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Overview of the healthcare sector in the UK

If you are interested in caring for sick people, improving people's lives or playing a part in the next medical breakthrough, there are plenty of opportunities to consider in the healthcare sector

What areas of healthcare can I work in?

Employment opportunities can be grouped into:

  • allied health (e.g. physiotherapy, radiography, occupational therapy);
  • ambulance service;
  • complementary therapies;
  • dentistry;
  • healthcare science (e.g. clinical engineering, biomedical science, pathology);
  • health informatics;
  • health promotion;
  • healthcare administration and management;
  • medicine (doctors, surgeons, GPs);
  • medical equipment sales;
  • pharmacy;
  • psychological therapies;
  • medical research;
  • midwifery;
  • nursing;
  • nutrition and diet;
  • optometry and opticians.

You could work in the National Health Service (NHS), private healthcare, voluntary or not-for-profit organisations in a range of settings including:

  • care homes or hospices;
  • community healthcare (e.g. doctor's surgery, dental surgery, health centre);
  • hospitals;
  • medical laboratories;
  • people's homes.

In large organisations such as the NHS and private healthcare providers such as Bupa, there are jobs for graduates in: customer care; hospitality; sales; marketing; procurement; finance; IT; HR and legal services.

You may also wish to consider health related roles in the pharmaceutical sector or the leisure, sport and tourism sector.

For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in healthcare.

Who are the main graduate employers?

The largest employer in the health sector is the NHS, which employs more than 1.7 million people in the UK. According to Health Careers there are around 350 different careers on offer.

A quarter of the total healthcare sector workforce is in independent healthcare. The independent sector can compete for contracts to provide services on behalf of the NHS.

Independent healthcare includes private organisations such as:

  • Bupa;
  • BMI Healthcare;
  • Care UK;
  • Optima Medical;
  • Ramsay Health Care UK;
  • Spire Healthcare.

It also includes voluntary and not-for-profit organisations, including:

  • British Red Cross;
  • Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF);
  • Nuffield Health;
  • Save the Children;
  • Sue Ryder.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering the healthcare sector can expect:

  • a national pay system for most roles in the NHS;
  • shift work with unsociable and often long working hours;
  • a wide range of working conditions within the same role and organisation. For example working in a hospital will differ widely between the wards, theatre and outpatients department;
  • a working environment that can be stressful and emotionally draining;
  • to be able to work anywhere in the country as all communities need healthcare professionals.

To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see types of jobs.

What are the key issues in the healthcare sector?

The NHS has to make huge efficiency savings over the next few years and at the same time meet an increased demand for services, particularly because people are living longer. The effects of this can be both negative and positive for graduates.

The numbers of places on some degree and postgraduate courses are regulated depending on projections of future demand for professional healthcare staff. This means that some careers in this sector are highly competitive to enter, including medicine, dentistry, midwifery, children's nursing and physiotherapy. You can expect to sit admissions tests, need relevant work experience and for higher numbers of applicants than places.

On the positive side, effective management is crucial to the NHS in a time of budget constraints and the NHS Leadership Academy has been set up to find and recruit suitable graduates to four different NHS management training schemes.

With a rise in long-term health conditions, such as diabetes and asthma, there are more opportunities for health professionals to work in the community. The aim is to provide services and personalised care plans to allow those who need continuing care to manage their conditions and stay in their own homes. In addition, healthcare workers increasingly work in multidisciplinary teams in partnership with social services and other community care services.

There is a national recruitment drive to recruit 4,200 more health visitors between now and 2015. This opportunity is open to newly qualified nurses and midwives who are prepared to take post-registration health visitor training. Health informatics is one of the fastest growing areas in healthcare with opportunities in IT, information management, patient data and health records.

Written by Editor, Prospects
November 2014

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