Considering a career change to a healthcare occupation
July 22, 2018 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about doing a career 180 to a healthcare profession. Did you (or someone you know) make a career change from a desk/office job to the healthcare field? How did it work out for you? I’m especially interested in hearing from those who switched to speech pathology or occupational therapy, but welcome advice from other healthcare professionals too.

Some background: I’m in my early thirties and live in the U.S. I have an undergraduate degree in the social sciences and a master’s degree in applied social science research. All the jobs I’ve held have been just fine—nice coworkers, reasonable managers, typical 9-5 hours. But I leave work most days feeling like my job doesn’t really matter, despite the fact that I’ve almost always worked for non-profits whose mission I support. I spend a lot of time alone in my cube, formatting spreadsheets or contributing to reports that are rarely read and almost never acted upon. I’ve looked at other job openings in my field, but the position descriptions leave me skeptical that it wouldn’t be more of the same. In general, I’m having doubts as to whether I can spend the next 30 years at a desk job, primarily interacting with a computer for 90% of my working hours.

In past jobs, some of my favorite responsibilities have involved working with people individually or in small groups to help them develop a skill or learn something new. I also enjoy doing practical tasks that have a personal and direct impact on others. And now that I’m in my thirties, it’s increasingly important to me to have a career that offers long-term stability, strong job prospects, and geographic flexibility. Some scheduling flexibility would be great too.

All this has led me to think seriously about changing to a career in healthcare. I’m particularly interested in speech-language pathology and occupational therapy. Both seem to offer a significant amount of autonomy and creativity, along with the potential to work with the same patients over weeks or months. I’ve shadowed some OTs and my mom was an OTA, so I have a fair idea of what OT work might be like. Nursing has also crossed my mind. It sounds like there are a wide range of nursing opportunities, but also more potential for burnout.

I could use some help thinking through whether a career change to healthcare would be a good idea for me, or if I’m just suffering from a case of “the grass is always greener.”

So, if you or someone you know switched to healthcare after working at a traditional office job, I would love to hear your advice. (It would be especially great to hear from anyone in SLP, OT, or nursing, but I welcome thoughts from other practitioners too!) How did you decide which healthcare career was right for you? Did the career change meet your expectations? Are there things you miss about your office job? Overall, would you say it was a worthwhile change?
posted by oiseau to Work & Money (7 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I did this. Switched from desk monkey to being an audiologist, which is a similar track as SLP. It’s totally doable.

For speech you will have to do some post bacc work before you go to grad school. I took two years to do it while still working full time. SLP school is two years. The demand is huge. There are a ton of different routes you can go. Finding a job is easy. Every SLP I know loves their work.

I went to the #1 SLP school in the country. But if you’re not looking to do research, going to a highly ranked program is totally unnecessary. Any ASHA accredited program will work just fine. You should go to the one that is cheapest for you and will let you graduate with as little debt as possible.

For me it was a very worthwhile change. I hated the desk job. There are aspects of audiology I don’t like (mostly dealing with insurance and stuff, which is less of an issue for SLPs), but overall I’m much happier doing this. I recommend it. It’s a smart and safe career change.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:37 PM on July 22, 2018

I went back to school at 29 to become a doctor after doing journeyman software development for awhile. Now an emergency doc. It was an exquisitely hard transition to pull off, and took a solid decade. The end result is great and I miss nothing about my former life, but medical school and residency were excruciating. Would not recommend the medical training process at all, especially for someone who is older.

Nursing and some of the allied health professions are somewhat kinder and gentler than medicine, or at least that’s my perception, so there might be more reward and less torture to the training process in those fields. Plus you’re only out a couple of years as opposed to 7 or more. And nursing, SLP etc make huge contributions to patient care — you certainly don’t have to become a doc to make a difference.
posted by killdevil at 5:26 PM on July 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

To add on to oiseau's question, can anyone speak to the funding situation - either in general, or how you did it, especially if you became on SLP?
posted by the thought-fox at 5:49 PM on July 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I became a BCBA (board certified behavior analyst) after a career in retail/sales. I absolutely love my job, the process (especially with a masters like yours) wasn’t horrible- you can work in the field while finishing coursework- and the job prospects are limitless. Memail me if you have questions. I seriously love going to my main job every day, do consulting work on the side (that I love!) for more than I made in sales, and do supervision for even more fun (and income).
posted by sorrygottago at 6:20 PM on July 22, 2018

In general there is not funding for SLPs. Where I am, each SLP gets about one semester covered while they TA. My understanding is that even this is generous.

You should apply to a bunch of places on the off chance one of them has funding opportunities, but you should go into it assuming you’d have to borrow the money.

You’ll likely be able to do it only borrowing federal, which means you’d also be eligible for income based repayment and public service forgivenesses.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:29 PM on July 22, 2018

I went to nursing school in my thirties and I highly recommend it. Nursing (depending somewhat on what state you live in) is a well paid job that requires less training than some of the specialties you're considering that you clock out of at the end of the day. You can really do a ton of different kinds of work with an RN license, although you'll likely have to pay your dues doing inpatient or something else hard first.

I find my current roles (part time RN case manager and part time home hospice nurse) very satisfying, with a lot of autonomy but also collaboration with physicians and other providers. And I love working with the patients.
posted by latkes at 8:57 PM on July 22, 2018

I went to medical school in my late 20s after an undergrad in a social science field and working in social science research for several years. I had wanted a more hands-on role and to be more immediately useful to the people i was working with. It was exactly the right decision for me and I have not regretted it for an instant, although the field does come with its own substantial drawbacks and annoyances. The only thing I miss about having a desk job is that time off is much less flexible when you have to block your patient schedule 6 weeks in advance to take a day off.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 6:04 AM on July 23, 2018

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