Finding a Path in Healthcare Education

When I started college, I knew I wanted to be in the medical field. That said, I wasn’t sure that meant doctor or nurse, so I entered school with eyes wide open and began researching the various options… and that is when I discovered allied health professions.

I was amazed by the variety of choices and soon realized that I could combine my interest in medicine with my love of sports, and have a profession perfectly suited for me.

Even after realizing that, I still had choices to make. I researched many allied health programs such as:

  • recreational therapist
  • exercise physiologist
  • athletic trainer
  • physical therapist
  • orthotist
  • occupational therapist

I researched the above the most seriously, but also looked into anesthesiology assistant and surgical technologist in case I wanted to be closer to an inpatient, medical setting.

After a lot of research, I found that going down the athletic trainer or exercise physiology route seemed to suit me best. I began taking classes suitable for both realizing that there would be a point where I would have to choose.

Initially, that meant taking biology, physiology, and anatomy classes. The information learned there set the stage for the more in-depth and specific classes required for either path I followed. Once I had completed the basic coursework, I began taking more specific classes such as aging and physical activity, injury care and prevention, kinesiology and nutrition.

In these classes I learned about biomechanics, the physiology of exercise, and the musculoskeletal system, while also learning the basics of taping and wrapping techniques and nutrition specific for athletes.

While I can’t say I loved each and every class, never once did I doubt the career path I had chosen.

Honing My Skills

As time progressed, I had to choose my specialty path. With my newfound knowledge, I realized that while those in athletic training and exercise science both spend time studying exercise and its effects on the body, there were differences. At the most basic level, athletic training generally focused on working with injured or rehabilitating athletes, while exercise science worked more with healthy athletes, “regular” people, or rehabilitating adults in cardiac or pulmonary rehabilitation programs.

To make my ultimate decision, I considered the job setting and typical job duties of both fields. Since athletic trainers specialize in athletes, their typical job responsibilities consist of developing injury prevention programs, conducting injury evaluations and coordinating with coaches and strength trainers about the training or rehabilitation programs to use with their athletes. An athletic trainer plays a critical role in helping an athlete “get back on the field” as soon as possible.

On the other hand, exercise science professionals focus more on the human body’s response to exercise. This is not to be confused with a health science major.

The job duties for exercise science professionals most often include developing exercise programs for healthy people wanting to improve physical fitness or creating programs for cardiac or pulmonary patients wanted to improve heart or lung function following a health event. While these two paths within exercise science diverge, the end goal of improving health and fitness is the same.

Job setting also was a consideration in my decision. Athletic trainers are commonly found in high schools, universities, as a part of professional athletic teams, and even physical therapy or sports medicine clinics focused on athletes.

On the other hand, settings for exercise science majors more commonly include health and fitness clubs, hospitals or outpatient rehabilitation facilities, or even exercise physiology laboratories. While there can certainly be crossover within these two fields, I began to realize I most wanted to work with “regular” people, and I liked the challenge of rehabilitation. Given that, I decided exercise science was my path.

In the End

Ultimately, I graduated and began working in a hospital-based cardiac rehabilitation program. I worked with both inpatients right after surgery and a cardiac event, as well as people that were coming back to the hospital on an outpatient basis for rehab. I loved the patient contact, and the work proved to be very rewarding.

Additionally, the experience of working alongside doctors and nurses gave me the best of all worlds – I got a taste of medicine while working with “regular” people to achieve their health and fitness goals.

Working in health care definitely isn’t for everyone, some people are perfectly content with a career in accounting.

But, if you are interested in working in health care then I would definitely consider researching allied health programs to learn about the many different rewarding career opportunities you can pursue.