Find out what a doctor, a software developer, a librarian, a personal trainer and a lobbyist have to say about how their jobs make the world a better place.
Why Pick One Career When You Can Have Three?
Belinda Fu, MD, Physician, Clinical Instructor, and Improv Actor
Belinda Fu, MD, is a triple threat: Faculty Physician at Valley Family Medicine Residency in Renton, Wash., Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and Improv Actor/Instructor at Seattle's Unexpected Productions.
In addition, two years ago, Fu combined her interests in medicine, teaching, and improv theater into a new venture: Medical Improv, an organization that uses improv techniques to improve clinical communication, cognition, teamwork, and patient care.
"My interest in Medical Improv was a natural, if unexpected, outgrowth of the overlapping of my two worlds," Fu says. "As I was becoming more proficient in improv, I started noticing that my improv skills were improving my communication skills at work, both with colleagues and with patients. It occurred to me that this could be a highly effective way to teach our residents communication skills, which are notoriously difficult to teach."
Fu began speaking with her colleagues about her idea, until one mentioned that Katie Watson, a professor in the Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, was teaching improv to medical students. She reached out to Prof. Watson, and the two decided to collaborate.
Teaching and improv have played a significant part in helping Fu find her niche in the medical profession.
"I decided to be pre-med during my sophomore year in college, and had always imagined family medicine as my specialty, but I honestly didn't know what I had gotten myself into when I started medical school," Fu says.
During her year off, Fu worked full-time as a Course Assistant at Stanford, her undergraduate alma mater.
"It was my first formal teaching experience, and I absolutely loved it," she says.
If you want to be a physician, be prepared to make a hefty investment of time and money. Doctors must get an undergraduate degree, a medical degree, and do a residency. At minimum, Fu notes, that takes 11 years, and longer for some specialties.
Fu did her residency at the University of Washington Family Medicine Residency program, her first choice, due to its outstanding academic environment and ample teaching opportunities. After finishing her residency, she stayed at UW for another year as Chief Resident.
The best part of her job is the people.
"It is an incredible, humbling privilege to play a part in the lives of my patients, to witness their most private struggles, events, and personal stories, and to help them as best as I can," says Fu. "Similarly, it is an equal privilege to be a mentor and guide to the young physicians whom I teach, helping them along their own personal education and career journey."
Job Meaning De-Coded
Sam Ng, Development Lead at Practice Fusion
"I love my job because at the end of the day, I know that we get to change lives here," says Sam Ng, Development Lead at Practice Fusion, a San Francisco-based electronic health records company.
"Yes, I know that the medical industry is a slow moving one, but it's moving, and I get to be at the forefront of that," Ng says. "I have a 9-month-old son, and when he grows up, I get to tell him that daddy tried his best to change the world and to make it a better place for him. I believe that you've only got one life to live, and that time is the only thing that you'll never get back in this world. As people, we spend the majority of our time at work, and I feel extremely blessed to be able to love that time, and to be fruitful during that time."
"The biggest change is that I code a lot less than I expected to," Ng says. "When I started my career, I loved coding. Working on a world-class compiler, you kind of have to love it. I lived and breathed code, talked with buddies about the product outside of work, coded in my spare time, and even got features that were originally cut into the product by prototyping and coding them up in my spare time."
As he's moved up the management chain, he spends less time on code and more time designing and planning products. He still codes when he has time, he says, but it's "definitely taken a back seat to product work."
When it comes to the age old question of working for love or working for money, Ng has been fortunate enough to do both.
"I don't particularly care for the money," he says. "I'm blessed to be someone who can afford to love what I do. My chosen career field is a reasonably financially viable one, and I am never left wanting for basic needs and necessities. That allows me to be picky about the job that I take, and find one that allows me to use my God-given abilities as best as I can to help people, and (yes I know, cheesy) to help make the world a better place."
If you want to love your job as much as he does, Ng says to find your passion, and chase it.
"Don't let people put you down just because you're young, or inexperienced, or new to the industry," he says. "Believe that your ideas matter, and have the courage to see them through to completion. Be humble and learn from those ahead of you, and be open to listening to new ideas simply because they are new ideas."
The Answer Was In a Book... or Many Books
Rebecca Kinney, Middle School Librarian, Newton Country Day School
"Realizing that I wanted to be a librarian was not that easy, because it meant admitting everyone else who told me I should be one was right," says Rebecca Kinney, the Middle School Librarian at the Newton Country Day School in Newton, MA.
Kinney has worked in libraries since she was 15, but says that she had "no clue" what she wanted to do, up until completing her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Teaching from Lesley College. She decided that she didn't want to be a classroom teacher and went to Simmons College to get her masters in Library Science and School Media.
The field has changed drastically since she began working as a librarian over 10 years ago. The print card catalog is gone, and almost all libraries are online. Now Kinney builds web pages, orders, processes, and catalogs resources, runs author programs, teaches children to do research both online and using print resources, and helps them understand and evaluate the worth of primary sources. She also repairs equipment, and does all of the extra duties that go along with being a faculty member, from recess duty to chaperoning overnight camping trips.
Not everything has changed, though.
"We still use the Dewey Decimal system," she notes. "It's just how books are arranged on the shelves."
Kinney says she loves working with her students, and that she works with some of the best faculty and staff around. The people she interacts with, she says, make her smile every time she walks into the building. She also still works part-time a public library.
You might never become a millionaire working as a librarian, but if you're lucky enough to follow Kinney's example, you'll love what you do.
