By Sam Le
Northwest Asian Weekly
Becoming a doctor, dentist, or pharmacist is no small feat, but these professions aren’t the only pathways to have a successful, satisfying, and high-salaried career in the health industry. Despite the high pedestal obtaining an advanced medical degree holds in the eyes of many immigrant and refugee families, there are alternative opportunities for students to enter the healthcare field, where the emphasis on work experiences and on-the-job trainings hold higher value.
With only a career background in hospitality, Meng Lo has found a spot in one of the fastest growing and highest demanding industries under the healthcare umbrella — senior living.
As the baby boomer generation, those born from 1946 to 1964, continue to drive the total population of retirees up, careers that center around supporting them will develop and prosper.
Lo, general manager of Aegis Gardens Newcastle, finds himself carving out a revitalized career due to the rapid growth of the senior living and assisted living industry.
“At least 90 percent of my career has been in working in hotels. Ever since I graduated, I found myself working in different positions. My long career has led me to work all over the world — England, the United States, Malaysia, and China. Unexpectedly, I was offered a position at Aegis, a senior living community.”
Lo’s background in hospitality “surprisingly” transferred very well into his new position at Aegis.
“I do have experience in developing and opening brand new hotels, especially recently in my last stop in China, but I never realized how important that was in the healthcare industry. Making sure our guests, now the seniors, have the perfect experience.” Lo joined Aegis in developing the brand new Aegis Gardens facility in Newcastle after being offered the position.
“The transition from hospitality to senior living, despite being similar, did require that I attend trainings both by Aegis and the state,” said Lo.
“I had to learn a lot about healthcare and caregiving, such as the basics of caregiving and working with vulnerable patients, rules and protocols of caregiving, how to provide necessary services, and more advanced knowledge on symptoms.”
The necessary knowledge to provide care and work with patients can be gained through employee trainings, certificate classes, and on-hand experience, not just through university education.
“Nothing really prepares you until you are on the job.”
As many employers begin to provide trainings and pathways for their employees to “climb the ladder,” the balance between academic education and work experience will be debated, even within healthcare.
One of the many healthcare fields that have seen the shift towards favoring work experience is the nursing field. Nursing jobs and positions have been expanding at many levels, each requiring different certifications and qualifications.
“You can enter the healthcare field with a Nursing Assistant Certified (NAC) license which usually is obtainable after a 6 week training course or as a licensed Registered Nurse (RN) which a two-year degree and/or a bachelor’s degree support. Some nursing schools will take degrees in other fields as entry point into their master of science in nursing (MSN) program to prepare candidates with more diverse backgrounds to meet current and future challenges facing nursing and healthcare in general,” shared Jean Wong, the human resource manager of Kin On, a nonprofit health and social services provider for the Asian community.
“The field of nursing not only has many entry points, but the field has become more and more complicated, requiring skill sets from business, social work, accounting, education, and more,” Wong said. “I do not have formal education in either nursing or business management, however anyone with transferrable skills can apply themselves very well in healthcare.”
The opportunities for a career in nursing and caregiving has substantially grown, including opportunities for vulnerable communities, such as low-income and immigrant communities.
“There are programs that allow many individuals facing barriers to enter the nursing or caregiving field. They can have no experience all the way to an advanced degree, but still enter a career in the nursing field.”
When asked about immigrants who have limited English proficiency, Wong shared that “nursing is still available, but will be more difficult. There are programs, such as the Asian Counseling and Referral Service that provide ESL and job training for recent immigrants. They can access necessary resources to improve their chances of overcoming cultural, language, and financial barriers.”
“Aegis provides positions that are very entry level, such as housekeeping, activity coordinators, caregiver assistants, and cooks, but we also provide and encourage trainings for our employees,” said Lo. “Everything you need to better your career is available. Whether it’s obtaining certificates or going back to school, we make it available for our employees. It’s possible to work up to the highest positions, organically within Aegis.”
Both Lo and Wong shared similar views on what are the necessary skills to enter nursing or caregiving. Even though formal education, obtaining certificates, and obtaining degrees hold a high value, soft skills such as empathy, a willingness to serve, and genuine caring are also important.
“Education is very important, but the path to success is both academic and experience,” said Lo. “From personal experience, one never stops learning. I learned so much from my residents, from both the actual caregiving work and the daily interactions and conversations. The amount of history they have is inspiring. Some have gone through wars, not just a war. They have endless advice on many topics and issues. Learning is about what you learn every day.”
“It’s 60 percent on the job and 40 percent academic. You can’t replace the clinical, physical, and emotional experiences, but you also need to have a necessary background knowledge,” said Wong.
“Most people coming out of programs have the general knowledge to start, but still take time to be work ready.”
Although advanced medical degrees provide near direct opportunity of upward mobility for individuals and families, the barriers are often overwhelming for those from immigrant and refugee communities, with only a small percentage ever achieving such goals. These alternative healthcare careers provide these individuals the chance to succeed.
“A nursing career has many advantages, but directly working with, getting to know, and emotionally connecting with patients are certain aspects which many nurses share keeps them in the profession. But with the high physical and emotional demand and increasing complexity of healthcare in general, the demand will continue to grow,” said Wong.
“Especially within the Asian community, the needs of being able to connect with patients culturally and linguistically creates disparities.”
The opportunities to enter the healthcare field will continue to grow and rely on the Asian and Pacific Islander communities to fill the gaps where patients face many barriers and marginalization. The consideration for alternative pathways into a healthcare career benefits both the working individual and the communities that need the services.
Sam Le can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.