Based on an article by Matt Schur from the AMT Pulse, Summer 2021.
One of the many things that defined our time during the pandemic was a sense of inactivity: offices shuttered, travel tapered, in-person socializing disappeared—life, in so many ways, ground to a halt. There was a lot of … not a lot happening. But the future of the allied health profession presents the exact opposite notion, with opportunities abounding for career growth.
In part, that’s due to the demand for healthcare workers growing even before the pandemic driven by the aging of the United States’ population., Healthcare jobs make up a majority of the 20 fastest growing occupations according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Several allied health professions, including medical assistants and occupational therapy assistants, are expected to see a growth rate around 20% or higher from 2019-2029.
“I feel like allied health is a gateway to many healthcare professions,” says Monique Sutton, MT (AMT), MLT (AMT), RPT (AMT), Medical Technologist II, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Atlanta. “If one wanted to seek a new job in the healthcare sector, the allied health profession provides the foundation for that. You can go a lot of places.”
Just ask Kevin Sloss, RMA (AMT), MHA, who’s held a handful of titles and roles—community health specialist, patient care coordinator, wellness consultant and now Care Van/Outreach Specialist II— over the last several years. “I’ve always wanted to be community-focused as my bachelor’s degree is centered around community health,” Sloss says. “Some of my roles were limited, and I just felt like I wasn’t doing enough on a community basis to address social determinants of health.”
Then a friend passed along a job opening as an outreach specialist at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. Not only was it exactly what Sloss had been searching for since his undergrad years, he says—but he was also qualified. Sloss had, quite fortunately, just finished AMT’s REACH Immunization Certificate course.
This sort of opportunity to find your footing is baked into the very nature of allied health, Sloss says. “Once I got my RMA credential, I realized I could highlight and capitalize off my credential,” he says. “Getting credentialed as an allied health worker, specifically a Registered Medical Assistant, was amazing. I realized I could put it on anything: business cards, LinkedIn profile, email signature lines, resumes, social media profiles—everywhere you could think of. Plus, it helped me keep up with
the changing healthcare trends. For example, if I wanted to travel as an RMA, I could do that and get paid well for it. Or, if I wanted to work solely as an EKG technician, I could do that. I could specialize in so many different areas, and my RMA credential acknowledged my credibility to show employers and health entities that I had the competency to do the work.”
While the routes may be endless, there are definitive steps allied health professionals can take to get where they want to be. A commitment to learning and a dash of extroversion can help lead the way.
Learn to Earn
Job movement can be quite literal, too. Andrea Siemelink, MT (AMT), who is originally from South Africa, has crisscrossed the country—from Houston to Denver to Hays, Kansas and now on to Salt Lake City—while taking on new jobs.
Siemelink was working as a veterinary technician at an animal hospital in Houston when she got the itch to change her career. “I realized I was limited by my experience, and I didn’t have a whole lot of direction,” she says. “Getting a certificate provided natural movement to go into human medicine, and then suddenly everything became an option again.”
Siemelink, who loves to travel, has relished the opportunity to move around the country and see new things. After earning her credential earlier this year, she immediately saw benefits. Not only did it allow her to avoid taking on loans and debt that a traditional college route would’ve required, but it also opened up many job opportunities. “The second I got that credential, I was suddenly a good candidate for jobs I would not have been able to get,” Siemelink says. “I was applying for jobs in four states and got about 30 requests for interviews. Without the certification, I would probably have gotten a fraction of that, if any. The certification was something that gave me the freedom to move around in different jobs and have a position where I could excel and enjoy the work. It was a gamechanger.”
That rings true for Alicia Hodzic, RMA (AMT), MS, who works in clinical research as a Home Health Care Manager for Marken in Chicago. After getting an associate’s degree more than a decade ago, Hodzic has recently recommitted to higher learning: She got a bachelor’s degree in 2016, a Master of Science degree in 2018 and is planning to go back for her doctorate. “Everybody makes fun of me: ‘You’re 35, when are you going to be done with school,’” Hodzic jokes. “But I’m not done yet.”
That’s because training matters. Whether those skills and knowledge are achieved through school, certifications or credentials, it makes a big difference on the job, Hodzic says. As a chief medical assistant for many years in different clinics, Hodzic, for instance, always emphasized that new hires had a strong background in ethics training. If a new employee showed up with that background, it gave her a great deal of confidence, she says.
“If you’re on the fence about pursuing a training, just do it,” Hodzic says. “I’ve just seen so many people struggle to find jobs because they don’t have certifications.” Learning comes in all shapes and sizes. There are the more formal routes, such as higher-education programs, credentialing and certifications. But plenty of growth occurs on smaller, more immediate scales, too: work trainings, getting feedback from a mentor, even just reading articles online.