"I am one of the few people in my life that I know who truly loves their job," she says. "I make enough that I have a roof over my head, food on my table, and clothes on my back. My needs are simple. Working at a private school, I make less than I would at a public school, which many people find surprising. But the benefit of not having to fight for my budget, and the beautiful space I work in more than make up for salary differences."
There are other perks to jobs like Kinney's. After 10 years of working for her school, she became eligible for a travel grant. She won, and went to London, Bath, Torquey, and the Cotswalds.
Ultimately, being a librarian about more than liking to read, Kinney says -- it's about helping people.
Just know that you’ll need a Master’s degree in Library Science to live the dream.
"Not all private schools require a librarian with an MLS, but those worth their salt do," she says. "The school certification is good if you want to work in public schools, but not often required for private schools. Public town libraries require an MLS for reference, but not circulation, some of those jobs just require a high school diploma. But finding those full-time jobs can be difficult."
Traded More Money For More Meaning
Jennifer Trimmier, Owner/Personal Trainer at Strong Body San Antonio
Jennifer Trimmier does it all at Strong Body San Antonio. She's the owner, operator, personal trainer, wellness coach, and writer at her company. However, in 2003, she was headed in a different direction, having just earned a bachelor's of business administration in computer information systems, and went to work at a Fortune 160 insurance company.
"About six years into my insurance career working on technology systems, I realized that insurance was not my passion," Trimmier says. "What I had been doing on the nights and weekends was my passion, and that happened to be working out and teaching my friends and family how to do so while learning the right things to eat (and not to eat) in order to meet their fitness goals and also maintain their sanity."
Major back surgery in 2007 showed her what a difference exercise could make, both to the body and the mind.
"I never considered making a career out of it until a friend asked me to help her lose weight," Trimmier says. "We began working out together and sharing food logs. I taught her what I knew and tried to motivate her daily. She lost 30 pounds in less than four months!"
When her friend's general practitioner asked to connect Trimmier with some of his other patients, she realized that being a certified personal trainer could be become a career. She enrolled in a program, and scheduled a test date for her licensure. Her business grew through referrals, and in 2013, Trimmier quit insurance altogether to focus on Strong Body San Antonio.
The best part of her job is helping others, she says, whether it's with their nutrition goals, their fitness goals, or overcoming their fears. Mainly, her aim is to help her clients figure out how to "navigate through this crazy life as healthily and happily as possible," she says.
The money is about a quarter of what she used to make working in insurance, Trimmier says, but she is OK with trading some luxuries for a sense that she's doing meaningful work. Her work as a trainer allows her to use her passion to help others – and, as a bonus, doesn't require her to sit at a desk for eight to 10 hours a day.
For workers who want to build their own business in health and wellness, she recommends taking plenty of time to network and learn about the field, as well as taking classes, getting certifications, building a business plan, and deciding on an evaluation period (at which point, you would determine if the business is meeting your goals, and move on to a backup plan, if necessary).
"Growing up, I always had this picture of a successful business woman in my mind when I thought of myself 'all grown up,'" Trimmier says. "So that's what I went after with a business degree, internships in the technology sector and a first career that used my degree. I worked my way up in the company I worked at and while I felt that I was good at what I did, I never felt that it was making a difference in anyone's life. Now, I know I make a difference every single day. Not only do I make a difference, but I give other people skills that will be with them for a lifetime.
Sometimes the Most Meaningful Careers are Ones
You Never Predicted
Andrew Schwab, Senior Legislative Representative at AARP
"A career in government relations was not something I had ever considered; all I knew was that I liked politics, history, and public service, and I wanted to work for an elected official," says Andrew Schwab, Senior Legislative Representative at AARP, in an email interview with PayScale.
"I certainly never expected to develop an expertise in health insurance when I first started my career, nor could I have predicted that it would be regulated, for the first time, at both the state and the federal levels," he says. "As I dove deeper and deeper into the way in which America manages risk – whether property or in healthcare – these areas became more fascinating to me and wonderful opportunities became available."
Prior to his current job, Schwab was Deputy Press Secretary to former New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine, and worked on the campaign of Gary S. Schaer, when Schaer ran for the New Jersey General Assembly. Afterward, he stayed on as his Chief of Staff. He stayed in that role for seven years. For five years of that time, the Assemblyman served as Chairman of the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, giving his office jurisdiction over banking and insurance matters, which allowed Schwab to build expertise in those topics.
Schwab majored in History and Policy Studies at Syracuse University, and earned a Masters of Public Administration by attending Rutgers University at night. Later, the Affordable Care Act changed the landscape of healthcare policy, and a former business associate needed to fill a position on AARP's Federal Health and Family Team, in their Government Affairs division.
"Since health insurance had always been primarily regulated in state capitals, he noted that my state expertise was a valuable knowledge base to bring to Washington, DC," says Schwab. "I was offered the job, moved, and have since helped AARP advocate for our nearly 38 million members 50 years and older on Capitol Hill and with the Executive Branch. I handle issues related to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplemental coverage, and employer sponsored insurance."
If you want to travel Schwab's career path, the first step might be to work for an elected official at the state or federal level – he says that few people become government relations professionals without that experience. Advanced or professional degrees are also helpful, he says, noting that he attends professional conferences to stay on top of trends in the field, and taught a graduate level college course for a time.
"I spent 10 years doing public service both for the federal government and at the state level in the place where I grew up and went to public school," Schwab says. "I helped develop and pass 23 laws and seven state budgets. That experience is important to me and is something of which I am very proud. Now, at AARP, I have the opportunity to advocate for policies that help my parents, in-laws and others in their generation live their best lives while also providing for my own family. That's a great place to be."