by Leena Rahman
Rewinding back to June of last year, I can recount the ecstatic memory of having completed four grueling years of my undergraduate. From the first year chemistry labs to the fourth year seminars dissecting the details of cellular pathways, I felt content with the accomplishment of having gone through all the toil. I was ready for the working world – or so I had thought.
Fast forward to now, it’s been a bit over a year since I’ve been out of school. I can say that I’ve grown much more and have learned a lot more than I had imagined. The working world is a whole separate universe from the days of school, and comes with its own set of unique challenges and opportunities, often for which students are not informed about.
The healthcare field has unique pressures, including funding, capacity and strategic pressures. However, many things about working in a healthcare environment are comparable to other fields of work. Here, I impart some of my learnings from the working world, namely how to best navigate the ups and downs. I hope that readers, especially new graduates, can get a sense of what lies ahead of them and what they can do to succeed!
You Know only the Minutiae of What There is to Know
School is great for gaining in-depth knowledge on a subject. For example, my experience in the Life Sciences program allowed me to gain an immense amount of knowledge on the topics of cell biology, cellular disease pathways, intricacies of protein malfunctions, and ways in which the human body responds to the products of these cellular changes. What I didn’t receive an education in was how complex our healthcare system really is. Unless you have studied in a field that is exactly what you will do for a living on a day-to-day basis, it’s safe to say that you will only know a tiny amount of what there is to know in the real world. From the funding models that our services are serviced through, to the management systems in place that help keep funding in line, to the guidance that a health administrative body receives from expert physicians – all this is not necessarily explained within the education system. So what can new graduates do to keep up? Simple – reads lots of things outside of your scope of education and talk to those in the field! There is a bigger world beyond the microscopic details that we focus on in school.
There is No Linear Path for Your Career
When I started my job at the provincial agency, I assumed that most of my coworkers would be from the same background –an undergrad in sciences, and then perhaps those who had gone onto pursue management-related degrees…but boy, was I wrong! I have talked to several people at my workplace and no two people in the same room have similar career paths. There are individuals with backgrounds in public policy, public health, engineering, the arts, and the list goes on! As students, we tend to think linearly when we are in school – but this is not the case when you are in the working world. There is no linear path for your career and it is important not to box yourself. Besides the need to pay down your school debts, your time after your undergraduate should be used to explore different opportunities. There is no “right” or “wrong” career path. Everything falls into place eventually – so long as you keep yourself open to options.
Create a Budget for Coffee
Besides the fact that coffee brings out the ultra-superhuman in most individuals and is needed by some on a daily (or hourly) basis – it’s great to keep a budget for this…but I don’t mean this in the typical sense. You should create a budget for coffee for those who you should reach out to, to learn more about their career paths or get a better sense of the working environment you are in. You will find that those around you have vast amounts of knowledge about the ins and outs of your workplace and can probably provide you with a good tip or two to navigate workplace challenges. Make the effort to create those connections – those relationships may very well serve you far ahead in your career!
Communication is KEY
In my little experience, I’ve noticed that 80% of almost all issues boil down to one thing: communication. I can’t stress the importance of communication. This can be in the form of the details you provide in your email, to verbally flagging potential project risks to your Manager, to simply picking up the phone to have a conversation for something you’re confused about. It’s safe to say – always ask questions! In school, we tend to have little to no communication with our professors. We can get by through seeking out our answers by talking to peers or reading the syllabus. That’s not the case in the workplace. The lack of communication can sometimes lead to costly mistakes – whether that has to do with the dollars you are working with or a small, but crucial administrative detail that you miss out on. If you are unsure – always ask questions. My director has always told me – over-communication is always better than under-communication…and I can attest to that
Your Work Ethic Says it All
All those who enter a workplace want to do one thing – and that is to succeed. Success is definitely a combination of several factors and depends on everything you bring to the table. But one thing is common amongst all, and requires no prior talent or training, and this is your work ethic. Work hard and become known to be a person that works hard. How you keep up with your work, the effort you put into your products, how often you seek feedback to improve your work – all of this will be noticed. A strong work ethic will not only help you improve your own abilities and succeed in your current role, but will also help you progress in your career. Build up a solid work ethic early on and you will go places you can’t have ever imagined before!
I hope the above common advice helps all those who have just entered the workforce and even help to serve as a reminder for those of us who are settling into our career paths now. I’m sure that what I’ve learned in this year is a fraction of what there is to know. We’re all on a journey and it’s up to us to make the best of it.
Leena graduated from McMaster University in 2016 with her Bachelor of Science, specializing in the Life Sciences Program. Since then, she has been working with a provincial agency aimed at improving the lives of patients with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). You can connect with Leena on LinkedIn here.