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The ins and outs of the civilian health care job hunt

Mar. 2, 2012 - 04:06PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 2, 2012 - 04:06PM  |  
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Jennifer Zamora knows what it's like to perform under pressure. Okinawa might have been quiet, but bullets flew in the Korean DMZ.

"As a combat medic, male or female, you are going out with these troops and you are the only health care provider with them," she says. The former Army sergeant left the service in July 2010 and went right to work in an urgent care center. The pace, the intensity — it all felt right, in light of her field experience.

That experience helped Zamora transition straight into the civilian workforce. Yet for many former troops who bring medical experience to the table, or who pursue medical credentials after separating, the route to a health care career can be a maze.

There are so many different kinds of jobs, many of which are among the fastest-growing careers in the nation: medical assistants, cardiovascular technologists, diagnostic sonographers and many more. There are varied venues, too, from small doctors' offices to big hospitals and medical centers. And there are so many ways in, including websites, recruiters and word of mouth.

It can be hard to know where to begin.

Job boards

The best starting point often is the interpersonal route, says Kirah Rahill, national director of career services for Medtech, a medical training school with 10 campuses and 4,200 students nationwide.

"Health care is a much more tightly knit field than most people realize," she says. "Physicians keep in touch. They attend a lot of the same conferences. Office managers join management organizations, and they all maintain contact."

Medical offices tend to cluster together in medical complexes. A contact at any one office easily can pass the word to others.

For a more direct route, some of the big job boards can be surprisingly effective. Zamora posted her résumé on and received multiple job offers even before completing her nurses' training. "They specifically told me it was because of my experience in the military," she says. "They knew military people know how to manage their time, that we know when to lead and we know when to follow."

There is no shortage of medical job boards:

* In addition to job listings, offers tools to compare medical careers and browse career articles.

* Easily navigable by job type, has fairly active listings, with 68 jobs just in the dietetic-and-nutrition category the day we looked.

Highlight skills

An even more direct route may be the health care staffing companies. Agencies such as Unlimited Nurse Search specialize in medical careers, with the hiring party paying all fees.

In seeking out an agency, you've got to do your research, Rahill says. "You want to find the ones that are most professional, that have the networks that can open doors for you. If you are one of thousands upon thousands of applications, there is a risk that your fabulous résumé will get lost in the mix."

That fabulous résumé is a must, Rahill says. For health care jobseekers, especially those without a lot of experience, a résumé needs to highlight skills and education. Employers will be looking for these as the sign of someone who is able to deliver. "In health care, if I have aced every class and I have a handful of recommendations, those are really going to demonstrate my potential," Rahill says.

Talk the talk

The interview likely will be the place to continue that demonstration. "You may be asked to show your skills. You may need to be able to use medical terminology. You will have to show that you have a comfort level with the field," Rahill says. "Physicians don't have the time to hold a candidate's hand, so even if this is entry level, they want to see that they will not have to baby you."

With the luxury of multiple offers on the table, Zamora could be choosy about her employer. She submitted one more application, this one to urgent care center Patient First. She had used their services once and respected the work they did.

"I had been a patient there at one time when I had an asthma attack, and I just saw how everything flowed. It's in and out, with X-ray and lab all in one area. It reminded me a lot of the military," says Zamora, now a staff nurse at Patient First in Catonsville, Md.

For those seeking health care work, Zamora says the effort to navigate the maze can be well worth it.

"I love the fact that I am able to help people in their worst times," she says. "When you see someone coming back from being right on the edge of dying, it's just a miracle."

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