If you have a mind for science and a heart for caring, the future looks full of promise.
Thanks to changing demographics — an aging population and increased immigration — those interested in a career in health sciences have a wealth of options.
“The future is bright because there is always going to be a job in health care,” says Dr. Jacques Bradwejn, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa. As Canadians grow older and the population becomes more diversified, he says, the field is ripe with opportunity.
By 2025, one in four Canadians will be over 65, and those older Canadians will need help with their health. What that means for those interested in health sciences is a range of new career options.
Home health care
Research shows people recover faster in their own homes, and a growing number of careers will revolve around providing that home-based care.
In fact, experts are predicting hospitals will become places of training rather than treatment, and homes will be the place where the bulk of care is received, says Aleksandra Zecevic who teaches aging and health at the University of Western Ontario.
The “McJobs” of the future will be personal care workers, as corporations enter the field in the same way privatization took over garbage collection, and the current haphazard approach to home care becomes more efficient, predicts Dr. Ken Rockwood, professor of geriatric medicine at Dalhousie.
A host of other opportunities will arise to meet the home health-care movement, from nurses who specialize in home care, to home renovators who install elevators and easy-access baths.
Community health services
As the population ages, health-care providers will face patients with multiple chronic health-care problems — obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia.
Integrated care will become key, creating a need for new disciplines such as geriatric rehabilitation aides with skill sets such as nutrition, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, Dr. Rockwood says.
And, there will be more collaboration between health professionals, adds Doug Angus, director of the PhD Program in Population Health at University of Ottawa. “Traditionally we’ve trained people from a narrow clinical perspective,” but physicians, dieticians, physiotherapists and chiropractors will need to work together in family health-care teams or community health centres.
There will be a growing need for health-care providers who specialize in the elderly — from doctors of geriatric medicine, to gerontology-focused nurses and social workers — through programs like Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, which offers a distance certificate program in Post-Basic Nursing Practice, UBC’s Okanagan campus two-year Bachelor of Social Work Aging Specialization, and Toronto’s Seneca College two-year diploma for social service worker in gerontology.
A growing immigrant population will bring more opportunities. With different backgrounds come different requirements. One example, Angus says, is Vancouver General Hospital, which deals with a large Asian population and is combining Eastern and Western approaches to medicine.
While a variety of colleges and institutes offer training in holistic and naturopathic medicines, mainstream health science programs, like that at University of Western Ontario, now expose undergrads to alternative approaches in health care as well.
With immigration and globalization, there’s a growing need for professionals who can tackle emerging infectious diseases — think SARS and H1N1. Other diseases, like TB, are re-emerging and providing new challenges since they’re drug resistant.
There’s a demand for epidemiologists and other professionals who can monitor the growth of viruses and bacteria, predict how populations might evolve and plan for pandemic preparedness.
With an aging population and medical advances, conditions that once were acute and life-threatening, like diabetes and coronary artery disease, are becoming chronic illnesses that will require specialists in health promotion, disease prevention, disease management and rehabilitation to help patients and their families manage their disease.
The fields of engineering and computer science will also have a role in health care. Imagine a world where your “smart home” has toilets that automatically analyze urine to inform your fridge what nutrients you need, or monitors that let you know by your heart rate or sweat rate to alter the room temperature.
Some of the innovations are already happening, as robotics enable doctors to perform minimally invasive or remote surgery.
And with hundreds of new drugs introduced each year around the world, several colleges like Seneca and Humber in Toronto offer training for much-needed clinical researchers to design, monitor and manage clinical trials.