Choosing a Track
- Pharmacist or PA?
- Optometrist or vet?
You know you'd like to work in health care, but not sure which career track to follow. How do you choose?
The wrong way to do it: many people look at how many years a program is, how much tuition it will be, and whether there's a school near them. While thinking about time, money, and location is a good way to pick what you're going to do next Saturday night, it's not a good way to choose your professional track. Once you get in to any of the professional schools, you are very likely to end up as a practitioner of that profession...the tough part is getting in! All of the professions are well paid. You will then be working in that profession for thirty years or more! Compared to that, is it really crucial whether one program takes three years and another takes four? And because they all pay well, the debt you accumulate paying tuition in professional school is very likely to get paid back, no matter how scary the number looks.
So what's the right way?
The right way is to think about what you want to spend your time doing for the rest of your working life. Think not just about the good parts, but about the parts that might be boring, stressful, or unpleasant. Dentists, for example, often have tightly packed schedules, struggling to fit in one patient after the next even though some of them end up needing extra time. Does that sound invigorating, or like a headache? Doctors, regardless of their specialty, are always, in some sense, "on call"--when there's a medical emergency on a subway or in a theater, the question "is there a doctor in the house?" means you could have to spring in to action at any moment. Is that empowering, or oppressive?
To make those decisions, you have to know what being a member of that profession is really like, which is why you need to shadow a professional in the field, and/or volunteer. You won't really know what it's like to be a pharmacist until you've volunteered with one for forty hours. You may think you know what a vet does, but try working with one in an unfamiliar setting like a zoo for a bit.
It's OK to explore a bit early on in your college career. If you're undecided between two tracks, spend some volunteer time in both areas. It's a big decision ahead of you; it's worth doing right.
Admittedly, there is one other factor you should consider, especially after a year or two of taking college courses: how difficult will it be for you to get in to professional schools of that type? To have this evaluated, schedule an appointment with the pre-health advisor.
All eight tracks supported by the pre-health office at Lehman College require similar, but not identical, prerequisite courses. That means you don't have to decide for sure right away. But you need to make a decision by about a year and a half before you plan to apply. During that last year and a half, you can make sure you've taken all the prerequisite courses you need for that field. Also, you can focus your volunteer experiences, and be able to explain to admissions committees that you are committed to your decision.