Over the past month and a half, I have begun to dig deeper into some possible career industries that I have an interest in exploring, in an effort to find information to help myself decide what I would like to pursue, but more importantly, to spread the knowledge I have gained to anyone looking into these career industries as well. The three industries I have explored are healthcare, fire service, and elementary education. As I researched these career industries with a visual disability in mind, I found general information on requirements regarding education as well as any other qualifications; including information on the possibility of pursuing these careers as a person with low vision, as some of these careers have physical standards. I was able to interview many people from each field, in search of finding specifics on the career path, interests (whether or not this career would fit one’s personality), and requirements or difficulties regarding visual impairments.
Beginning with the field of education, we’ll start by looking at some numbers. The education field as a whole is estimated to have a large increase of job openings within the next decade, though elementary school teaching has a projected growth of about two to three percent. The US national average salary is $59,000 annually.
For some more opinionated information, I was able to interview a retired kindergarten and first grade teacher, who is now a substitute teacher. Ms. Susan LaRose taught children ages five to seven for twenty-eight years, and she continues to spend her time in the classroom. There are many difficult parts of working with young children, but when I asked Ms. LaRose what her favorite part of teaching kindergarten and first grade was, she told me this; “In kindergarten and first grade, they’re young. I remember on the first day of school, or first week of school, they’re so young. And then, just to see them grow. Some kids didn’t even know all the letters of the alphabet when they came into kindergarten, sometimes even first grade, but by the end of the year, they're reading”...”Just seeing them grow is awesome.”
From speaking with Ms. LaRose, I learned that young children are so moldable, so it is something really special to play such a big part in their early years. In order to become a teacher, a bachelor’s degree in education is necessary to begin teaching. Once an aspiring teacher has completed their bachelor’s program, they can get licensed in some states, but not all. In order to teach in a public school in many states, it is required that a teacher has a Master’s or is earning their Master’s within a certain amount of time. This way, a teacher can be licensed to teach in that state.
Looking at teaching from a visual disability standpoint, I have been told on multiple occasions by many different people that teaching should not be an issue for people with low vision. I have heard stories of teachers being completely blind, and teaching with an aide who can watch to make sure the students are safe. Ms. LaRose recommends to any future teacher; “Just get experience. As much exposure to kids as you can”.
As for the healthcare field, my main focus was nursing. Though as I dove deeper into the immense variety of careers in medicine, I spoke to a surgeon and found in interest in being a physician as well as a physician's assistant. The healthcare field as a whole has an extremely bright outlook for the next decade; an estimated 1,260,000 jobs are expected to open up in just five years. The demand for healthcare workers continues to increase.
I was able to speak with multiple nurses of different specialties, and I gathered a lot of different opinions and information. A good place to start is the umbrella term of Registered Nurse. An RN is any nurse who has been registered by completing a nursing program and has a nursing diploma, passed the NCLEX-RN exam, and met all state licensure requirements. The average annual wage for RN’s in the US is about 73,000 dollars.
There are many different kinds of nurses, and I was able to speak with nurses from three very different departments; Emergency Room, Operating Room, and Float nurses, as well as an all- around nurse, who is stationed on a cardiac floor. In the ER, nurses are required to stay extremely focused, and make split second decisions. ER nursing is an adrenaline-filled job with something different every day.
Although the fast pace of the ER is exciting, an ER nurse named Jess Hayes explained to me what disadvantages there are for working in the ER: “The only thing with the ER that I miss is you don’t get that relationship with you patients and their families, so once they leave the ER, you really don’t know how their outcome was.”
The unpredictability is quite different from the very structured Operating Room. An OR nurse works with different surgeons on different days, but has a very structured day of planned surgeries. In my interview with OR nurse Stacie Wolfram, I learned that an OR job is a little more difficult to come by without any experience prior.
Finally, a Float Nurse is an excellent way into the career of nursing, because float nurses go to different floors of the hospital every day and get to explore all different kinds of nursing. Float Nurse Carla LeBlanc explains how she went into float nursing to explore her options and eventually switch departments, but became accustomed to experiencing something new every day, similar to an ER (minus the adrenaline), and “couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
There are many other kinds of nurses, especially in areas such as the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), and other long-term care facilities. Nurse Cristina DiGiovani works on a cardiac med-search floor, and she sees a good amount of patients with heart conditions. When asked about her favorite part of being a nurse, she replied: “Definitely mine is making that patient-to-professional relationship,”...”It’s awesome to be able to listen to someone’s story and make those connections that you have.”
