Tips for Climbing the Healthcare Ladder

The US is potentially facing a healthcare crisis in hiring and recruiting qualified professionals across many medical-related occupations. Statistics today reveal nearly half of healthcare practitioners plan to leave their present position. Furthermore, 47% of healthcare professionals in the US plan to go in the next two to three years.

Much of this attrition has to do with the pandemic of March 2020, with many healthcare professionals facing overwhelming obstacles as they helped the country battle a seemingly undefeatable virus. In fact, this event proved to the world the vital role that healthcare professionals provide society in keeping everyone well. Healthcare is a noble profession, one where practitioners give of themselves daily to help others, which has rewards.

Depending on the occupation, healthcare professionals earn a respectable salary, with most careers paying well above the national average in the US of $45,760 a year. More than the monetary rewards, healthcare professionals get other rewards from happy patients and clients who value their expertise. This is rewarding work in an industry that continues to grow.

That said, healthcare encompasses several occupations ranging from careers that directly relate to health and medicine (physicians and nurses) to indirectly related jobs (athletic trainer and massage therapists). While present-day healthcare practitioners face some daunting challenges, the industry still attracts many people. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 2020 and 2030, the healthcare field will expand 16% and provide 2.6 million jobs to the economy.

Furthermore, of all the occupational professions, healthcare will add more jobs to accommodate the aging population culminating in an increased need for healthcare workers. That is excellent news for young people considering a career path in healthcare. Alternatively, for those who aspire to climb the ladder of success in healthcare, this demand presents many opportunities to advance their careers. However, what tools will one need to succeed in healthcare?

Strategies for advancing a career in healthcare

1. Seek higher education

Before taking any steps, you must take an inventory of your skills and credentials to determine what actions to take to be eligible for advancing in your career. Because of the nature of the work in health, many healthcare professions require a person to seek additional education. Nursing, for example, requires the professional to pursue more education in terms of a degree or credential to advance in the profession.

Fortunately, for many seeking more education in nursing, many institutions, such as Marymount University, offer second-degree nursing programs. These programs allow professionals who have already earned one degree to switch careers and earn a degree in nursing at an accelerated rate, typically involving removing the taking of general education requirements. For instance, Marymount University offers an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ASBN), which focuses on nursing and can be completed in 16 months.

This education is not limited to getting another degree. Many healthcare organizations provide their employees with professional development opportunities. Much of the time, healthcare practitioners must take professional development courses to keep their licenses. Outside of being required to enroll in these courses, enrolling reflects that the practitioner is earnest about their career and, again, highlights the fact the person is committed to investing in advancement.

2. Seek out mentors

Another good strategy for advancing one’s healthcare career is finding multiple mentors, if possible. By the time a professional advances their career, they have established themselves to a certain degree. A mentor can help with taking the next step in actively pursuing the career goal. Mentors are leaders who can provide valuable guidance and insight on some of the challenging parts of making this career transition.

Look for mentors who can help with growth in more than one area, for example, leadership, public speaking, technology, and work-life balance. The search for a mentor should also include finding someone with the skills and expertise needed to perform their duties to a high standard.

The professional should look for mentors with the aforementioned characteristics and focus on gaining as much from the relationship as possible, for example, observing how the mentor interacts with other team members and senior management. These observations help with learning how to manage the many nuances of professional relationships effectively.

3. Encourage feedback

The way to grow in one’s present profession is to receive feedback from supervisors and mentors. Being evaluated is difficult because the assessment typically dissects every part of a professional’s performance. However, taking the emotion out of evaluation assists in getting to the business of becoming a better healthcare practitioner more effectively. Finally, leaders who ask for feedback are more effective than leaders who do not, so asking for feedback from a mentor is practice for what lies ahead as a career advances.

4. Do not let failure end aspirations

Failure is not the end of a career, but if one aspires to be a leader in healthcare, one must embrace failure because leaders fail. While it is natural to feel as though failure is a personal flaw, this is one way that learning happens. In the case of women, one study found failure can be very disappointing for women who typically hold themselves to a higher standard than men. As opposed to being discouraged, professionals turn failure into a vehicle for career growth, treating it as a bruise, not a wound that will not heal.

5. Develop leadership skills

In fact, through observing the mentor, mentees (those being mentored) develop leadership skills. Critical thinking, communication, and decision-making are a few leadership skills necessary in healthcare work. Another important leadership characteristic is the ability to motivate others instead of relying on persuasion. These skills are essential to being a proactive problem-solver.

