Staying On the (Sometimes Long) Path Toward a Health Career

By David Kelly, Former HOSA President

Hello friends! It’s been quite some time since I wrote for the blog and I thought now, in between the human body systems through which I’m currently trudging, might be a good time to get a few words in. I hope that the first portion of the school year has been good to you. I recently joined Oklahoma HOSA for their Fall Leadership Conference in Norman and if that event is any indication, we’re looking to have our best HOSA year yet. Whether or not you’ve begun preparing for competition, holiday service projects, or officer candidacy, I hope you’re excited about what lies in the months ahead.

This is the point in the semester when I typically start seeing friends both online and in real life struggle with the onslaught of finals, papers, and general school-related STUFF. It’s the point when we’re both far enough along in our studies to have maximum responsibility as far as subject material goes and also when we’re being distracted by the upcoming holidays and the light at the end of the tunnel. Normally at this point I’d proceed by writing about short-term burnout and fatigue, but as I began thinking about this topic, I discovered that as Future Health Professionals, our journey toward a health profession is in a lot of ways similar to a school semester. Our excitement when we first start is at a peak, as we continue the expectations set upon us grow, and in fact we suffer at times from the same type of fatigue as many of us are experiencing this time of year. The fatigue or burnout that we experience long-term might not seem as unbearable as a mid-semester slump, and it hopefully doesn’t affect our performance in the same way, but it’s perhaps even more important to fight this insidious version of apathy that might set in if we fail to keep the years that we’re spending in school in perspective. But how do we do that?

I think I’ve answered that question in brief just above: perspective. None of us are going into health simply because we love school. (We might - and should - love learning, but there’s a difference!) We are going into it because we love the idea of helping people achieve health. In order to keep that focus on patients throughout your education, I urge you to maintain a connection to that. Whether it’s volunteering at a healthcare facility or studying up on the current state of whatever field you’re pursuing, reminding yourself of your endgame periodically is, I think, the best way to break up those stretches of time when you might feel that what you’re doing in school has nothing to do with what you’re wanting to do in life. In medical school, for example, the first two years of the curriculum are pre-clinical. We’re currently studying the basic science principles that underlie health and the practice of medicine. The problem can be that this doesn’t feel like medicine. Most physicians don’t spend their time studying rare diseases or understanding the finer points of ion channels! But when we have the opportunity to see patients, I’ve often been able to apply something that I’ve learned so far into my understanding of what’s going on with that patient. Pushing myself to spend more time with patients in between studying during these pre-clinical years has allowed me to see where all of this curriculum is coming from, and where it’s all heading.

As I mentioned above, your connection to what your passion in health is doesn’t have to be patient-related. In fact, it doesn’t even have to take you out of your home or school. Researching the current state of your career of interest can be just as motivating as having a clinical experience. Where are veterinarians projected to be needed most over the next 20 years? Or what types of legislation are currently on the table that might affect how LPNs or RNs practice? If you cringed at that last suggestion, researching law might not be up your alley, but I’m sure that you can find some topic that will inform you regarding the current state of affairs in a field in which you have a stake. In fact, I like to treat this as an ongoing process. Instead of waiting for apathy to strike and then seeking a jolt of inspiration, I regularly make a habit of reading medical headlines that make their way to me or looking further into the practical aspects of things that come up in class. We’re going into such an interesting and ever-changing sector of the workforce, so I can’t imagine being bored of this research!

It’s normal to occasionally feel lost in a never-ending sea of education. Whether it’s the number of years of study ahead or the intensity of the stuff coming at you right now, I think that most of us find ourselves wondering at one time or another what we’ve gotten ourselves into. What’s important to recognize is that there’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. It doesn’t mean that you’re going into the wrong field or that you aren’t motivated enough to succeed in the world of health. If, even after trying to reconnect with the passion that first drove you toward a health profession, you question if you have the ability to (or even want to) continue down this path, I urge you to contact your school’s counselors or wellness center. These folks are well-versed in helping you figure out what you want to get out of their programs and out of your education. Sometimes regaining focus can be really hard, and as Future Health Professionals we should understand that there isn’t anything wrong with asking an expert for help.

As the semester comes to an end, I hope you’re able to use these strategies not only to get you through finals week, but also to reinvigorate your passion for health and healthcare. As I’ve moved closer and closer toward providing actual patient care (!!), I’ve found it easier both to get excited about what I’m doing and to link it to my ultimate goal. So take heart! If you have any questions or want to suggest other ways that HOSA members might maintain their passion for health, send me an email at dkellyhosa@gmail.com - I’ll be glad to hear your ideas!

 

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