Exploring a Health Career
Importance of Exploring Careers
While you may feel 100% certain of your career choice, college is a time for exploration and developing not only a greater understanding of your prospective career choice, but also a greater understanding of yourself. The website Explore Health Careers, along with our career profiles listed on the right sidebar, are great resources to learn more about various healthcare careers. Additionally, self-reflective questions, an introductory class, and/or shadowing professionals are great ways to explore yourself and possible career options, as your interests and goals may change during your time as an undergraduate!
Enroll in SCM 101
SCM 101 - Introduction to Health Profession Careers - is also a great way to learn more about a number of different health professions and which one(s) may be a good fit for your interests, skills, and personal goals. This course is typically offered during spring quarter, and is a 1 unit, Credit/No Credit course. For a more detailed description of SCM 101, visit our "Courses" webpage.
Reflective Questions to Ask Yourself
Asking yourself these questions is an important step in determining if a career in healthcare, and which health career, is a right fit for you:
1. How much do I wish to deal directly with people?
A nurse, dental hygienist, or occupational therapist will have much more direct contact with people than a medical laboratory technologist, pathologist, or surgeon. Are you emotionally able to deal with a wide variety of people? Have you chosen a field that matches your personality type?
2. Am I comfortable studying science?
All health profession careers have minimum grade requirements in the science prerequisites.
3. Am I prepared to enter an area where I will have to spend time and effort keeping up with the developments in my field?
New developments in research continue to change and evolve how health care is practiced. If you are not willing to continue studying throughout your career, long after you have passed your board exams and earned your license, then you will not be a competent health care provider.
4. Am I comfortable in a health care setting?
The greatest health care needs are in inner city neighborhoods and rural areas. Some students fail to anticipate the effects of spending much of their life in the company of the sick, disabled or dying people. With the aging of the American population, much of your work may be with geriatric patients. With this in mind, are you prepared to work in a variety of settings with people from varying socioeconomic levels?
5. Am I a team player?
Health care is increasingly a group activity where a successful outcome depends upon each member of a medical team performing his/her specific function.
6. What lifestyle do I envision?
Different specialties have varying levels of responsibility. Some health care careers include many emergencies and long hours. Do you wish to deal with life and death situations? Do you want to have a family? A career that involves long hours or high stress leaves you less time and energy for family life and leisure activities. Think about your values and research carefully the lifestyle that your chosen career will entail.
Shadowing and Informational Interviewing
Shadowing professionals and doing informational interviewing is a great way to learn more about prospective careers. The more professionals you can talk to, the better. It’s great to get a balance of talking to both new and seasoned professionals, professionals who work in different settings (i.e., hospital, clinic, private practice), and professionals who are both satisfied and dissatisfied with their career choice. Listening objectively to all these perspectives will help you to better understand your fit within various fields!
- Explore careers in the health professions and clarify your career goals.
- Discover employment, shadowing, and volunteer opportunities that are not advertised.
- Expand your professional network.
- Build confidence in your interviewing skills.
- Access the most up-to-date career information.
- Identify your personal strengths and weaknesses.
Step 2: Identify professionals to contact for an informational interview in an occupation of interest. Consider referrals from networking, Cal Poly alumni, Pre-Health Career Advisors, or cold call based on your research.
Step 3: Contact and schedule an appointment for an informational interview with a professional who is currently employed in a field of interest.
Step 4: Upon meeting the individual, ask him/her/them the questions you have prepared (see sample interview questions below).
Step 5: Write a recount of the questions asked and responses given during the informational interview.
Step 6: Send a thank you note to the individual interviewed.
Step 7: File your gathered information for future reference and possible use as a contact.
- Obtain information about your career field and the skills needed to perform tasks effectively.
- Learn how you will fit into potential work settings.
- Make personal contacts throughout the health field.
- Become aware of the needs throughout the healthcare field and the realities of employment.
- Gain confidence talking with professionals in a low-stress environment.
- Learn about various field specialties.
- Ask for 20-30 minutes of the person's time to conduct the informational interview.
- Do at least three informational interviews with different providers so that you have a broad information base.
- Never ask for a job. Set up an informational interview before there is an advertised opening in your area of interest.
