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Look beyond the obvious for careers in medical fields

Jul. 22, 2013 - 01:08PM   |  
Antranette Garrett, a retired Air Force master sergeant, now works as a respiratory therapist at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Antranette Garrett, a retired Air Force master sergeant, now works as a respiratory therapist at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. (Jim Callaway)
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Doctors, dentists, home health care workers, X-ray technicians: Most people can rattle off a list of the most common careers in health care.

But many other medical jobs still fly below the radar. Dance and music therapists help heal wounded bodies and minds. Phlebotomists draw blood. Dosimetrists help treat cancer using radiation treatments. Forensic odontologists identify skeletal remains.

Plenty of veterans are finding more creative ways to answer their health care calling, from business propositions to bedside care. Here’s how they did it:

Give a deep breath

When a patient rolls in with broken bones, bruised kidneys and other traumatic injuries, Antranette Garrett steps in to keep the patient breathing.

Garrett retired last August as an Air Force master sergeant. In uniform, she treated heart ailments as a cardiopulmonary technician. Once out of the service she moved to a less recognized but no less vital role as a respiratory therapist at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

“We treat patients who have oxygen requirements, who have lung problems. This might be someone who just requires breathing treatments, up to multiple-trauma patients who are on a ventilator,” she said. “The really complicated patients are the ones with head issues, traumatic brain issues which may lead to a pulmonary issue, which leads to kidney issues.”

Those multiple-trauma cases are some of the most challenging and also the most rewarding. “It’s fascinating to see a patient go from being completely messed up and then just working with the team to get them better. You see the fruits of your labor,” she said.

By the end of Garrett’s military career, she had come to the typical place for service members in senior ranks: pushing paper. In her new job, she’s glad to be back at the bedside, doing hands-on medicine. “There is real satisfaction in that,” she said.

How to get started: You need at least an associate degree from a respiratory therapist education program and must pass an exam to gain certification from the National Board for Respiratory Care.

Open a health care franchise

Former Marine Lance Cpl. A.J. Fraser left service in 2005 on a medical discharge. This fall he will open his own BrightStar Care in Buckhead, Ga., backed by a family investment to buy into the franchise. The company offers home health care and medical staffing.

As he looked around for a post-military career, Fraser cast a wide net. He tried life insurance and the U.S. Postal Service and even worked at a Waffle House restaurant.

“Having looked at all these different things, I saw that the medical industry overall is really the place to be,” he said. “I looked at a lot of different industries, and the health care field was the only one that seemed to be really recession-proof.”

Fraser saw hands-on health care while in uniform, and, while he respects the work, his passion for business convinced him to make a different kind of contribution in the field.

“In the military, you see people getting hurt, so I did see that part of it,” said Fraser, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and deployed to Iraq. But he wanted instead “to create jobs, to provide a way for seniors to stay in their own homes around their loved ones. As an owner, I can give discounts to people who can’t afford the service,” he said.

How to get started: With 244 locations, BrightStar Care gets a $48,000 franchise fee — although a $5,000 discount is available for qualified veterans — and predicts a total startup investment of $90,378 to $165,676, according to Entrepreneur magazine. If that sounds steep, help may be available through programs like the Small Business Administration’s Patriot Express, which works with banks to help veterans obtain loans more quickly and easily. Ongoing franchise royalties are 5 percent to 6 percent.

Run a website

Former Air Force Capt. Tal Ziv took a sharp career turn after leaving service in 2005. Following his stint as a systems flight commander at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, he entered the high-tech world as CEO of a website that helps seniors find a place to live that offers, among other things, appropriate medical care.

When it comes to senior housing, “there is a big difference in the quality of health care that they provide,” Ziv said. This realization led him to launch Silver Lining, a website dedicated to reviewing care communities for older adults.

“It’s hard to find information about these communities. There are nursing homes, independent living, assisted living — there’s a lot of terminology and no good way to make comparisons,” he said. Call the properties, “and all you get is a sales pitch. There is definitely not any independent information.”

That information can carry serious medical weight. How often do residents fall? How often does the staff make mistakes with medication?

The information is available in the form of state inspection reports, but they are not always easy to obtain. “You have to submit Freedom of Information Act requests, and then they send you piles and piles of paper,” he said.

While Ziv may run a dot-com, he’s more focused on health care than he is on technology. “Our reviews are online; we use the Web to reach out to families, but I don’t think of us as a website company. It’s about health care and the whole way of life in which seniors age.”

How to get started: First, you need a unique idea. The cost to launch an online business varies widely. Marketing, interface, functionality, hosting — these and other factors all come into play to determine startup costs, which can range from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars.

Comfort the dying

As a hospice social worker, Army Reserve Capt. Jordon Wolf does much the same as he did while on deployment.

“I dealt with a fair amount of death over there, whether it be from enemy contact or from suicide. I did a lot of grieving type work with the other soldiers in the unit, and there were also a lot of marriages ending, which is another kind of grief work,” he said. “So a lot of that work translates really well.”

Hospice offers solace and physical comfort for people with terminal illnesses. To do this, Wolf works alongside doctors, going page by page through patient charts in order to deliver appropriate care both physically and emotionally.

“The medical piece gives us a full picture of the patient and what is going on with them,” he said. “Also, as a medical social worker, I am often called upon by the families to translate, to talk about the medical component in a way that they can fully understand.”

How to get started: Medical social workers typically hold a bachelor’s degree, and may need a two-year master’s degree in social work for certain jobs. There’s typically a requirement for supervised training, and some states require certification.

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