By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/18/2007 3:55:13 PM ET 2007-03-18T19:55:13

There’s been a lot written on the opportunities in the health care world with much of the focus on the obvious jobs such as nurses or health aides in the obvious places like hospitals and nursing homes.

But the health care industry is becoming broader and bigger every day. So think outside the box, especially if you have a business background.

What about doing health care policy research for a local municipality or a marketing job with a firm that specializes in the human genome? There are also a growing number of health care opportunities in government and medical centers when it comes to preparing for a possible pandemic or terrorist attack.

“Health care is a changing industry especially as the populations continues to expand in age and diversity,” says Dr. Charles Evans, professor and chair of the Department of Human Science at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies. The United States already spends 15 percent of gross domestic product health care, and that’s expected to go over 20 percent in the next few years, he pointed out.

There are also jobs in clinical testing for drug companies. While the director of such programs will probably need a college or higher degree, the people actually conducting some of the trials handling more clerical responsibilities can be trained on the job so a high school or community college education will often suffice, Evans says.

But the opportunities abound for those with higher degrees, even if their area of education is not health care-related. I get a lot of letters from people with business backgrounds asking about how they can get in on the burgeoning health care industry.

It might be easier than you think. In fact, there is a growing demand in health care for people who are business-savvy, especially those sporting an MBA, health care-related or not, explains Evans.

Here are some of your letters:

I am 48 years old and am stuck in a job that is slowly going away.  Without going into details business has been lost to Asian manufacturers, and business just keeps slowing down.  I have been in the job for more than seven years and needed to get out sooner, but I was a single parent and did not want to take the risk with my child.  The child is now much older and has decided that he wanted to stay with his mother.  So I have more time and am working on getting an MBA along with my current quality certifications.

I guess my main question is how can I transition to the health care industry?

I am not too sure which area of health care I would like to get into. However, having a background in quality I am interested in working to improve the health care system so it is less costly for all and provides better services.
— C.R., Indianapolis

Cost controls are what the health care industry is all about these days, sometimes unfortunately to the detriment of the quality of care. So if you can come up with ideas to combine the two you’ll be a hot commodity. No matter what direction you take, make sure to stress your interest in finding ways to save money in your cover letter and during the interview process.

As with all career changers, you have to somehow fit what you’ve done in the past with the career you see yourself in the future. With a background in manufacturing and a soon-to-be MBA in your hands, the biotechnology industry might be one place to look, suggests Evans. And when he says biotechnology, he’s not only talking about producing drugs but also diagnostic tools.

Given your understanding of manufacturing you can use that to your advantage when you apply to a company producing medical products. Selling drugs or devices is just like selling and producing any other product. There are obviously some different nuances but you might have a leg up coming for a traditional manufacturing setting.

Another thing to consider, especially with your business background, is administrative jobs, everything from back office financial functions to running a small medical facility.

Since you have no background in health care it might be worth taking a class or two at your local university offering continuing education, especially if the school has a focus in health care, or also consider community colleges, which often have medical certificate courses available. With an MBA in hand and a few health care courses under your belt, doors will probably open wide.

I am a marketing MBA about five years out of college. I've worked as a pharmaceutical representative for 4.5 years and am looking to change careers due to the turbulent climate of this business (i.e layoffs, liberal government) and I am ready for a change. My problem is I don't know where to begin. Where I live the engineer is king, and I feel shut out in the event I get laid off. How can I use my experience to attract employers for opportunities outside pharmaceuticals? So far I get offers to sell insurance or financial services, neither of which is attractive to me.
An MBA in need of help

While engineering might be king where you live, health care is also king. In fact, health care is king no matter where you live. If there are people, there is a need for medical care and the health care industry that supports it.

So don’t throw your experience in the pharmaceutical industry in the trash. It could be the selling point that gets you far in other health care-related fields.

You could end up the CEO or president of a medical center, says Evans. With your marketing background you’d be invaluable to a health care system, large or small, trying to pick up market share in a particular community.

Health care is all about selling a brand these days, and who better to figure that out than someone with marketing smarts? And given that you probably spent a lot of your time in medical facilities trying to sell doctors products, you know how things work and the budgets of these providers.

You probably don’t have to start at the bottom at a health care center, either private or government run, because of your MBA and health care background. Shoot high when looking for a job. Evans suggests going to the personnel office of a facility that interests you and finding out the positions they have available. And don’t forget the local newspaper help wanted ads, he says, “they’re full of health care opportunities.”

And don’t forget about networking. Given you work closely with health care professionals get the word out that you’re looking for new horizons. You never know what opportunities are right under your nose.

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