Career Spotlights: Entry-level Positions in Healthcare You Can Do Now

Published September 2016

There are several entry-level positions that can help you gain healthcare experience even before you have completed your bachelor’s degree.

These positions are paying jobs and will help you become a more competitive candidate for the graduate program of your choice whether that is medical school, dental school, physician assistant (PA), physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT), or pharmacy. More importantly, work experience in these jobs will help you become a better healthcare provider in the long run! Read on for brief descriptions of the positions and information on where you can get trained for these jobs.
CNAs, or certified nursing assistants assist the nursing staff in both long-term care settings (nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities) and acute care settings (hospitals). CNAs are trained in infection control, assisting residents or patients with the activities of daily living, and taking vital signs. Trainings can be anywhere from 4-15 weeks in length and passing a state exam is required for certification. CNA trainings are available through community colleges or local Red Cross chapters throughout the state. Because CNAs are in high demand, having a CNA certification can be the quickest way to get hands on direct patient care experience. CNA experience is one of the easiest ways to get the hours that you would need for admission to a PA program.
EMTs, or emergency medical technicians work for ambulance services or emergency departments in hospitals. EMTs are trained to assess and manage common medical emergencies that result from accidents and illnesses. EMTs who work in emergency rooms assist the nurses and doctors in treating patients. Trainings require 120-150 hours of instruction and can vary between 3 and 11 weeks. EMT courses are offered through community ambulance services and at some community and 4-year colleges. To become certified, you must pass a written and practical exam. The best EMT experience can be gained from working in ambulance companies or hospitals in larger towns and cities.
Dental assistants work in dental offices taking x-rays, maintaining patient records, and providing patient care. Dental assistants do not require a certification. Sometimes students who begin shadowing in a dental office can be invited to assist after a short period of on the job training. Some community colleges offer more formal training programs in dental assisting.
Phlebotomists are trained in drawing blood from patients. Phlebotomy requires a 200-hour training program which can be found at some community colleges. Phlebotomists work in clinical labs and blood banks.
Medical scribes work one-on-one with physicians during patient visits and document important information into the patient’s Electronic Health Record (EHR). Scribes allow the physician to interact more directly with the patient and not be distracted by note taking and looking at a computer screen. Scribes are usually trained on the job in organizing information into a cohesive history and using and understanding medical terminology. (See the announcements for a local scribe opportunity with a pediatric practice in Holyoke.) Scribe experience is often NOT accepted as patient care experience for Physician Assistant (PA) programs.
Pharmacy technicians work in retail and clinical pharmacies assisting the pharmacist. Some large pharmacy chains such as CVS, Rite Aid, or Walgreens provide training programs. Students can also study for the Pharmacy Technician certification exam on their own and register for the test to become certified. Click here for information on how to get certified as a pharmacy technician. This job is excellent preparation for a career as a pharmacist but would not necessarily provide the direct patient care that medical schools and PA programs look for in applicants.