Before embarking on a health career path, take a few minutes to think about your own abilities, needs and hopes. Here are some useful questions to ask yourself:

Do You Like to Deal With People?

One of the first questions you should ask yourself is how much you want to deal with people. For instance, it is important for nursespediatricians and occupational therapists to have a warm and caring personality. By contrast, other health careers (like clinical laboratory scientistpathologist or medical illustrator) involve little or no personal contact with patients.

Are You Comfortable With Science?

Many (but not all) health careers require you to be a strong science student. All health careers involve some laboratory science, and some programs demand intensive work in the hard sciences (i.e., chemistry, physics, biology).

Are You Prepared to Keep Up with Developments in Your Field?

Good health care practitioners are committed to giving their patients the best care available. That means, in order to keep up with the latest developments in your field, you’ll need to continue studying and learning throughout your career.

Are You Comfortable in a Health Care Setting?

In many (but not all) health careers, you may spend much of your time in the company of sick, disabled or dying people. In terms of a clinical setting, you might work in a hospital, community health center, mobile clinic, long-term care facility, private practice office, a health maintenance organization (HMO) or even a patient’s home.

You may opt to work in a bustling city or a sleepy suburb — and if you do, you’ll be meeting a legitimate need. However, there’s an urgent need for health practitioners in medically under-served areas, which often are in far-flung rural communities or inner-city neighborhoods.

If you would prefer less direct contact with patients, there are numerous other health-related work settings — including pharmacies; laboratories; medical libraries; and corporate, nonprofit or government offices, to name just a few.

You might be part of a small staff or a huge organization, working at the national, regional, state or local level. The possibilities in this field are almost endless.

Are You a Team Player?

Health care is increasingly becoming a group activity, in which a patient’s recovery depends on how well each member of the health care team performs his or her specific function – and how well they communicate and collaborate with one another. Even dentists – 70% of whom work in a solo private practice – usually supervise and work closely with several staff members.

What Lifestyle Do You Envision?

How do you feel about facing life-and-death situations on a daily basis? Some (though not all) health careers involve coping with emergencies, working extremely long hours and shouldering heavy responsibility. What kind of lifestyle do you envision? How much time do you hope to spend at work, versus at home?

You need to be realistic with yourself: If you don’t mind long workdays and are good at handling stress, go ahead and pursue a career that will demand that of you. But if you’d rather have a job with regular hours and fewer medical crises, there are plenty of other fulfilling health careers.

©2012 American Dental Education Association