One thing that unites all branches of healthcare is a focus on patients and an extensive understanding of human biology. However, beyond this, there is a huge amount of variety in the nature of working conditions, time taken to qualify, the type of patients you would be treating and the qualities needed to succeed.
So how do you pick the right path for you? We put our heads together with the British School of Osteopathy (BSO) to come up with some helpful things to think about.
1- Explore a variety of routes
Because there are so many options it's always worth looking beyond a 'traditional' medical degree. Sarah Lal, a fourth year osteopathy student at the British School of Osteopathy had originally been accepted to study Medicine but started to have doubts about becoming a doctor. “I applied for medicine because I wanted to help ill people get better,” she says.
However, after doing some work experience she realised that the limited amount of time doctors spend with each patient (usually less than ten minutes) wouldn't suit her. She wanted a relationship with patients that went beyond discussing their symptoms. “I wanted to give people their health back, not just focus on their disease,” she says.
Sarah's dad, himself a doctor and medical researcher, suggested osteopathy. She found it much more appealing. “I really liked the philosophy of caring for the whole person and being hands-on to help people live without pain and reducing the need for medication and surgeries,” she says.
Plus, osteopaths spend much more time (up an hour) with patients. “So you really get to know a patient and see the impact you can have on their lives as their treatments progress,” says Sarah. “I’m so glad I didn’t go ahead with medicine; the course at the British School of Osteopathy has been such a revelation.”
2 - Look for hidden gems
Broadening your search and considering different branches of medicine might lead you to an area you didn't know about before. For example, if you're a more hands-on person, the idea of spending all your time in a research lab with only test tubes for company might not be ideal.
However, manual therapies such as osteopathy might be perfect. Osteopathy combines the independence of being a GP with plenty of hands-on patient care. Osteopaths act a little like medical detectives, diagnosing musculoskeletal pain and using a variety of manual manipulation techniques to alleviate symptoms. (Find out more)
3 - Investigate what you'll learn
As with any discipline, it's important to look into medical training to find out what lies ahead. Happily for patients everywhere, medicine is demanding and qualified practitioners are highly skilled; so you need to be sure the hard work appeals.
Trainee osteopaths study anatomy, physiology, pathology, neurology and research methods / statistics, for example. They also clock up 1,000 hours of clinical training from treating real patients by the time they graduate, usually with a four year integrated master’s degree in Osteopathy (M.Ost).
Once you've found an area that interests you, explore course websites carefully to get an idea of what's involved, so you don't face any unpleasant surprises. (This is medicine, though, so skeletons in the closet are often a good thing.)
4 - Think about where you'd work
It's also handy to think about life after graduation and the career options out there. Specialise in drawing plasters on people with felt-tips and your medical path could be limited; practitioners in fields like osteopathy on the other hand could enjoy a rewarding, varied and life-long career.
The average starting salary for a newly-qualifed osteopath is around £19k. More experienced practitioners earn an average of £34K, with some opting to work part-time and others working more intensely.
They mainly work in private practice (although some are within the NHS) and choose their own working hours. Those setting up their own practices can earn between £50-100k, depending upon the location and size of practice.
5 - Find out more
To really understand if a subject or institution is for you, it's important to ask questions. Open days are great for this, or you can contact a school or uni directly via their website.
Finally, don't forget official sites (like The General Osteopathic Council website) and also local sources of info. If you're looking into a specific field, like osteopathy, it could be worth contacting a local practice and asking about work experience.
If you know that healthcare is for you, take some time to think about these questions and you'll have the best chance of setting off on the right career path. Happy healing!