- Dress as you would for a job interview.
- Research the field and position before doing the informational interview. If you are informed, you will be able to ask more intelligent and relevant questions.
- Carry a small notebook and pen.
- Refer to your list of prepared questions; stay on track, but allow for spontaneous discussion.
- Ask the individual for his/her business card.
- Before leaving, ask for suggestions of other professionals who may be helpful to you and ask permission to use his/her name when contacting these professionals.
- On a typical day in this position, what do you do?
- How well did your college experience prepare you for this job?
- What courses have proved to be the most valuable to you in your work?
- What training or education is required for this type of work?
- What personal qualities and abilities are important to being successful at this job?
- What part of this job do you find most satisfying? Most challenging?
- How did you get your job?
- How would you describe the working atmosphere and the people with whom you work?
- How is the economy affecting this industry?
- How much demand is there for people in this occupation?
- What are the major qualifications for success in this occupation?
- What entry level jobs or volunteer/shadowing opportunities would you recommend for learning if this is the right field for me?
- What are the salary ranges for various levels in the field?
- How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?
- What special advice would you give a person entering this field?
- What kind of experience, paid or unpaid, would you recommend to anybody pursuing a career in this field?
- From your perspective, what are the problems you see most often working in this field?
- If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why or why not?
- With the information you have about my education, skills, and experience, what other fields or jobs would you suggest I research further before I make a final decision?
- Would you mind taking a look at my resume? Do you have any suggestions for improvement?
Preparing for professional programs is a long process. The most important thing is that you have the strongest possible application when it comes time to apply.
NOTE: The following four year timeline is only a guide. Depending on your chosen profession, your entrance exam and application period may require a different timeline.
- Join the health professions Poly Learn site to find out about health profession opportunities and have access to additional resources! It is our primary mode of communication.
- Talk with an academic advisor about selecting courses
- Visit the Pre-Health Professions Peer Advisors in Bldg. 53, Room 211 during walk-in hours
- Become familiar with pre-requisites
- Concentrate on getting A's and B's in your courses
- Start researching information about your health professions
- Consider taking SCM 101: Intro to Health Professions offered once per year
- Begin developing mentoring relationships with both faculty and professionals in the field
- Seek opportunities to volunteer, shadow a health professional, and/or identify research opportunities on campus
- Join a health professions club
- During summer months, begin gaining health profession and/or community service experience
- Concentrate on maintaining a good academic record
- Explore professional schools' application process and specifics of a competitive applicant
- Visit the Pre-Health Professions Peer Advisors in Bldg. 53, Room 211 during walk-in hours
- Continue gaining health profession related and relevant community service experience
- Continue researching professions through job shadowing, informal interviewing, the internet, professional associations, etc...
- Put yourself on a BUDGET and keep credit card debt at a minimum!
- Continue fostering mentoring relationships with faculty and professionals in your field of interest
- Consider study abroad, research and/or other summer possibilities
- Speak with a health professions advisor
- Check dates of admissions tests (register early!)
- Check application deadlines for schools
- Decide whom to ask for letters of reference
- Form a support/study group for entrance exams
- Begin personal statement essay(s) for application
- Visit professional schools during sponsored visitation days
- Plan summer possibilities early
- Examine and save for application costs for summer/fall (application fees, interview attire, travel, lodging)
- Attend an application workshop
- Request letters of reference from faculty/professionals
- Take prep course/practice exams and create a STUDY plan
- Continue revising personal statement for application
- Have all prerequisites completed before taking admission test
- Take the standardized admissions test (This is discipline-specific).
- Attend an application workshop if you have not done so already.
- Finalize personal statement essays- Have final draft critiqued - THIS IS A MUST!!
- Consider school choices
- Obtain an official transcript after grades have posted for Spring.
- Send thank you letters to those who wrote letters of evaluation for you
- Create an account and open a Centralized Application (if available) for your health profession schools.
- Request that official transcripts be mailed to the individual schools or have sent to the centralized application service (This is discipline-specific).
- Complete your application. Print copy and check for typos.
- Submit error-free applications early in application process to centralized application service/individual schools (This is discipline-specific).
