At every corner of health, there are professionals who make it their job to help you get the best care available. But who are all of these people? A lot of the time when thinking about the medical field our thoughts only go as far as doctors and nurses but there’s a whole industry of workers behind your health care.
Clinical positions are those in the sector with clinical qualifications doing medical work, aka, what most people are thinking of when they think of the medical field.
Doctors are the most well-known among medical professionals and for good reason. Doctors have undertaken both an undergraduate degree in medicine as well as a graduate Doctor of Medicine degree.
Most doctors that don’t decide to go into a specialist field will work as general practitioners also known as your friendly neighbourhood GP, but others will undertake specialised studies to focus on one part of the body. This is where we get specialists such as a neurologist, podiatrists, gynaecologists etc. These specialisations aren’t always about focusing on a certain section of the body however, paediatricians are trained in treating all sorts of ailments but specifically in children, and an infectious disease physician is focused less on where in the body the patient is affected but the why, treating all sorts of symptoms caused by infectious illnesses.
Pharmacists are sometimes specialised doctors and require a university degree in pharmacy, which can slip the mind since you may only interact with them in a pharmacy which nowadays feels more like a shop than a medical centre, but pharmacists ensure that you are getting the correct dosages of the medications prescribed by your other consulting doctors. They are also trained in understanding drug interactions and can advise on if over-the-counter medication will interact negatively with your prescribed pharmaceuticals.
Nurses undertake many tasks, but generally speaking, most of their work is in treatment and management whereas a doctor may focus on diagnosis, though nurses will do assessments where needed. Their tasks involve caretaking, ensuring patients are taking medication properly and in the correct dosages, caring for wounds such as the reapplication of bandages, assisting in movement where able, etc. They may also liaise with other patient care team members and help explain what is happening to a patient so they can better understand their care. Nurses will also specialise in a particular field for example surgical or oncological nursing.
However not all nurses stay in those positions, some pursue further education with a masters of nursing online or on campus depending on their available time, and move into more leadership-based roles directing or managing other nurses or seeking work as a clinical nurse specialist.
Clinical jobs also include a variety of other roles such as lab technicians, physical therapists or medical assistants. These professionals all require degrees of some kind to ensure they understand the science of completing their work, often allied health degrees.
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Many patients will spend a lot of their time interfacing with medical services and speaking with administrative personnel. Administration and reception take care of booking appointments and scheduling, as well as other clerical tasks which keep a practice running smoothly. Keeping track of cancellations, supplies and more.
Medical receptionists are probably most people’s first point of call in this area, they are the people you’ll speak with when booking appointments or signing in at GP, specialist, or pathology offices.
For frequent visitors like those with a chronic illness or ongoing medical crisis, medical receptionists are often a major part of their week-to-week life. Scheduling and rescheduling obviously take up a majority of these interactions but streamlining the signing-in process and keeping patients in need of an appointment advised of cancellations can mean the difference for some in how effectively they are able to communicate with their doctors when they do get in to see them.
In the case of a patient who has difficulty standing or has issues with fatigue, the simple task of waiting in line at the desk is enough to cause discomfort or even pain, and a good medical receptionist who has solutions in those situations is a major help to patients even if they aren’t involved in actual treatment.
Add onto that, for those whose condition has left them housebound for any length of time, interacting with a receptionist may be the only interaction they’ve had in a while and it’s easy to see why the receptionists who take the chance to see patients as people and offer kindness and little things like good morning greetings can hold a special place in the hearts of long term patients.
But receptionists aren’t the only administrative workers, similar but not the same are ward clerks. These are the people you see manning the desk in different hospital wards, their job focuses on administrative tasks but they also have medical qualifications and will assist nurses and doctors where necessary.
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Other Notable Roles
And this list is non-exhaustive, it’s far too easy to think of the medical field as simply doctors, maybe nurses and no one else. Those professionals do incredible work and their efforts to save and better lives should be appreciated but there’s a whole world of people who enable and assist in that work and their efforts should be recognised too so here are a couple of honourable mentions.
Pathology collectors are the people who will help take samples for testing, think of blood tests. While often trained nurses, pathology collection is actually its own qualification to ensure that the samples taken will show accurate results. For anyone who remembers the Theranos scandal the necessity for accurate testing is particularly apparent. Within Pathology you also have those who will transport the pathology samples to testing sites, ensuring the samples are safe and kept at required temperatures, while also ensuring that tests can be done quickly so patients can find out results often in only a few days.
While Pharmacists are clinical specialists, pharmacy assistants don’t require a qualification but many do undertake a course in pharmaceuticals to ensure they are doing the best they can for the people whose prescriptions they are helping to fill.
There are the workers whose jobs aren’t inherently medical but take on extra difficulties in the sector, like hospital caterers and cleaners who have to manage entire wards with all sorts of complications and restrictions based on patient’s specific needs and medical waste disposal workers who have all of the hard work involved in regular waste disposal complicated further by the unique systems for different things such as safe disposal of syringes and other sharp objects and handling dangerous chemicals or proper disposal of expired medication.
Healthcare workers take care of us at our most vulnerable, and it’s often a scary and stressful time when confronted with health difficulties. But workers who put themselves on the frontline of that care to make sure as many people as possible are taken care of to the best of their ability deserve our respect and thanks regardless of what position they hold in the machine of the medical sector.
Chris Pritchard is a 23-year-old freelance writer working in Melbourne, they write on a variety of topics and pursue work as a visual artist in their free time away from writing.
Main image: Volodymyr Hryshchenko via Unsplash
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