Hands-on experience in health care occupations

Hands-on experience in health care occupations

If you are interested in a US  health care career, there are some interesting ways you can gain valuable insight into the day-to-day activities and responsibilities of a particular job:

A good first step is to conduct internet research or talk with people on the phone.

A great second step is to spend time in a health care setting and watch a normal day on the job – you’ll learn a whole lot about that job and whether you are interested in it!

These hands-on experiences may make the difference between deciding to pursue a particular career and learning that it may not be the right job for you.

School to Career

If you are in high school now, there may be a School-to-Career Program in your school.

The schools work with employers to provide internships and job shadowing for high school students. Check with your career specialist to find out more.

The School-to-Career system provides healthcare career resources including internship opportunities, forums, workshops, college level courses, training and other activities to explore work options. In addition to the School to Career partnerships, there are schools and programs that focus specifically on health care careers. You can read about specific programs to understand what they cover.


An internship is an experience in which a student or adult works in a supervised employment setting in order to prepare for career related work.

An internship helps you to understand

  • the skills required for a job,
  • the relationships with co-workers and supervisors that are an essential part of the job and
  • the demands and culture of a work environment.
  • An internship will make the connection between what you are learning in school or a health care job training program and what’s going on at the employer. Internships may be paid or unpaid, after school or during the summer, and may have educational credits awarded for the experience.

    An internship in a health care setting is arranged through your school by your program staff, a guidance counselor or a teacher.

    There are usually eligibility requirements that must be met by the applicant, as well as an application process which often includes an essay about why you want to participate in an internship. Once accepted, you are matched with a department that best suits your specific interest in health care. The intern is then assigned to a supervisor (often a department manager) and given tasks and responsibilities to carry out.

    It’s a great opportunity to see how a department runs, what this health care job is all about, and whether you think you have the skills to do that job.

    Job Shadowing

    Job shadowing helps you to begin to answer the question…”Could I do this job and would I enjoy it?” Job shadowing is an opportunity to watch or “shadow” an experienced professional while they work. In this way, you can obtain a first-hand learning experience about a position that you may be interested in, but may know nothing or very little about. A job shadow experience may include:

  • learning about the tasks and responsibilities of the position, such as how to interact with patients, the use of particular machines or equipment, or how a specific computer or file system works,
  • meeting people within the department that you are shadowing and
  • learning how a department operates and how the team within the department works together.
  • Typically, a job shadow may last a couple of hours. In some cases, it could be as long as a day or a full shift. During a job shadow, you will follow, observe and ask questions in a way that is not disruptive to the work being done. You won’t actually do any work.

    If you are in high school or college, a job shadow day may already exist within your school as part of a larger, national program called Groundhog Job Shadow Day (see www.jobshadow.org for more information).

    Ask your guidance counselor, advisor or teacher if job shadows for students have ever been arranged at a hospital or other health care setting.

    If you are not in school but want to try a job shadow, contact the human resources department of the health care facility where you would like to work. Chances are that they will welcome the opportunity to have you come in for a job shadow. You may be able to job shadow in the evening or on the weekend, if that is more convenient.


    Volunteer opportunities exist in most health care facilities, no matter how large or small. Hospitals often have a wide range of volunteer opportunities from which to choose. You may find out about volunteer opportunities by checking the hospital website under one of the following categories or looking for a similar tab or title: “how you can help” “volunteer opportunities at…” “for patients and volunteer services” “giving to…”

    How do I apply?
    Most of USA  hospitals require you to complete an application, have a brief interview and/or orientation, and have some health tests run. In some institutions, such as a children’s hospital, a background criminal check is also needed. Some hospitals require training in topics such as patient confidentiality, dress code and the location of departments, offices and patient services.

    What kinds of work will I do?
    We often think that volunteering in a hospital means sitting at a reception desk and giving directions or transporting patients in wheel chairs. However, there are many more types of volunteer jobs available, if you only ask. Below is a list of volunteer jobs from a variety of hospitals:

  • Family Liaison Volunteer – Emergency Department (must be 18 or older)
  • Child Life Volunteer – Pediatrics Department (must be 16 or older)
  • Emergency Radiology Service Volunteer – Emergency Radiology
  • Parent Connection – Maternity Resource Program
  • Interpreter Services
  • Reach Out and Read – Children in the waiting area of ambulatory care
  • What are the qualifications?
    Volunteers must be 18 years of age or older to volunteer in the Emergency Department, and 16 years of older to volunteer in Pediatrics. Volunteers must be 14 or older to volunteer in all other departments.

    All of these volunteer jobs require an ability to work well with people, handle sensitive information and situations, to possess a clear understanding of patient confidentiality and maintain excellent communication skills.