Vital Signs: How to Change Careers from Health Care to IT
Health care is a great field to be in – it offers great pay, job security and demand. But sometimes the cons outweigh the pros … maybe you've had enough of the inflexible schedule and always working when your loved ones are home. Or maybe the demand of health care is getting to be too hard on you physically.
If you are in the health care field and considering changing careers, take heart: there are many similarities between health care and IT. Both fields are hot right now in terms of positions to be filled and technological advances. Though these two careers seem as different as, well, computers and stethoscopes, there's a lot of transferrable skills between the two. If you are getting burned out and wondering if it's time for a change, IT can be a great alternative career for health care workers.
IT's so fast and always changing. It's such an important part in the lives of everyone. I thought ‘cool, I want to work in that environment.’Faithlyn WaughIT Helpdesk Administrator
Comparing Health Care Careers to IT
You may be thinking, “Why would I want to be stuck behind a computer all day? I'm a people person, which is why I got into health care to begin with.”
Just as stereotypes exist in the medical field (do all doctors really have bad handwriting?), they also exist for IT. It's not just sitting in a dark room in front of a monitor for hours on end; at the end of the day, it's about helping people – just like in the medical field!
While there are some big differences between IT and health care, there are also some overwhelming similarities. First of all, both fields require a keen attention to detail. Whether it's checking a patient's drug allergies or examining a key line of code, the ability to see the small things is important in both careers.
Both fields also require the ability to work in a fast-paced and sometimes high-stress environment. You know not everyone is cut out for the hustle and bustle of the emergency room, and the same goes for working as an IT help desk technician. But if you are in the health care field, perhaps you shine when the stakes are high, and that sort of adrenaline rush isn't something that can be taught. Some people take comfort in knowing they will be doing the same thing day in and day out, but maybe you may enjoy challenges. That translates well to a career in IT. Problem solving is a key component of both fields.
Former health care workers, such as certified nursing assistants (CNAs), medical coders, home health aids, dental assistants and orderlies, have all found new careers in IT.
What’s It Like to Work in IT?
Let's compare two entry-level IT jobs to see what sort of work and life you can expect with a career switch to IT. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a job as a help desk technician will grow by 12 percent between 2014 and 2024, and job availability as a computer support analyst is expected to grow by 10 percent.
|Help Desk Technician||Computer Support Analyst|
|Salary||$52,160 average||$52,160 average|
|Availability||“Normal” work hours||Generally requires some nights and weekends|
|Work–Life Balance||Can leave work at the office||Can leave work at the office|
Possible Career Path
|Help Desk Technician → End User Support Specialist → Network Administrator*||Computer Support Analyst → Coder → Software Developer*|
|Training||College degree not necessary, but certifications are beneficial||Associates degree or post-secondary classes often required|
|Job Outlook||12% growth expected||10% growth expected|
Estimated Time to Career Change
(Statistics and information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; items marked with an asterisk (*) are from itcareerfinder.com.)
You do not necessarily need a bachelor's degree for either job. In fact, both positions could be obtained with a few classes, self-studying at home and the right certifications, making either career choice a cost-effective route to changing careers into IT.
What Skills Do I Need to Get into IT?
While there may be fewer life-and-death situations in IT than in the medical field, some of the skills you've honed will translate well for jobs with computers. For example, like in health care, there is a priority list and hierarchy of tasks. Someone who is able to filter out the miscellany and identify which task to complete first would be valuable in an IT position.
Helping people is also a big part of the IT career path, whether it's through answering a question at a help desk or troubleshooting where a lost file went – it all speaks to making someone's day go better. In both health care and IT, people are your main priority.
According to Carrington College, health care workers need the following skills:
- Being a team player
- Dealing with pressure
- Strong work ethic
- Positive mental attitude
- Good time management
- Ability to receive criticism
These are many of the same skills needed in IT as well, making it a great alternative career for health care workers. If you have all of these skills and computer literacy, there's no reason you can't transfer your current skillset into a new career in technology.
How Can I Get IT Experience Before Changing Careers?
If you're thinking about changing careers to IT, it goes without saying that you should probably enjoy computers and technology. Think about what it is you like about computers and where your strengths lie. Are you good at problem solving computer issues for your friends and family? Do you enjoy trying to make your own computer run more efficiently? Both of those things are stepping stones to IT careers, as is helping out a nonprofit with configuring its servers or getting a bit of side work helping someone hook up their new printer.
While you are considering a new career in IT and still employed in the health care field, talk to people who work in your IT department to learn more about what they do, or even do a little moonlighting yourself to get your new career going in the right direction. In short, learn from those who are in the field and dip your toe into the IT pool.
How Long Will It Take to Change Careers?
While you may be really excited to hit the ground running in IT, it's important to remember that a career change takes time. Corinne Mills, author and managing director of Personal Career Management, suggests patience when transitioning to a new career.
“While some people want to radically reinvent their career instantly, it is more realistic to work toward a new career over time. This might mean making changes in your current job, studying a course in the evening, shadowing someone in the role or learning new skills to make yourself more attractive to potential employers,” she told The Guardian. “It might also mean that you gradually move into your new career via a series of jobs rather than one giant leap – and this is important if you want to protect your salary rather than going back to entry-level wages.”
The amount of time will be different for everyone, depending on your transferrable skills and experience and the amount and type of training you need. Career coach Daisy Swan says you'll need to allot time “to (re-)educate, to develop a new network in that field and to gain meaningful experiences that introduce you as a player...which then leads to gathering credibility and accessibility to your new work and new career.”
For some, it may be a few months, but for others it may be longer. Regardless of how long it takes, remember to go into the process with patience and a list of SMART goals that will keep you steadily on the path to a career in IT.
How Do I Get Started Switching from Health Care to IT?
To get from here to there, think about your goals and your timetable.
- As a first step, take our free career quiz to see what IT career matches your skills and interests. Remember, your health care career didn't happen overnight, and neither will your IT career, but with patience and attention to detail, you'll be able to navigate the change.
- Research what training/education you will need to get into IT. Perhaps it's as simple as taking a class or two at the local community college. Talk to people in the field doing what it is you think you'd like to do to learn how they got there.
- Make sure you are getting the experience you need on a small scale by volunteering your time and expertise with a charity or teaching a class at your local library for people that want to feel more comfortable using computers. If you want to start your career as a coder, for example, perhaps start building your web portfolio and polishing your skills.
- Don't forget, you likely already have many of the skills necessary to work in IT, such as attention to detail and communication. Certifications and training can get you the rest of the way to achieve your IT career goals.
Be sure to take our free career quiz to see which IT career is right for you and start your journey toward a new career in IT. From there, you can decide if cybersecurity, development, servers or cloud are right for you. You'll see how your current skills align with some of the top jobs in IT so you can take the next steps to designing your future.