Career Exploration

As you initiate your search and take responsibility for your future, you will usually undergo a three-phase process. The three phases are as follows:

1. Self assessment and reflection

Finding your career path: As you search for a career, some considerations that might be important to you are:

  • Values (What matters most in your life?)
  • Skills (What do you do well?)
  • Interests (How do you enjoy spending your time? What academic subjects do you excel in and enjoy?)
  • Balance in work vs. personal life
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Opportunity for continued education and learning
  • Security and stability
  • Geographical mobility
  • Vertical mobility allowing advancement
  • Independence
  • Interaction with people

The bi-annual Quo Vadis Retreat offers St. Olaf sophomores a unique opportunity to step away from campus to reflect on where you have been, who you are, and where you are going within a supportive community.

2. Career exploration

Advising: Your primary advice regarding courses should be obtained from your faculty advisor. Faculty members are equipped to give suggestions as to selection of a sequence of courses that will match your abilities and interests. While advisors will give advice, the final responsibility for proper course selection and completion of graduation requirements rests with you. Take advising seriously; put effort into course selection and major requirements before you meet with your advisor. Additional advice and information may be obtained from any member of the Health Professions Committee or from the Piper Center for Vocation and Career. If you would like an informal advising appointment with the chair of the Health Professions Committee, Dr. Kevin Crisp, use Handshake to schedule one. Finally, obtain advice from those whose opinions you trust. Carefully consider the advice you are given, but also consider the bias of the person giving the advice.

Piper Center for Vocation and Career: The Piper Center can help facilitate experiential learning opportunities that enrich your academic program. Experiential learning will guide you in the process for pursuing your vocational goals. Utilize the Piper Center to develop, implement, and evaluate your career plans; take advantage of entrepreneurial activities; explore and pursue internships; and get involved with service and community programs.

The Piper Center is located in Tomson Hall 270. Piper Center staff work individually with students and facilitate many useful career-related sessions and workshops throughout the year. Log into Handshake for a full list of events and workshops, and to schedule a one-on-one meeting with a career coach. Piper Center Pre-Health Peer Advisors can also offer guidance on pre-health courses, searching for and applying to internships and research opportunities, professional school information, entrance exams, and the application and interview process. There is no appointment necessary to meet with a Pre-health Peer Advisor.

Exposure to careers in the health professions: There are many ways to explore career options in the health professions. You need direct exposure to healthcare professionals and an opportunity to observe them in their work environment. Informational interviews, job shadowing, and internships are three useful approaches to acquiring information about various health careers.

Informational interviews can be arranged with alumni or other professionals. An informational interview is an opportunity for you, the student, to ask questions and gather information from professionals in your career areas of interest. Ideally, it’s an opportunity to visit a professional at his or her place of work and get a feel for the working environment, job responsibilities, and the best paths to enter such a career. In this setting, you are the interviewer, so prepare accordingly.

Job shadowing usually involves a longer period of time (hours to several days) and allows you the opportunity to observe the healthcare professional in his or her place of employment. Clinical observation (shadowing) is one of the best ways to determine whether the daily responsibilities and typical setting of a profession are a good fit for you. Additionally, many health professions programs require or recommend a certain number of hours of clinical observation in the field of interest prior to applying. Guidelines for Clinical Shadowing Experiences for Students was published by the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) Group on Student Affairs (GSA), Committee on Admissions (COA) in consultation with the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and Dr. Elizabeth Kitsis, Director of Bioethics Education, Assistant Professor, Epidemiology and Population Health and Medicine at Albert Einstein COM. Though aimed at pre-medical students (MD/DO), these guidelines are helpful to students interested in exploring and shadowing professionals within a wide variety of health careers.

Internships involve a longer exposure to a healthcare profession and may be arranged during a semester, Interim, or over the summer. Internships during the sophomore or junior year work well and can be completed for 1.0 or 0.5 units of credit. Many students arrange a non-credit career experience or internship over the summer, which does not involve paying tuition.

Ole Health is a networking event organized by Twin Cities- and Rochester-based alumni healthcare professionals to help students explore the wide range of specialties and develop connections within healthcare fields.

As a Certified Nursing Assistant, you can gain valuable direct patient care experience in the years prior to applying to medical school or graduate school, as well as get to know the residents of the facilities personally. Students who are considering applying to medical school at the end of their junior year should consider completing a CNA training program during their sophomore year in order to work as a CNA for at least a year prior to applying to medical school. Students who are considering applying to the St. Olaf Nursing Program should consider completing a CNA training program during their first year or the beginning of their sophomore year, depending on when they are applying to the nursing program. Beginning with the class of 2016, nursing students will be required to have CNA certification as a criterion for admission to the St. Olaf Nursing program.

Additional resources: Explore Health Careers may be especially useful as you begin your search.

3. Implementation

St. Olaf graduates pursue a wide range of activities. Roughly 20 percent immediately go on to graduate or professional school, around 15-10 percent choose to volunteer full-time, and the remainder find employment. Although it may seem that many students in the biomedical sciences choose the graduate or professional school route, many others take a year or two off to pursue service related opportunities, and still others find work at the bachelors level in science (and non-science) related positions. The average age of most applicants to biomedical focused professional schools is 24. If you are looking to explore your options in the science realm, or plan to take a year or two to explore your options, the Piper Center encourages you to think strategically about your goals and skills you’d like to gain.