During my time In high school, I found myself drawn to the world of healthcare. Growing up, both of my parents worked at a nursing home and I was exposed to the incredible impact that healthcare professionals have on the lives of older adults and sick patients.

I knew that a healthcare career would give me the fulfillment I needed as humans spend a significant portion of their lives working. In addition, the healthcare industry is experiencing a high demand for skilled professionals. In the United States alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that healthcare occupations will grow by 15% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth equates to an estimated 2.4 million new jobs, attributing to various roles, including healthcare administration, technology, caregiving, and medical professions.

While healthcare offers a wide variety of opportunities, one of the most esteemed and demanding paths is that of becoming a doctor. However, it's important to note that as a high school student, pinpointing the exact career that you want to pursue in healthcare is not necessary. The insights below apply to a variety of fields, setting a strong foundation not just for aspiring clinicians but anyone aiming for a rewarding healthcare career. In addition, some of the steps below might help you figure out where you belong in the healthcare industry and give you an idea of how long to become a doctor in that specific field.

My journey led me to pursue a Master's in Healthcare Administration, steering me toward the business side of healthcare. Nevertheless, the preparation and experiences during my high school years played a pivotal role in making me a well-rounded candidate for graduate school and laying the groundwork for my career in healthcare technology.

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Here are 5 key steps you can take in high school to become a medical doctor, registered nurse, physician, or any healthcare professional:

1. Focus on your academics

  • Take challenging courses in the sciences (biology, chemistry, physics) and math (algebra, calculus) to build a strong foundation. Building this academic foundation is crucial, especially as most healthcare pathways require a strong science background. It’s also important to aim for excellent grades as they are pivotal for getting into reputable American medical colleges or universities that will offer you the best opportunities.

  • Develop strong study habits and time management skills. College, graduate, or medical school will require rigorous studying on top of the specialty training, therefore it's crucial to develop effective study habits and time management skills as soon as you can. Trust me, it will save you from a lot of future stress.

  • Familiarize yourself with standardized tests like the SAT or ACT. Learning how to study for these types of tests early on will prepare you for taking future tests such as the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) required for medical school admission and the United States Medical Licensing Examination needed to earn a medical license and membership into The American Medical Association.

2. Get experience - volunteer, shadow, intern

  • Get healthcare experience early on by seeking volunteer or internship opportunities at local hospitals or clinics. Every bit of experience, whether as a greeter or in a more direct healthcare role, contributes to a deeper understanding of the field. I still draw upon some of my volunteer experiences from high school in my career. 

  • Reach out to local doctors or professionals in the medical field and see if you can shadow them. Shadowing will allow you to understand their daily routine and see if it’s something that you can picture yourself doing (remember that the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime, so make sure you choose something that you love!). In addition, these individuals can also serve as valuable mentors as you go about med school and eventually explore a healthcare career.

  • Join health-related clubs and organizations at your high school will strengthen your commitment to the field and enhance your leadership skills.

3. Develop strong communication and interpersonal skills

  • Develop strong communication and interpersonal skills as it’s crucial for healthcare leaders to communicate effectively with patients, colleagues, and other healthcare professionals. You can do this through various activities such as joining debate clubs, public speaking events, or even drama classes, and reading related articles or watching training videos.

  • Join organizations that emphasize teamwork and collaboration. By being a part of a team or group activity you’ll be able to enhance your ability to work cooperatively with others, an essential skill as teamwork is crucial for patient care.

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4. Stay updated on healthcare and medical advancements

  • Make sure to read books, and articles, and attend seminars or conferences related to medicine and healthcare so you’re informed about current trends and advancements in the field. By staying ahead of the curve, you’ll be able to set up your career for the most success. (Becker’s Hospital Review is a great resource as their daily email newsletter showcases the top 20 healthcare news articles and Dr. Atul Gawande has published some great books based on his experiences in internal medicine).

  • Consider conducting research projects in areas you're passionate about to deepen your understanding and demonstrate initiative. Polygence’s Core Program empowers high school students to dive into research topics with the guidance of expert mentors. Polygence student, Reya, was able to conduct a literature review exploring the current and forthcoming treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease. To explore the diverse array of projects that Polygence students are undertaking in the field of medicine, you can discover more here.

5. Be balanced and well-rounded

  • Although we’ve talked a lot about healthcare experience, medical training, and academics, college, and graduate schools value well-rounded students with diverse interests and experiences. Make sure that you continue to do the things that you love such as sports or other personal hobbies even amid your commitment to learning more about medical care and enhancing your clinical skills. Remember that your career is only one part of your life!

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These 5 tips were pivotal as I began to explore my career in healthcare and I hope they are just as helpful for you. Still not sure where to start as you’re thinking about a healthcare career? Consider Polygence’s Pathfinders program which is specifically engineered to help students find what they love through 1:1 mentorship. Tell them the fields you’re considering, and they’ll match you to three mentors with up to three different areas of expertise, all of whom are there to help you find your passion. Want to learn more? Click here to discover Pathfinders!