One of the keys to Sutton’s personal career growth, and what she wants to impart on others is to “always be inquisitive; you’re never done learning.” Online education has played a large part in Sutton’s own development, including AMT’s continuing education, e-learning offers from her company, various leadership courses and in vitro diagnostics industry websites. “I’m a person who likes to
know what I have on my hands,” Sutton says. “Manufacturing websites have information on the instrumentation we use and a lot of free content to educate yourself. I’m currently learning more about our hematology and chemistry machines.” Sutton credits part of her resourcefulness to her military background—she spent more than six years as a medical laboratory specialist in the U.S. Army. But people don’t need a service history like Sutton’s to take initiative, develop skills and ultimately grow their careers. That includes not being shy to lean on current employers or other resources to help provide or even fund learning opportunities. Sutton hit a bump at one point when she saw she had to pay for a training. After working with her manager and the manufacturer, the manufacturer’s training department ended up footing the bill. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Sutton says. “Your managers and leaders are there to help you grow and have a wider range of access, no matter how resourceful you may think you are.”
Among her hopes is to one day start a lab business. Sutton’s written a business plan and started gathering the necessary paperwork and licenses but feels she needs more experience, which means: more learning.
While everyone might not read about the inner workings of a hematology machine in their spare time, the larger truth is that a dedication to learning can open up opportunities, both in ways predictable and unexpected. “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know,” Siemelink says. “The more I studied, the more I was like, ‘Oh, I never thought about that as a career.’ The more you learn, the more you’re involved with different organizations, meet different people and hear about things that they’ve done.”
Siemelink plans to pursue a master’s degree in addition to other certifications and credentials. “Having education gives you the flexibility to change later on,” she says. “I can still stay in healthcare, but maybe I want to get into more management, take lab science or pursue biotech. I’d also like to do Doctors Without Borders later on.”
Sloss might be one of the few people on this planet who actually, genuinely, likes to network. “I love outreach, I love talking to people, I love finding solutions to problems because that’s ultimately what this profession is about,” Sloss says. “It requires a bit of communication and working with others in order to solve these problems.”
While not everyone might be so invigorated by networking, there’s no denying how important it is to career development. In Sloss’ case, for instance, it’s helped him nearly every step of his professional journey, both in landing jobs and exploring new opportunities, including for his current job. “I started at a major academic research institution on a killer opportunity in cancer services, but it wasn’t for me,” Sloss says. “I had to take a leap and find a new opportunity. During that decision-making process, I had to lean on my friends, family, professional mentors in the allied health and public health field and generalist mentors—and just have all of that good feedback to help me push forward and find another job that supported my career goals.”
Even if you’re not the type to cold call a peer, there are subtler—read: more introverted—ways to connect with others in allied health. You can start with the connections you’ve already made: co-workers, friends, past program directors or coordinators from school. “LinkedIn is your best friend,” Sloss says. “I say that in jest, but I also really mean it because I was able to do a lot of informational interviews through LinkedIn. I just randomly reached out to folks in fields that complemented what I wanted to do.”
Reaching out to the broader AMT network can be helpful, too. “I talked to the national and local staff, and it’s just been amazing to come up with ideas and engage with these professionals,” Sloss says. “Find your network, and tap into the outlets you have access to.”
Siemelink has applied the same approach in her hunt for new jobs, especially in regard to informational interviews. “Reach out to somebody who is actively doing the job you want,” she says. A lot of clinics she contacted were willing to provide tours and job shadowing, she says. “That’s a really wise step to take to ensure it’s something you want to do long term.”
The Way Forward
It can be easy to be wrapped up in the day-to-day minutiae of work, hustling from one deadline to the next. But if you’re looking to make a change, there’s no time like the present.
“It sounds so cheesy, but don’t give up,” Sloss says. “I keep meeting a lot of senior RMAs career-wise, and I’m so jealous of their valuable experiences. They’ve probably done everything that can be done in a clinic setting, but many describe looking for new opportunities and are unsure of what could possibly be next. The way I see it, those valuable experiences can meet the new demands of healthcare—you just have to be open and flexible. There are so many pathways to take. If they wanted to go back to school, they could. But if they didn’t want to, they probably wouldn’t have to because of their RMA credential and the continuing education they keep up with.”
As Sloss sees it, to advance in your career, you just have to dream big, ask yourself what you want to do that fits your needs, and figure out how to sharpen your current skills, how to get new skills, and who or what can help you get there. “Don’t undervalue or underestimate your experiences,” Sloss says. “Value them—and work them to the highest ability. The worst thing you can tell yourself is that you can’t do something before actually leaning into the possibility that you can.”
Looking to Make a Career Change?
Check out these resources to land a new gig.
- AMT Career Connection - Visit AMT’s Career Connection at amt.nationalhealthcarecareers.com to post your resume and find new opportunities.
- LinkedIn - Reach out to old colleagues, post in job boards, participate in discussions and reach out to people who have a role that you want.
- AMT Online Communities - Post questions, make connections and share resources with people in your certification and state.
- Work with a Mentor - It can be a colleague, a past professor or even a peer. Get feedback on your resume, leads for job openings or just talk through general career advice.
- AMT Pulse - Get access to the latest AMT news, including notices about networking events, read thought leadership articles that affect the industry and earn CE credit.
- AMT Learning Center - AMT’s CE learning hub at learning.americanmedtech.org has more than 300 hours of education, including certificate courses in ECG, POCT, orthopaedics and immunization to help you climb the allied health career ladder.