Medical models of human muscular and skeletal makeup.

Exploring Health Careers

Healthcare is a continuously expanding career field, both in terms of the number of individuals needed to serve society and in the types of opportunities available. Students are drawn to working in the health professions for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, they desire to help others. Additionally, they may aspire to study science and human behavior, and are attracted to the intellectual stimulation and economic security that healthcare careers can provide.

There are many benefits to working in the health professions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects health care to be the fastest growing employment industry through 2024, which means increased job security as more positions are created for people driven to make a difference in their communities. Health professionals do tend to earn high salaries, though they do require a significant financial investment in your education.

Success in any healthcare career requires a commitment to lifelong learning, resilience, and a good match between your academic strengths and the intellectual topics you will study. Some professions can take up to seven or more years of professional school and additional training.

There is no definitive or prescriptive path to a career in the health professions. Though you may share common interests or themes with others, your own personal story and background has influenced your decision to pursue this field.

Begin With A Self Assessment

An honest assessment of these considerations can help you identify careers that fit your values, interests, personality, and skills. As you consider a health professions career, reflect on the following questions:

  • What draws me to a career in healthcare?
  • How much do I know about what it is really like to practice the health profession I have chosen?
  • Am I interested in science and how the body works?
  • Am I prepared for the academic rigor of the professional school?
  • Do I have a spirit of altruism, of service to others?
  • Do I care deeply about other people, their problems, and their pain?
  • Am I an effective communicator with good interpersonal skills? Am I comfortable working with people from different backgrounds?
  • Do I want to interact directly with patients and their families or caregivers?
  • How much time do I wish to spend with patients and colleagues?
  • Do I like working as part of a team of professionals, or do I prefer to work on my own?
  • Am I prepared to enter a career in which I must spend time and effort keeping up with developments in the field?
  • What do I want my life to look like when I graduate? Do I want to be able to work immediately, or do I want to train in a specialty?
  • What lifestyle do I envision?
  • Where do I picture myself in 20 years?

To help you answer these questions, you are highly encouraged to gain experience and exposure to a variety of professions through shadowing, volunteering, and paid work experience. This allows you to gain first-hand knowledge and insights about a career in the health professions, which includes what you do and do not like in terms of responsibilities, care settings, and lifestyle.

Common Healthcare Careers That Gonzaga Students Pursue

Medicine includes several different licensed healthcare practitioners: Physicians (MD and DO), Physician Assistants (PA), and Nurse Practitioners (NP). These providers have different educational pathways, philosophical approaches, and scopes of practice based on training and state licensing requirements. They work in hospitals, clinics, public health agencies, hospices, military, and other settings, and typically specialize in a specific clinical practice area, which requires additional training and experience.

Medical providers diagnose and care for people of all ages who are ill or have been injured. They are life-long learners, good listeners, and problem solvers, and are intrigued by the ways medicine can be used to improve life. They are interested in science, the intricacies of a human body’s systems, and care deeply about helping people to relieve pain, restore health, and promote well-being. In their daily activities, medical providers:

  • Diagnose and care for people of all ages who are ill or have been injured
  • Take medical histories
  • Perform physical examinations
  • Conduct diagnostic tests
  • Recommend and provide treatment
  • Advise patients on their overall health and well-being

Nursing is the nation’s largest health care profession and includes several degrees with varying scopes of practice. Depending on their license, nurses may assist physicians and other healthcare providers or practice independently. Their roles range from direct patient care to case management, establishing nursing practice standards, developing quality assurance procedures, and directing complex nursing care systems.


Physical therapists are considered “movement experts” who improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. In their daily activities, physical therapists:

  • Diagnose and treat individuals who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives.
  • Offer treatment that improves mobility and relieves pain, reduces the need for surgery and prescription drugs, and allows patients to participate in a recovery plan designed for their specific needs. 
  • Develop fitness and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles, and to help prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs.
  • Work in a variety of settings: hospitals, private practice, outpatient clinics, home health, schools, and work.

Occupational therapists are concerned with promoting health and well-being through meaningful everyday activities. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. In their daily activities, occupational therapists:

  • Provide customized treatment programs to improve people’s ability to perform daily activities.
  • Evaluate and treat to develop or restore sensorimotor, cognitive, or psychosocial performance skills.
  • Provide recommendations to help clients stay safe, conserve energy, enhance comfort, and promote independence.
  • Work with a wide variety of people, including those with work-related injuries, chronic conditions, developmental disabilities, mental health or behavioral problems, and limitations following a stroke, traumatic brain injury, facture, or heart attack.
  • Practice in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing facilities and rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, clinics, schools, industry, group homes and mental health facilities, government agencies, and more.

Dentists combine science and technology with helping people enhance and maintain their oral health. The majority of active dentists are private practitioners. Most dentists practice in office settings, typically in solo practices. In their daily activities, dentists:

  • Identify, diagnose, treat, and help prevent diseases, injuries and malformations of the teeth and mouth
  • Educate individuals on how to take better care of their teeth and prevent oral diseases.
  • Perform clinical and cosmetic procedures, such as exams, restoration, crowns, implants, extractions and corrective surgeries to treat oral conditions or help individuals looking to improve their appearance.
  • Manage the day-to-day activities of the dental office.
  • Teach future dentists and dental hygienists and perform research directed to development new treatments and improving oral health.

Careers in the health professions are wide ranging. Some additional examples include acupuncturists, audiologists, chiropractors, health administrators, optometrists, pharmacists, speech-language pathologists, veterinarians, and more. More information can be found by exploring the professional associations for these careers.


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