Choosing The Level Of Patient Care You Want To Experience In Your First Healthcare Job

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You've decide to take a career path into the healthcare field. There are a variety of roles from which to choose. A major factor in your choice is the amount of direct patient care you wish to have in your role. Here are three entry-level roles to consider, each with different levels of patient contact.

Nursing Assistant

If you see yourself doing primarily hands-on patient care, the certified nursing assistant (CNA) role is a good first step into the healthcare field. You'll work with patients directly and other healthcare professionals. You can work in a number of environments, such as hospitals, doctor's offices and clinics, senior care centers and short-term rehabilitation centers.

You'll be trained in a number of areas to help patients with their daily activities. You'll also learn how to communicate with other professionals to keep them informed about changes in the health of the people you're taking care of. Some of the areas your training will focus on include:

  • Monitoring and recording the patient's vital signs such as blood pressure and pulse.
  • Assisting patients with daily tasks such as bathing, getting dressed and eating.
  • Helping other healthcare providers perform tasks for the patient such as changing surgical dressings.
  • Making notes in the patient's records about your observations of their health and any changes you spot.

As you develop your skills, you can work in specialty areas such as:

  • pediatric orthopedics
  • labor and delivery
  • Alzheimer's and dementia treatment

Medical Assistant

If you don't see yourself delivering care directly to patients, but you like working with people, the medical assistant role may be a good choice. Medical assistant schools teach you some of the administrative aspects of healthcare while preparing you to support doctors and nurses as they do the hands-on care.

You can work in the same environments as the nursing assistant, but in a different capacity. Working at the front reception desk, some of your responsibilities will include:

  • Checking patients in for their appointments.
  • Helping patients schedule new appointments.
  • Updating information in the patients' medical records.
  • Answering questions from patients about insurance and billing.

You may also work in the examination area of a hospital or clinic and perform the following responsibilities:

  • Take the patient's vital signs in preparation for seeing the doctor.
  • Drawing blood to be sent to the lab.
  • Performing an electrocardiogram so the doctor can see the patient's heart activity.

In this role, you'll have contact with patients in a variety of ways without direct patient care being your primary responsibility.

Medical Coder

The medical coding specialist has no direct patient contact, but you'll get to see the behind-the-scenes working of healthcare delivery. Your responsibility is to maintain the accuracy of the patients' medical records from a variety of data sources to which you'll have access. This data will include:

  • test results from diagnostic facilities
  • doctors' and nurses' notes about the care of the patient
  • notes regarding treatment and the patient's response

This data needs to be entered into the patient's records so that other healthcare professionals can use them to treat the patient. Some of the information must meet strict medical coding guidelines, currently designated ICD-10. The use of proper coding ensures that others will understand the data supplied in the medical records.

You may perform this role in a hospital or large clinic. Some coders work from home and are part of a contract group that works with large facilities. While you won't meet patients face-to-face, you'll get to know them by the medical records for which you'll be responsible.