When was the last time you went to the doctor for a check-up, not because you had something wrong but because you just wanted to make sure you’re as healthy as you can be? For too many of us, the answer is never. We take better care of our cars than we do our bodies. Even if the engine light doesn’t go on, we take our cars in for oil changes and tune ups because we know they’ll run better. But we don’t do the same for our bodies which, presumably, are expected to last a lot longer.
The medical providers who can help you keep things running smoothly–the general mechanics of the healthcare world–are the primary care providers. Most of the primary care providers I know (myself included) chose primary care to build lifelong relationships with patients so we could help them navigate the complex challenges of their physical, emotional, and social health and thereby live their best lives. For many of us this is a calling, not just a job.
Primary care includes specialties such as family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, women’s health (OB/GYN), and geriatrics. These specialties allow physicians and advanced practice providers to care for patients over many years, often through several developmental phases. The longer we get to work with our patients, the better we know them and the more we can help them understand and manage their health.
Nationwide, we are facing a shortage of primary care providers, so if you are interested in medicine and feel called to care for others, becoming a primary care provider could be a great choice. You can live anywhere, you can make a solid living, and most importantly, you never have to wonder whether you’re doing work that matters – you always are.
There are lots of opportunities to work in healthcare, from physicians to medical assistants. Each role has a different set of responsibilities (or clinically speaking, a different scope of practice). Physicians have the broadest scope of practice, and we support advanced practice providers who work independently with some physician oversight.
Advanced practice providers in primary care include physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse midwives. Each of these providers can assess patients, create treatment plans, and prescribe medication.
Doctors and advance practice providers receive clinical support from nurses, certified nursing assistants, and medical assistants, among others. Registered nurses (RNs) can administer and monitor medications, develop care plans, take vital signs, care for wounds, and perform basic life support. Licensed vocational/practical nurses (LVNs) and medical assistants can change bandages and IVs, check vital signs, and maintain detailed records of a patient’s condition and progress.
When we all collaborate and work to the top of our licenses, we provide patients with the best care. Sometimes being in medicine is hard, but when you consider the accomplishments in your life that you’re most proud of, you probably had to work for them. The people I work with care deeply about providing quality care, and when you’re on a team where it feels like everyone is pulling together, it makes a difference.
I began my medical career in the military as a hospital corpsman, which combines the skills of a licensed practical nurse and an emergency medical technician. If you’re interested in medicine, you do not have to go straight to medical school. You can work in healthcare and see if it’s right for you.
It’s a sacred trust. I’d say being in healthcare is kind of like parenting–it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and if it’s your calling, you’ll never want to do anything else.
Dr. Matt Swain is the chief medical officer at MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental, and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.