What are some great overlooked jobs in the health industry?
December 1, 2020 10:39 AM   Subscribe

For people who are in the know about medical jobs, what are some great jobs that pay well, are in demand, and would be a good fit for someone with a strong background in chemistry?

I just earned my second degree in food science with chem minor, very strong gpa. Discovered that in the Pacific Northwest, as least, they are offering starting wages that I could have earned at Target. Sigh. So I am now exploring my other options which include nursing but I am realizing I am very unaware of health industry jobs. Things I am looking at right now: fast track bachelors of nursing, fast track BSN directly into a nurse practitioner, physician's asst, medical lab technician. Am I missing things that might pay $70,000 average or above and that I might be good at? I have a strong background in the lab. For those familiar with these jobs, how do you think my current options rank? As in what is the difference between an NP and a PA as far as duties, salary, etc?
posted by Foam Pants to Education (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend seeing what you can do for the BSN program first, before taking on higher levels on that ladder. What are the clinical requirements for the programs you've been looking into? What hard limits do you have for your own schedule? What have you done up to this point? Are you looking at dietician or something similar?
posted by RainyJay at 11:01 AM on December 1, 2020

Best answer: I've found explorehealthcareers.org to be a good resource for this kind of question.

Are you interested in doing patient care? If not, then something like being a med lab scientist might appeal to you. (It doesn't sound like you're a good fit for medical lab technician jobs: those are more at the associate's degree level.) There's information about clinical lab jobs here. You can find an accredited program here. Some hospitals have MLS training programs for students who already have a bachelors degree and a strong science background. Here's an example.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:07 AM on December 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Pharmacy (pharmacist would be 3-4 more years of education, pharmacy tech you might already be qualified for but it doesn't pay much), respiratory therapist, radiation therapist, imaging tech, sonographer, audiologist, PT, OT... I mean, there are so many health careers besides nursing! And most of them pay $70K+ after a couple of years.

But do you actually want to do patient care? Have you ever done it before? NP and PA are very patient-facing positions, your lab skills won't be that relevant.
posted by mskyle at 11:17 AM on December 1, 2020

Best answer: If you have a strong science background and aren't afraid of some physics I'd look into sonography.

There is super high demand - you can pretty much write your own ticket as to hours and locations. There's room for advancement if you add capabilities like cardiac/venous or obstetrics.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:20 AM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm an emergency physician/medical toxicologist at an academic medical center

With a BS, you'll only qualify for lab technician jobs

Nurse Practitioner and Physician's Assistant: Chemistry is relevant only in so far as two semesters of general chemistry and two semesters of organic chemistry are prerequisites for training in either field.

Ochem is the hardest prereq by far, and serves to winnow down the masses aspiring to become RNs, PAs, and NPs from those with the actual goods to pull it off. If you have a strong chem background that includes Ochem, you'll find organic chemistry far less a barrier than those w/o chem backgrounds

There's no fast track for becoming a nurse practitioner. NP programs last 3 years, and require a minimum of 5 years of nursing experience to quailify. So for NP, you're looking at a minimum of 8 years following however long it takes you to become an RN or LPN

PA programs are relatively fast track, in that they take only 2 years and allow for direct entry following completion of roughly 4 semesters of undergraduate science courses.

As others have suggested above, all of the "good" (read: interesting and a six-figure income) jobs involving chemistry and medicine require advanced and/or terminal degrees in a specific subfield of chemistry

Clinical chemistry is a subfield of pathology that involves the analysis of bioactive compounds and bodily fluids. All clinical chemists have PhDs in biochemistry

Medicinal chemistry involves drug research and development. If pharmacology is the applied right hand, MC is the theoretical left hand of creating new drugs. Medicinal chemists have PHds in organic chemistry.

There are at least a dozen different medical subfields that are mostly or entirely applied chemistry. But, again, for any of them you need to have a Phd or a termina degree in the relevant area of chemistry
posted by BadgerDoctor at 11:47 AM on December 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Agree with ArbitraryAndCapricious, Med lab sciences is a great fit. There is a distinction between a technician (associate degree) and technologist (bachelor of science). Although you can actually get a degree in Med lab sciences, we also hire a LOT of people with other bachelor’s degrees, particularly in more “esoteric” laboratories such as molecular or transplant. Depending on where you are and what you specialize in, you can usually make in the 70k range. With more experience and willingness to do jobs other people don’t want to do you can make low six figures.

There is a LOT of demand in this field, especially now with covid but before that too. I am a lab director for molecular diagnostics and also work in histocompatibility (transplant). Me mail me if you want more info.
posted by Missense Mutation at 12:10 PM on December 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Pathology assistant!!
posted by 8603 at 2:34 PM on December 1, 2020

Best answer: Anything regulatory/government. Amazing benefits, good pay without being clinical (necessarily), and a lot of interesting variety (e.g. a reviewer in one of the FDA Centers).

