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Accidental Careers

When you don't know what to do with your life, an accidental encounter may just fill your prescription.

When Shannon Sanborn somersaulted on her rollerblades, she also crashed headlong into the health care system. Two paramedics collected her from the sidewalk, the emergency room nurse checked her out, a physician ordered X-rays, and a nurse's aide wheeled her up so the X-ray technician could photograph her injured back. Recovery was slow. Shannon regularly visited a physiotherapist. A massage therapist freed up some of her uptight muscles. A kinesiologist taught her stomach strengthening exercises to help support her back ligaments.

But her lower spine continued to throb until an acupuncturist broke the pain cycle. "My nerves seemed in a stuck position," recalls Shannon. "The acupuncture treatment cut short the non-stop firing of the nerve cells and allowed my back muscles to heal completely. A combination of western and complementary medicine helped me recover."

The words "doctor", "nurse", and "dentist" may jump into our minds when we think about health care careers. These professionals offer many valuable health care services. But they represent only some of the many people who help us stay healthy. As Shannon's rollerblade crash shows, today's health care providers deliver medicine well beyond mainstream practices. From ambulance attendants to transplant specialists, dental technicians to orthodontists, hospital admission clerks to hospital presidents, speech therapists to geneticists, naturopaths to reiki and massage therapists, there is a health career to fit everyone.


Kim Andersen, 19, says that volunteering is a way of both learning about careers and giving back. Kim began volunteering three years ago. "When my uncle died under Hospice care, our family was treated so well I wanted to do something in return." Kim finds her volunteer work incredibly worthwhile, although sometimes emotionally draining. But she loves it. "I visit with patients," she says, "talk with them, take them to the Rooftop Garden, bring them tea - little things like that. They've taught me to be patient and compassionate."

Kim will take what she learns from Hospice staff into her own health care field. She is working toward a physiotherapy degree. "Through volunteer work and some physio I experienced after a fall, I know what I want to do," she says. "That's essential. There's no point spending heaps of time and money on school and then realizing you hate your chosen field."


Jobs in all health care fields are plentiful and the numbers are even more promising in the future. That's one reason 20-year-old Vicki Klie decided on nursing. She'll graduate as a registered nurse next spring and she's happy about her many options. "I live near Detroit," she says, "and with the nursing shortage I can work in the U.S. or Canada."

Vicki's interest in nursing was sparked by a high-school co-op term when she rode with the paramedics. "It was awesome," she says. "Those adventures made up my mind for me." Her nurse's training is very hands-on and put her in the hospital since her first semester.
"It's an amazing feeling when you connect with a patient or make someone feel better."

"Nothing is more rewarding than making a living helping people," agrees Miko Amouyal, a registered massage therapist from. "Feeling needed, that's what's important to me."

Miko, 24, left his job as a high-performance strengthening and conditioning coach to become a massage therapist.

"I wanted to be effective manually," he said, "I looked into physio, chiropractic and other health care options, but liked the hands-on, short but intense massage therapy training."

Miko, who graduated last year from Zehava School of Massage Therapy, divides his time among a sports injury clinic, a clinic that rehabilitates accident victims, and his private practice. "I like to work a lot and to change my environment," he said. "It helps keep me motivated and interested."


Some health care careers deal with people indirectly. Liza Bially coordinates a prototype information management system. Liza and her team are developing a database to help safety coordinators manage and prevent workplace injuries. Liza learned database and interface creation at University. As Liza explained, "these studies prepare you to serve as link between computer programmer and health care practitioner."

During our lifetime we will see health care advances gallop into the future. We'll live longer and want to be healthy for our entire lifetime. We'll integrate proven medical knowledge, whatever the source. Mainstream and complementary medicine will mingle, ending the raging battles between different kinds of medicine. And some of today's practitioners are the first to take off the gloves and to get hands on with medicinal practices from every tradition.


At Synergy Health Management, a physician, chiropractor, massage therapist, two physiotherapists, an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine therapist, and exercise rehabilitator - supported by a medical office manager and medical office assistant all work together to help people recover and stay healthy. They're a one-stop shop devoted to providing the best possible patient treatment.

The organizing force behind Synergy is Jamie Grimes, 31, who chose his career after a serious back injury while snowboarding. When a chiropractor solved his chronic back pain problem, Jamie made up his science requirements at College. "I was a teenage jock and didn't study my sciences."

Jamie eventually graduated from Palmer West College of Chiropractic in San Jose, California with a doctor of chiropractic degree. "It's absolutely the right profession for me. I enjoy helping people get better. I never get jaded."

As Dr. Cara Ewert, the 33-year old physician, explains, "A group like Synergy has always been my dream. I learn so much from my colleagues. The patients love it. And I see the results. In the past, I'd send patients to a physio or chiropractor across town and never learn how they improved. Now I see them get better."

These practitioners are young and highly energetic. Cara, who studied zoology and then earned her M.D., has been a family physician for six years. She's also completing a doctorate in sports medicine and is a certified acupuncturist.

She finds her work amazing. "So much variety,"
she says,""my personal relationships with my patients, work with elite athletes and the spiritual aspects of acupuncture - it's all so cool. I'm really glad I took my science courses seriously and got the marks I'd need for medicine."


Other Synergy practitioners include Lori Race, 29, an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist. "Acupuncture is probably the most recognized Chinese treatment," she says, "and people know about plants like ginseng. But we also use the properties from bark, flowers, leaves, minerals, even shells."

Rhonda Farnham, a registered massage therapist trained in Massage and Hydrotherapy, explains that to do massage, you must be physically strong, enjoy working with your hands, have compassion, and like people.

Physiotherapist Matt Tyler, 27, building on his background at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland, likes the fact that Synergy has eliminated the traditional rivalry between health care specialties.

And Jeremy Sheppard, 24, with a string of credentials behind his name including a degree in Human Performance, asks each day how he can help patients compensate for past injuries through sports conditioning and ergonomics.

These collaborators agree unanimously that their marriage of medical techniques works amazingly well for patients. They talk about the opportunities to solve problems together, get instant second opinions, and confirm their diagnoses.

By pooling their knowledge in different health care fields, they learn from each other each day. Jeremy says his work makes him "wake up smiling every morning."

"Every time we have success with a patient," Jamie concludes, "it's like an adrenaline rush."

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