Not only are there other opportunities in hospitals, but nursing homes, visiting nurses’ associations, and private practices hire nurses as well. The career path of a Registered Nurse often begins with a career as a Certified Nurse Aide. CNA’s are beginner nurses and often nursing school students. As Nurse Carla put it: “Everyone always says the best nurses were people who were aides prior.” The experience gained from being a CNA allows future nurses to decide if nursing is really the path they would like to go down. Nurse Carla told me during our interview that; “Sometimes people could feel like they didn’t like the job because they maybe felt like it was a little demeaning; some of the things that they would have to do, or some of the ways the aides are treated. I think sometimes it might push good potential nurses out of being a nurse because they don’t like the way they’re treated in the job, or getting the worst of the worst.” Nurse Carla later stated that if one was very passionate about the job, they would make it through their years as a CNA.
Moving into physicians and surgeons, we’ll start with how to become one. All doctors are required to attend medical school after completing a four-year bachelor’s program. This can be basically anything you’d like, though some of the most common majors for pre-medical school students are biological sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, specialized health sciences, and math and statistics. These are just the most common kinds of majors, though anyone is able to apply for medical school with a bachelor’s degree.
After being accepted into a medical program, students spend two years only learning in classrooms and doing simulations, but in their third year of medical school, students will become medical interns. Medical interns spend long hours at a teaching hospital, absorbing information while getting hands on experience. Interning is a time designed to help students find their interests in certain specialties. After completing medical school, most students are matched with a department in a hospital to complete their residency, which can take anywhere from two to seven or more years. After completing their residency, doctors move into either a fellowship, to continue their academic path, or become an attending physician, who is considered an expert in their specialty.
Being a physician means making decisions with, or sometimes for, the patient, being in charge and responsible for the patient’s care, making diagnoses, prescribing medication, as well as many other tasks. In regards to visually impaired doctors, I personally know physicians and surgeons with low vision, and have been told it is possible to pursue this career with accommodations. Healthcare is a difficult field that requires a lot of education, but proves to be one of the most noble and rewarding career paths one could choose.
A physician’s assistant, (PA) is becoming a more and more requested occupation to be filled in hospitals. PA Corey Rubinfeld works in a rural hospital in the mountains of Washington State, and leads a team of two nurses in the Emergency Room. PA Corey explains the differences between physicians and PAs has a lot to do with the amount of education and training. PAs go to school for about three years total, learning about as much as they can without diving too deep into any specific subject. During PA school though, students do rounds, a period where they can choose to specialize in a certain subject. PA Corey chose dermatology, for example. Meanwhile physicians are receiving at least two years of specialty training, more often four or more.
PA Corey says “I gotta remember that, that people have gone to school a lot longer than me, and they know a lot more when they’re a doctor. I need to be able to ask for help.” PA Corey tells me that PAs, especially in rural settings, can do most of what physicians do, but it often comes down to a matter of comfort in performing the procedure.
Career Fire Service
Lastly, I researched a career in the fire service as a municipal firefighter. The fire service is not a rapidly growing career field, with a projected growth of only about five percent at the most. Career firefighters make a national average of 50,000 dollars annually.
I was able to interview firefighter Adam Quitt, who has been in the fire service for sixteen years. Firefighters spend long shifts responding to medical emergencies, fires, automobile accidents, hazardous material emergencies, and many other emergencies. Firefighters are required to be well-rounded and considered “Jack’s of all trades”. To become a firefighter, one must have a high school diploma or GED, pass the physical and written exams, and meet all other state requirements, which range from having your license, to completing a fire academy. Once hired, candidates are on probation, a period where the new firefighter learns through first-hand experience.
Firefighters are often EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) or paramedics, or at the least, EMS certified, as firefighters respond to medical calls more often than any other kind of call. Firefighter Quitt warned me about looking past the exciting parts of the job, and seeing the tough and gritty environment the fire service really is. Furthermore, firefighting is a strict field vision-wise. Many states require 20/20 vision, or at the least 20/40. Other states are more lenient, and set the requirement at 20/80 to 20/100 at the least. In most states, driver’s licenses are required. Although these numbers are discouraging, anything is possible, and certain departments may be more loose than others.
Volunteer Fire Service
Another alternative to finding a loose department, (which can be extremely rare, and likely not meeting national requirements), is volunteer firefighting. Volunteer departments often accept anyone who is willing to help, because finding volunteer firefighters, especially in rural areas, proves difficult. Volunteer firefighters are on call often twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week in most volunteer departments. When their alarm rings, volunteers will head to the scene from wherever they are. If someone can’t make it, they won’t be punished, as said by retired full-time teacher and volunteer firefighter, Fred Rubinfeld, “volunteers are exactly what they are; volunteers.” Volunteer firefighters are often trained on the job and by a weekly night class or a biweekly class. To become a volunteer firefighter, find a local volunteer department and ask if they need any help. It is a great way to give back to the community.
I hope this information helps anyone looking into these careers, especially those of us with low vision, because finding equal opportunity in the workforce is often difficult, so being educated on these careers is a step towards the end goal. Finding out about any career industry before investing hours and hours of time and hard work is important, so that one can find out if it’s the right path for them. I wish whoever is reading this the best of luck in the future; never let anything stop you in your path to finding your passion.