Alternately, is there a medical science nonprofit whose work you admire? If your academic qualifications are decent, the pay might not be stellar at first but can get there pretty quickly. Plus you get the fulfilling feelings of furthering passion work that you find important and valuable.

I left a job in the former category for one in the latter category about 12 years ago. As of about 2 years ago I finally hopped from meh salary to about $20K over your target range. And since nonprofit work is generally super flexible, I'm able to move about and live where I want to live to make my life outside of work more fulfilling.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:15 PM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How about infection prevention & control (IP&C) in a hospital?
posted by lulu68 at 7:21 PM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

With a food science background, registered dietitian?
posted by quercus23 at 9:53 PM on December 1, 2020

Seconding ultrasound, sonographers are in demand. Also consider working in industry in the healthcare field- med tech/diagnostics, Roche, Abbott, etc.
posted by sulaine at 7:40 PM on December 2, 2020

Response by poster: I should maybe clarify that I realize that my food science degree really can't get me anything worthwhile in the medical industry without some extra schooling. Also, food science doesn't really emphasize nutrition. It's more about manufacturing food that is consistant, meets consumer expectations, and won't kill them (lol). Dietician is actually very far from what I am trained to do and doesn't interest me.

I am a couple of hours outside of Portland and I think these are my best options.

1. Entering a medical lab scientist program. I think I am a strong candidate for this and I only need one extra class, immunology, to apply. Currently, I am working as a lab tech running PCR-based covid testing so I even have some applicable experience. Cons: the pay may not be that great. Pros: I am already pretty good at that type of work and it's a program that I can apply for right now and get done quickly.

2. OHSU fast-track to bachelor's of nursing. I would need to take a genetics class and a full year of anatomy to apply. Very hard to get in but my GPA is the average of their typical class, so, I think I have a chance. Cons: a lot of class time to apply and no guarantee I will get in. Pros: If I get in, it's a quick program that ends in a well-paying job that can take me wherever I want to be and it's in high demand.

3. Physician asst school. Again, genetics and a year of anatomy AND I need to book a full year of working in the health industry, pref. direct patient care. My GPA is above the OHSU class average, so, if I can get a decent phlebotomy gig I might be able to get in. Cons: The schooling plus the certification to get the work to apply will suck and then it's a few years on top of that. I am not young, time is maybe too much of an issue? Pros: very well paying, very versatile, well respected career.

4. OHSU fast track BSN where they roll you right into a nurse practitioner program. This would be a long shot and a ton of time and I think it just is not feasible to think of as practical.

I'm sorry if I am thread sitting and being all angsty. This decision has been occupying my brain for months now. Nothing like sitting on your butt at home during a pandemic to make obsessive thinking a hobby. I went back to school for a career that was science-based, paid well, and was well respected and having the job market that was previously offering all of this to food science graduate suddenly fall apart has been a huge letdown. My close friends all began med school this year and I feel like I should have joined them in the health industry. It certainly meets all my criteria as a worthy profession. OK, thread-sitting rant OVER.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:15 AM on December 3, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you for you well-informed opinion into all of my motivations and personality traits. Since volunteering is not something that someone with my obligations to family and finances can do, I had to do some soul searching without it and decided that you are totally right that I should not go into health care and deserve a dead end job because I didn't express my one and only true desire is to serve sick individuals with every once of my being. Thanks for opening my eyes.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:22 PM on December 3, 2020

It looks like my previous comment came off in a way I didn't intend, so apologies for that! I did not intend to denigrate you, your motivation, or your personality. I think it's great you're exploring options in healthcare. It sounds like you've got some financial constraints and I hear that that's stressful and a real obstacle for you.

Here's what I meant to communicate: There are two major groups of solid, well-paying jobs you're considering here, and you can definitely successfully retrain for any of them with your background. You can narrow it down by thinking about whether you'd prefer patient care or more of a lab setting. I know that work is work and we do it to make money, but it sure is a lot easier to do something 40 hours a week if it's a good fit for your personality.

People who prefer working with people can have a great career as a PA, nurse, physical therapist, audiologist, etc. People who prefer lab work can have a great career in non-patient-centric positions, like pathology and medical science. Both can have excellent, well-regarded, well-paid careers in healthcare, many of which have been listed above by other commenters, but they have very different daily experiences of their jobs. So it's good to know which day-to-day experience you prefer.

Best wishes and good luck with your career transition!
posted by cnidaria at 5:41 PM on December 3, 2020

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