6. Learn the job

Another avenue to increasing success in advancing one’s career is to learn the job before being hired to do it for a living. This can involve being willing to take on new responsibilities, contribute to the team to highlight one’s strengths and abilities, and take on leadership roles within the department. For example, one way to contribute and accentuate one’s strengths and skills is to volunteer to lead (chair) projects in the department, which also presents learning possibilities.

Also, taking on more challenging projects in the department gets management to notice one’s skills. Healthcare provides professionals with plenty of opportunities to take on work the rest of the staff dislikes (in some cases avoids). As opposed to being complex tasks, these duties provide the professional with opportunities to challenge themselves and learn skills beyond what is provided in the job description. Plus, when it is time to apply for a position within the healthcare organization or outside, these duties have prepared the individual for future challenges as they advance in their careers.

Learning the job also lends itself to the person understanding the operational aspects of the leadership role. Operational aspects of the position include learning the organization structure, knowing how decisions are made, and knowing the factors contributing to these decisions. In addition to understanding the organizational structure, the person must be well-versed in the field’s standards.

7. Take the initiative

A good leadership skill, taking the initiative, requires stepping out of the roles described in the job duties and anticipating the department’s needs. More significantly, taking the initiative is not relegated to just large projects. Cleaning up around the unit, answering calls, or placing oneself where help is needed are all ways to move from following orders as a subordinate into taking a more responsible role in the healthcare unit.

8. Risk-taking and faith are important to advancing

It is a considerable risk moving into a new career. Not only does career transitioning consume a lot of time, but sometimes the person loses money in terms of income, and much of the time, one must seek additional/education training. It is not an easy decision for someone who has spent a good portion of their career in one role. The only thing one might discover in taking a risk is that the leadership role was not for them, and thus return to their previous position in healthcare or some other industry. Alternatively, the risk might pay off, and they find themselves in their dream job.

9. Know the issues of one’s subordinates

While not officially in a leadership position, healthcare practitioners can improve their chances of being good leaders simply by knowing their subordinates, which requires developing an understanding of coworkers. Some issues that arise with healthcare professionals include burnout due to working around the clock. Conversely, leaders must handle issues that arise when the problems are more personal in nature, for instance, when a subordinate experiences a crisis. In either case, the leader must communicate in a way that will build trust and understanding.

10. Creating the environment for successful career advancement

In addition to the more practical strategies that help a person advance, one must build an environment that facilitates successfully advancing one’s career. This happens when the healthcare practitioner chooses work environments that align with personal core values. This is important because it is difficult to lead if one’s values constantly conflict with that of the healthcare organization.

Strive to achieve a positive work-life balance. Take time out for family and friend relationships and find time outside work to take care of personal “me” time needs. Further, a healthy diet and quality sleep are other ingredients to establishing a sound foundation for work and life. Finally, the aforementioned ingredients are tools that build resilience, so when failure or disappointment happens, these tools provide balance.

Now go and dazzle ’em 

Climbing the ladder into a new healthcare-related career is the chance to embark on a new direction leading to infinite possibilities. Advancing might appear frightening initially, but many in healthcare have taken this same route before and can be a resource for moving forward. Activate and find mentors with which to engage. These people have laid the groundwork for the path that others will follow.

Moreover, practitioners advancing in their careers are no slouches either. By the time the thought of career advancement arises, most professionals are proficient at their jobs, having acquired soft skills and skills pertinent to the job. At the same time, do not allow opportunities to pass by remaining stagnant in learning new on-the-job skills. Taking on jobs others might pass on, taking the initiative, and understanding the operational needs of the healthcare unit add a level to this foundation.

Job skills are essential to advancing a career, but so is education. Learning what educational credentials, certificates, and degrees are required when deciding and planning one’s career trajectory is essential. Again, the education field is filled with healthcare programs that can fast-track one toward an educational degree. Remember, earning a degree is only one way to prepare for advancement because many occupations within healthcare offer a myriad of coursework as a part of professional development, another chance to learn about a prospective vocation.

Once these tools have been placed in the toolbox, those looking to advance should also get to know the people they might one day lead. Because of the high-pressure environment, leaders are faced with helping their employees avoid burnout and to help them deal with their own personal crises whenever possible. Understanding the types of issues employees experience makes scheduling and other administrative matters easier and cultivates relationships in the workplace built on trust and understanding.

Finally, all of this cannot happen without establishing a work-life balance because one’s relationships and community can absorb the negative impact of things not going well at work. Additionally, developing healthy eating and sleeping habits is the best remedy for tackling the many challenges that arise in the workplace. All these tools are keys to opening the door to career advancement in healthcare.

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