You might have heard that careers in medicine, medical sciences and research are all about playing doctors and nurses. You might think that if you work in this sector you will constantly be plagued by sounds like: “beep, beep, beep, beep, beeeeeeeeeeep,” and “nee naa nee naa nee naa.” You may have heard that you’ll constantly be extracting people’s teeth and drilling holes in people’s jaws. Alternatively, you might have heard that you’ll be developing ground-breaking cures for different diseases every week.
Sure, your career in medicine, medical sciences and research could include some of these things at some point, but certainly not all the time. Each and every career in this sector is complex, challenging and hugely influential on other people’s lives. There are also a huge number of career options available, many of which you probably didn’t even know existed. So before you make the decision to get into medicine, medical sciences and research, you should firstly discover what it’s really all about.
The realities of a medical career
It’s all about helping people who are having problems with their physical health. It’s all about saving lives and improving lives. It’s all about treatments, cures, medicine and drugs, and about research, innovation and breakthroughs.
Everybody is dependent on the specialist skills of medical staff, dentists and medical scientists at some point in their lives: if we break a bone, if we need an operation, if we have an accident, when we go for a dental check-up, even when we take a paracetamol. It may seem obvious, but without doctors, nurses and medical science experts, people would physically not be able to survive.
Every day in the UK, over 835,000 people visit their local doctor’s surgery, almost 50,000 people visit accident and emergency departments and 36,000 people are in hospital for planned treatment. Consequently, it’s pretty safe to say that the people who work in this sector are ridiculously important.
The NHS (National Health Service) is the largest employer in Europe, and the fifth largest in the world; however, many private institutions also employ tons of people in the medicine, medical sciences and research arena, such as Bupa and GlaxoSmithKline.
There are so many specialist areas within each of these sectors. Some careers require a greater amount of medical, technical and scientific knowledge. Understandably, doctors, surgeons, dentists, pharmacologists and medical research scientists need to be absolute experts in their specialist field, so those who pursue these careers need to have an excellent academic background. However, many other career options exist in medicine, medical sciences and research, which simply need people with specialist practical or care skills, such as nurses, technical healthcare assistants and laboratory assistants.
Medical career options
Perhaps the most challenging, rewarding and respected careers within the medical profession are those of doctors and surgeons. This crew examine symptoms, diagnose problems, treat illnesses, and provide reassurance and advice to their patients. Doctors and surgeons not only need a gargantuan amount of up-to-date medical knowledge, but an impeccable interpersonal nature and practical medical skills.
As doctors progress through the various stages of their extensive medical training, they can begin to take specialist paths in areas such as: cardiology (heart), oncology (cancer), paediatrics (children) and gynaecology and obstetrics (female reproductive organs). Indeed, there are actually over 60 different specialities for them to eventually choose from.
Careers in dental professions are all about teeth and gums. Dentists, orthodontists, dental hygienists, dental therapists and dental technicians all play an integral role in keeping our gnashers healthy and in tip-top condition. Without these guys we wouldn’t be able to chew our food and our breath would be even worse than it already is. Many dental professionals work in a general practice or in a dental hospital, and others are self-employed, offering private services within their own dental surgeries.
Nurses are the true heart and soul of the medical profession. They work in every area of healthcare, from casualty and primary care trusts to general practices and in people’s own homes, and providing crucial support to doctors and direct care for patients.
Nursing careers are truly hard work and extremely challenging, but are ultimately some of the most rewarding and satisfying that you can pursue. You can specialise in many different areas of nursing, including: neonatal (new born babies), paediatrics (children), adult, mental health, and many more.
Midwifery is a very specialist area of medicine and nursing which supports women through all stages of pregnancy, labour, and birth. Midwifery jobs are senior positions and midwives need specific degrees to qualify for these careers. Many even come from another nursing background and then choose to specialise in this area.
A wide variety of careers in clinical support work are available within the world of medicine and medical sciences. These people provide valuable assistance to doctors and medical sciences staff. They develop specialised technical and practical skills to assist with the diagnosis and treatment of patients. These range from assistant practitioners and phlebotomists, who collect blood from patients for examination in laboratories, to orthotic and prosthetic technicians, who manufacture body support apparatus and prosthetic limbs respectively.
Doctors would not be able to treat people, make accurate diagnoses and prescribe medicines without the essential work of people in medical science professions. When your blood is sent off for testing, when you have an x-ray, or when you take some tablets to improve your condition, your health is in the hands of these people. This lot tend to work in laboratories and specialist areas of hospitals. There are so many different types of careers in this area, and it would be impossible to list them all here; so we’re just going to provide you with a little taster. Check out the Career Paths for more detail.
Many people work in medical research and development careers, either for the NHS, or for major pharmaceutical companies. These guys can be found in laboratories and use high-level scientific expertise, which involves researching, developing, and improving medical supplies, medications, drugs, ointments, creams, and other treatments. A few examples include biomedical scientists, biochemists and pharmacologists, but there are many more.
Medical researchers and developers are essential for making sure that people get the best possible products for their specific ailments. Pharmacists are also then employed to advise people on how to make the most of their treatments and manage their own consumption, so that they can begin to recover as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Many specialist areas of medical science exist and offer highly-focused research and development careers. For example, many healthcare scientists work in life sciences. These characters are primarily involved with research and development focused on: pathology (the cause of illnesses and their progression), and genetics and embryology (creating life and infertility).
Many healthcare scientists focus on physiological sciences. These clever people are mainly involved with research and development concerned with blood, health protection and organ transplants. Some other healthcare scientists specialise in clinical engineering and physical sciences. These careers are all about researching, developing and maintaining equipment for facilitating the diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
A wide variety of other highly specialist medical care and medical scientist careers are available within the NHS and private medical institutions. You might have heard of some of these already – such as paramedics, radiographers, geneticists, forensic scientists and dietitians – but you might not know what they actually do.
As you can see, the list of careers available within the sectors of medicine, medical sciences and research is practically endless, with hugely diverse opportunities across a massive range of interests. Whether you want to be developing drugs and treatments to save lives, saving them first-hand or bringing them into the world, you’re sure to find a place.