Health care is one of the largest and fastest growing employers in the Region and country as a whole.

The medical sector employs more people in Northwest Indiana than the steel industry. In 2016 in Lake, LaPorte and Porter counties, 36,431 individuals worked in health care, compared to 17,929 in steel manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development's Hoosier Hot 50 Jobs, registered nurse is the hottest job of the future in the state. Also in the top 50 are licensed practical nurse (sixth), medical services manager (14th), dental hygienist (21st), physical therapist (23rd), dentist (28th), nurse practitioner (36th), and medical scientist (48th).

Get Healthy asked experts in health care and education how people can best position themselves for a career in medicine and what characteristics people who are successful in the field possess. Here are some of the tips they gave us:

1. Try it out

"Students can pick up part-time work while they're in college to figure out if they like this kind of work," said Lisa Hopp, dean and professor at the college of nursing at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond.

"You may ultimately not really care for an acute care setting. You may choose to work in a community setting or clinical setting. If you don't like blood and guts, you don't have to work with blood and guts. You can work in mental health centers, ambulatory or rehab, primary care and preventive care.

"There are so many different opportunities. Sometimes if students are trying to figure out, 'Should I do this or not?' they should get some type of experience in health care that gives them a taste."

2. Have communication and people skills

"The first critical skill is the ability to ask questions, to communicate your needs, to be able to provide empathy to patients, to offer support, whether it be emotional support or otherwise, and the ability to communicate with other team members," said Debra Polster, director of clinical education and professional development for Porter Regional Hospital.

"The other trait is the ability to work well with people, understand the humanness in all that we do. We really need to partner for the common good of the patient in that bed. We also care for the family in addition to the patient."

3. Be proficient in math and science, starting early

"Really in junior high is when the seeds need to be planted, so when they're making their schedule for high school in freshman year, they are scheduling themselves to get four years of math and science," said Mary Anne Sloan, vice president for health sciences and nursing for Ivy Tech Community College.

"In health care, really any of the certificates and/or degrees you do have to have some basic science and math. If you go into nursing that requires more. Respiratory therapists, surgical technicians — that requires more science and some math.

"To have a long-term career in the health care arena, you really need to have the math and science."

4. Have compassion

"We are looking for, No. 1, people who have a lot of compassion, empathy for patients, whether it's the person who greets you when you walk into a physician's office for your appointment or the housekeepers who clean your room during your hospital stay to the food service worker who delivers your tray," said Ellen Page, a recruiter for Franciscan Alliance.

"That could be your mother or your brother or your sister there. We want them to be treated like they are your family.

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"You have to want to help people. People in health care aren't in it for the money. They get paid well for the job they do, but I don't know if you can pay them enough for what they do. It's like police or firemen. For most people, it's a calling."

5. Learn as much as you can about the profession

"Read about it or watch short video snippets about the field. Shadowing someone perhaps would be another option. Talk to people who actually work in the field to learn more about, 'Do I want to go the physical therapy route, physician assistant, administrative side?'" said Tom Cath, director of the career center at Valparaiso University.

"People should not be afraid to reach out to individuals, to develop contacts, to have conversations with employers. They're always on the lookout for bright, young, talented folks. Don't just rely on job or internship postings online, but reach out to some individuals: alumni of your high school, alumni of your college.

"Shadowing, getting a part-time job are great ways to get contacts and visibility. Employers really like to take you for a test drive to see if you're a good fit. Go to career fairs, do clinicals. The holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas — when you're back with your folks might be a good time to meet with some people."

6. Want to make a difference

"I think the health profession is by and large the best career anyone can have," said Karen Allen, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Valparaiso University.

"Right now it's the main issue in the United States of America. Getting into that career places you right smack in the middle of what's going on in the country from a political perspective.

"Someone once said your career changes seven times before you retire. Having a degree in health care launches you to all different areas: You can be an attorney, in the White House, an educator. We have students in public health who went to help with Hurricane Harvey, health care leadership, analysis related to patient care. It's amazing what you can do if you choose a health care degree and career."

7. Love to learn

"We're all lifelong learners. I learn something new every day," said Jeri Simms, clinical nurse educator for LaPorte Hospital.

"The other thing is to be an advocate of change. Change happens every day it feels like in health care." She remembers the days when people spent days in the hospital after having a gallbladder removed; now they're going home within 24 hours of a total joint replacement.

"You should be happy, optimistic and willing to learn," added Liebenette Grimm, human resources generalist for LaPorte Hospital.

8. Be open to a variety of careers

"I try to get people to think of a hospital as a hotel with patients," said Tony Ferracane, vice president of human resources for Community Healthcare System.

"We have food, maintenance, environmental, quality control, transportation, registration, finance. On top of that, you have all the clinical areas: doctors, nurses, lab, pharmacy, radiology. Then you add to that the area where we're really growing is in the physician office practices and our immediate care centers. We need medical assistants, registration staff.

"On top of that, we have the electronic medical records, so we need people in information technology, medical records and coding, population and community health. We're focusing on more of a continuum of care and home health. There's quite a lot of jobs tied to health care."


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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.