- Speak with your health professions advisor
- Complete supplemental (secondary) applications and send directly to schools
- Arrange for letters of recommendation to be mailed.
- Send an updated transcript directly to schools at the end of the fall quarter
- Prepare financial aid information
- Prepare for anticipated Interviews - arranged at the discretion of the schools
- Interviewing may continue
- Submit financial aid applications-Fill out FAFSA by March 1 priority deadline! Go to the FAFSA website.
- Inform the COSAM Advising Center and your letter writers of your acceptances
- Choose a school, pay required deposit.
- Graduate from Cal Poly!
- Make alternative plans if not accepted
Year Following Graduation from Cal Poly
- Begin professional school in late summer/early fall
Choice of Major
Students sometimes worry about selecting the "right" major. For the health professions, there is no particular undergraduate major required or favored for admission to health professional schools. In general, your chances of admission will not be affected by your choice of major. Most Cal Poly applicants pursuing medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy school major in a science discipline such as: biology, microbiology, biochemistry or chemistry, partly because of personal interest and partly because several of the courses in these majors overlap with the course requirements for professional school. But professional schools are just as interested in considering qualified individuals who have had training in other areas, such as nutrition, business, engineering, and the liberal arts.
Since you have a wide choice of subjects in which to major, your decision should be based on an honest assessment of your interests and talents. Another consideration is a major that offers an alternate career path if you change your mind about a health career or are unable to gain admission. You are strongly urged to view your undergraduate years as at time for intellectual growth, not solely as a means to an end. Your major by itself does not guarantee or eliminate any possibility.
Cal Poly offers several health professions related courses you may want to consider:
SCM 101 Introduction to Health Profession Careers
This course is designed to expose you to a variety of health-related careers. Professionals from within the health field are invited to speak in this class to give you more of a realistic view of what is entailed in a day in the life of their respected health professions field. In addition, you will have the opportunity to learn to examine your own career choice, learn about the pre-professional health school admission process through required readings and assignments. Emphasis will be placed on creating a pre-health plan that demonstrates knowledge of the appropriate academic course selection, how and when to obtain appropriate experiences/activities, and the elements needed for a strong application.
- Intended for freshmen and sophomore students or students or students who are exploring or undecided about health career options.
- Credit/No Credit, 1 unit
- Offered Spring term
SCM 301 Professional School Preparation for Health Profession Careers
This course is geared for students getting ready to apply to graduate school in health professions. Application/applicant profile assessment, personal statement development, selection of schools. Must be 3rd year or higher with at least a 3.0 GPA.
- Credit/No credit, 1 unit
- Next offered winter 2021; apply here
BIO 253 Health Professions Shadowing
This course includes observation/shadowing experience in local clinics. It is intended for 2nd year and above students with a demonstrated interest in a health career. Students must shadow for 21 hours in order to receive credit. Enrollment is by application and instructor permission only.
- Credit/No Credit, 1 unit.
- Typically offered twice/year
- Next offered spring 2020; apply here
Bio 301 Service Learning in the Health Professions
This class meets weekly as well as has a service learning placement in the local community. During class lecture time, students will participate in related class discussions based on assigned readings. Some topics include cultural competency of healthcare providers, social determinants of health, unconscious bias, intersectionality, the ethics and safety of undergraduate volunteers in health care settings, and determining diverse community needs and delivery of appropriate health care. Students will also actively reflect on their own service experiences in a weekly journal.
- Prerequisites: Bio 161 or Mcro 221 or Mcro 224; Completion of GE Area A with a grade of C- or better; GE Area D3; and consent of instructor.
- Graded, 3 units
- Intended for students with an interest in service and/or the health professions. Priority enrollment given to Bio majors/minors.
- Next offered winter 2020; apply here.
SCM 363 Public Health Fieldwork
Designed for students who are interested in exploring the field of Public Health. This internship provides structured experiences at the County Health Agency.
- Credit/No Credit, 2 units
- Applications should be submitted to the College of Science and Mathematics Advising Center in Bldg. 53, Room 211 by the deadline for the term you wish to enroll in:
Fall Quarter - May 1
Winter Quarter - November 1
Spring Quarter - March 1
No summer internship available