What's a realistic career direction for me? Mom in 30s w/ MPH, ADHD
November 18, 2017 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I earned a Master's of Public Health (MPH) in my early 20s. It wasn't a good fit for me, and I've struggled to find career direction (see below for details). Now in my early 30s, married, and the mother of a young child, I'm concerned about how to make better career decisions going forward, to help provide stability for my family. What options do you see for me? I appreciate your thoughts!

I realized during and after my MPH degree that I am WEAK in the following areas:
-research (not so much weak, but completely uninterested)
-organization, planning, logistics, details. I have clinical ADHD and find these things physically painful.
-sitting still at a computer and being sedentary
-leading a program
-staying indoors all day
-anything mechanical

I am strong in these areas:
-anything interpersonal (public speaking, one-on-one, meetings, groups, teaching)
-anything having to do with emotions, crisis, suicide prevention/intervention (I've been a coordinator of a suicide hotline for several years now)
-being creative, charismatic, engaging, comforting, inclusive, communicative, improvisational, listening

What I would like in a job:
-$40k+ salary
-interacting directly with people with the "masks" off- life stories, emotions, or just genuine communication
-minimal detail-work. I can write case notes, but dealing with an onslaught of e-mails and logistics is my personal nightmare.
-flexible hours or a variety of schedule options (since my child is young/I want to be there for her after school when she's older)

There are my current thoughts on career direction. Please weigh in.
1. Go back to school to become a licensed mental health counselor (there's a cheap state program near us, and I could continue working part time at the suicide hotline), and seek employment at the county crisis center which is open 24/7 and has a variety of shifts available (since I enjoy crisis work). Salary would probably start in the low 40s. It is indoors and sedentary, but that's more bearable if it's people-work.

2. become a preschool teacher. I know I'd make even less money than #1, but would at least not have to sit in an office all day and I love kids- plus if it's a church-based school, I'd get to talk about faith, which is my other passion, and play outside sometimes, which I also love.

3. get into a fully-funded PhD program in public health (there's one near us), learn the quantitative and epidemiology skills I blew off when I was doing my master's, do research on public mental health, then work at a research institute, for the government, or in academia and make $70k+ (standard for our area) while my soul slowly dies since these activities are the opposite of me (but the schedule is family-friendly)

4. self-educate myself in public health research and pass myself off as a researcher so I can get a "big girl" job and make more money as above.

Please help me think through the pros/cons, and/or suggest other options. I have a history of impulsive career choices and want to do better for me and my family. I've worked with a career coach and it didn't help very much. If you need more details on anything, just ask. Thank you for your thoughts!
posted by a constant satellite to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't recommend #3. The job is stressful, you're not interested in it, and you typically need to work more than 40 hours a week. If you work 30 while your child is in school, another 10+ need to be made up after bedtime. Not sleeping or taking a break gets old even when you're in love with your work.
posted by Kalmya at 10:21 AM on November 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Have you thought about some of the health fields? Something like a physical therapy assistant or even an X-ray tech. You’d be up and around and interacting with people.
posted by MadMadam at 10:21 AM on November 18, 2017

#1. You sound as if you want to do it and would be good at it. You sound as if you’re the sort of person to make things happen, so it would purpose you in this area and lead to other charitable work akin to your hotline.
posted by einekleine at 10:25 AM on November 18, 2017

Hi! It seems like someone with your skills would have absolutely THRIVED in this public health program, called Community-Oriented Public Health Practice, at the University of Washington. Public health isn't all data and office work, and some people I know in a big local health department are doing the kind of work you seem to be interested in. Memail me for details if you're comfortable saying where you are?

Other than that, I'd say #1. That might even position you to do mental health counseling in a public health clinic, where what you did take from the MPH program would also be useful.
posted by centrifugal at 10:32 AM on November 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do not consider option #3. I work in policy research and if you hate math and program direction you will loathe the kinds of work we do. You really don't need to force yourself to like research work.

I can think of a number of jobs that meet your criteria that would not require to get extra education:

Child care licensor (Visiting child care centers and homes to ensure they are meeting health and safety standards. Gets you out of the house and traveling around, almost no analysis, usually state jobs that might be willing to negotiate a reduced schedule).

Family home visitor (Working with families in their homes to help them improve health and parenting. Usually these are state or county jobs, usually amenable to flexible schedules.)

CLASS observer (Going into schools and child cares to assess quality. Out of the house, flexible scheduling, usually available through universities or research groups.)

Reading corps tutor (My children's school district has people who travel between schools and work one on one with kids who need extra help with reading. Pay is okay, but the schedule is only during the school day and over the school year.)

In your situation, I would narrow my search to state or local government, school districts, and universities. Those are the places that will have the kinds of direct service jobs you want, with higher likelihood of flexible schedule so.
posted by scantee at 10:57 AM on November 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

What about facilitation, public consultation or community engagement? You might really enjoy interacting with all kinds of people and making sure everyone has a voice, and it involves more interaction (although still some sitting behind a computer for planning and reporting).
posted by bighappyhairydog at 11:13 AM on November 18, 2017

Look in to nursing. It's a career where you can have tons of meaningful people contact, and there are roles where the amount of administrative/organizational type work is pretty limited. There are a lot of academic programs where you can get a nursing degree in one year if you already have a bachelor's degree (and the science prerequisites) complete. There is a lot of flexibility to work in different roles in different phases of your life or if you get bored and want to do something new. And a nurse with a public health background would probably have even more options than typical.
posted by mjcon at 11:34 AM on November 18, 2017

Look in to nursing.

Psychiatric nursing might also be something to look into. Around here, there's a shortage, and the county's crisis unit always seems to be in need of them. It's also more money than counseling.
posted by lazuli at 12:00 PM on November 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

You sound like you’d enjoy being a community health worker. The page I linked describes a training program that is novel, which leads me to think your MPH might be enough to qualify you in most places.
posted by lakeroon at 4:19 PM on November 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I used to run a program where we hired and employed Community Health Workers ... your experience would be perfect for it! But bear in mind that part of the concept is that the CHW is *of the community* as well as for the community, so think about the linguistic/cultural competency aspect of this as you approach the idea.
posted by mccxxiii at 4:56 PM on November 18, 2017

Are there any health focused non-profits near you? They hire MPHs sometimes and roles can really vary. You may have to read job postings carefully or even interview to find the right fit but it's worth exploring.
posted by typecloud at 8:35 AM on November 19, 2017

Thank you everyone who answered. It was helpful to read your ideas. I will keep thinking about it. If I were to make a change, it would be to get a Master's in Therapy- but I'm not ready for such a leap. It's just such a huge investment. I think I will work on mastering my role here, and addressing some of my ADHD issues with organization and priorities. Then perhaps my options will open up and I'll be able to eventually take a position of more responsibility, here or elsewhere, without dealing with the constant overwhelm and discomfort of my ADHD symptoms (and with a higher salary). I'm fortunate to be in such a family-friendly position, so I wouldn't want to leave it rashly. I will keep everything you wrote in mind- thank you!
posted by a constant satellite at 4:42 PM on November 21, 2017

« Older Tell me about being an independent contractor (US)   |   What's a good name for PDF rendering app with... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.