Maybe a family member has inspired you. Perhaps it was a health-related hardship you had to witness. Or, and this is fine too!, you just can't get enough of Grey’s Anatomy or old episodes of ER.

Whatever it was that got you already thinking you’d like to work in medicine, we’re glad it did and we’re happy to help steer you in the right direction. Because the truth is: There are hundreds of career paths in the medical field, and while many are very different from one another, a lot of them share common traits and skills. And something you may not think about: The non-medical courses you should take too.

Our best advice? Schedule a conversation with Daniel White, Ph.D.—Siena’s Director of Health Professions who is just as approachable as he is incredibly knowledgeable. 

Here are a few things he can talk you through and what he likes to share with students in your shoes.

Careers.  “I often hear the following: I want to be a surgeon. I want to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. I want to be a pediatrician, and so forth. Students are exposed to a small number of actual health careers so it is nice to help them expand their scope,” he says. “The good part is that there are lots of common denominators for all of the above (and more).” 

For instance, he explains, all of these people have an appreciation—and often love for—science and learning new stuff. “They love problem solving and puzzling out solutions to hard problems. They are persistent. They know when to ask for help and they use the help wisely.” The takeaway here is: Be open to different possibilities. Because so many healthcare roles do share (and require) certain hard and soft skills, it’s not unusual to start out thinking that you want to be a neurosurgeon but find out that you would be much happier as an opthamologist or, say, a physical therapist. 

Majors. For Dr. White, one of the best parts of a liberal arts college is the variety of courses and majors that are available—especially, of course, Siena. “Our majors and our curriculum are set up to give every Siena student the toolkit that they need to think about gnarly problems critically, logically and methodically,” he says. “Going into health fields requires thinkers as well as doers. Unless you want to be a vet, you’re going to deal with humans and their, let's say, complex behaviors. Being a good clinician requires a good understanding of science but also how people act.” 

To that end, he adds, we want you to take some humanities, religion and social sciences to help you think about the complex world that we live in before you get to your graduate program in health. “Our students shine when they get to interact with people who they want to help. Siena attracts students who have a strong sense of compassion for others and we try to water those seeds.”

And when you have no idea where to start or what you want to do in the medical field… “We can handle that! The only prerequisite in that case is a willingness to work hard, be open to new experiences and to find value in challenges that you didn't expect that you would have.” If Dr. White had a crystal ball, he says he would use it to help students experience the end of their first semester of college. Then they would know what everybody is talking about from their own experience. “It’s a tough transition even if you are really bright, did well in high school, did research with a top NASA astronaut and so forth.” 

Learning how to learn efficiently and effectively at the college level is just as important, he adds, as learning the difference between a eukaryotic and a prokaryotic cell. “Those skills open doors for the rest of your life.”