitioners have a similar scope of practice but the time involved to become one is significantly more. Both tracks are becoming increasingly competitive but it sounds like you are a reasonable candidate.
posted by karlos at 4:51 AM on May 19, 2012

I don't know that anyone has touched on this yet so i'll put it out there. The best economic models assume that labor is mobile. If you want a job in the medical field and there aren't many jobs available in your area than you need to consider moving to a different area where the job outlook is better or taking a different job in your area.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:03 AM on May 19, 2012

I'm returning 12 hours later to say that I think I sounded too harsh about your fiance. I'm sure he's a swell guy and thinks you're too smart for EMT stuff in a totally flattering way.

My understanding about PA programs (and even nursing) is that actual experience in a health field is like gold. The programs are concerned about letting people in who look good on paper but don't want to actually, you know, deal with sick or old people.
posted by purpleclover at 8:09 AM on May 19, 2012

First: Sort out why you feel entitled to a job for life.

Have you considered becoming a Physician Assistant instead of an EMT? It is an 18 month programme and pays very well into the future. You will be able to do much of what a doctor does and will probably get more pay for better work and travel in the future.

On the house front, don't buy a house. I would also take a breather from job-hunting until you have taken a real look at every kind of medical programme, including EMT and decide what to apply for and make an application. Focus on looking for work that will bring you there.
posted by parmanparman at 12:41 PM on May 19, 2012

I just wanted to chime in and say that you shouldn't buy a house yet. Basically everything about your situation points to that being an unwise decision at the moment. Leave as many options open as possible for the next couple of years, at least until you're settled into married life. There is nothing to be gained from rushing into big financial commitments when you are, as others have pointed out, SO young with so many options and your whole life ahead of you! In particular, don't let your partner pressure you into commitments (house, med school) that you're not comfortable with.

Also, some more general advice: be prepared for a possibly challenging next couple of years, and try not to let it phase you. The early- to mid-20's are kind of uncomfortable and nerve-wracking for most everyone, I'd say (actually, my entire 20's were like that). Have confidence in yourself and remember that it will get easier, and that you're NOT expected to have everything all sorted out by the time you're 25 or even 30.
posted by désoeuvrée at 7:48 AM on May 20, 2012

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