Flexibility and passion were frequently mentioned factors in the latest Career Series sponsored by the Northland Education and Business Alliance Feb. 15.
Part of a monthly program featuring insights into area job opportunities, the February sessions examined health sciences and human services. Professionals in each field told area students about their work, what it takes to enter each field and answered questions submitted by students and educators.
Although the two career areas include an enormous amount of diversity, speakers noted a remarkably similar set of key requirements: passion, flexibility and a desire to help others.
Candis Boily, director of Crisis and Access for Tri-County Mental Health Services, said many of these careers involve huge variability each day, even within a single organization. “You never know what your day is going to be like,” she said. “It’s always going to be different, and flexibility is a key.”
The range of jobs within these careers offers something for people with a variety of interests and skills. The speakers shared that they didn’t find the right fit immediately, and the best choice often involved their strengths, not just preferences.
“Sometimes, it’s not where you think you want to go,” noted Jessica Murphy of the Kansas City Zoo Education Department. “It’s where your strengths take you.”
Research and Learn
Finding those strengths and learning the details of a given career requires effort. Jennifer Munroe, director of Adult Community Services for Swope Health, suggested gaining firsthand experience through internships, volunteering or even a public class. For mental health careers like hers, she suggested a widely available mental health first aid course might be perfect. “Something like that would give you a taste of the field,” she said. “It gives you a chance to actually experience part of the work.”
Trying out a job is important because every field contains surprising aspects that not everyone will like. Chloe Fey, senior brand ambassador at Big Brothers Big Sisters KC, noted her work involves a lot of networking, something not everyone enjoys. “You should practice making connections with people you’ve never met before,” she suggested. “If that exhausts you, you might want to look at something different. For my work, you need to be able to walk into a room and talk to people.”
Dr. Miralda Moreno of Moreno Family Dentistry said her work requires surprisingly creative skills, along with technical knowledge. “There are times when you’re almost an artist,” she explained. “It takes a lot of precision and attention to detail, as well as working with others and communication skills.”
Roads to Success
Although many of these careers require distinct certifications and training paths, the variables are significant. Several programs include bachelor’s degrees, then advanced training for more specialized work. Others, however, start with short training for jobs like a certified nursing assistant (CNA) that may then lead to a bachelor’s or even master’s in nursing.
Dr. Moreno noted her experience as an example. She worked first as a dental hygienist while going to dental school, a pathway offered several advantages. “The ability to communicate with a lot of people is important,” she said “And working as a hygienist first really helped there. Many things I encountered as a dentist weren’t a big surprise; I’d already seen it.”
Others experienced an indirect path to finding the perfect job. Dana Combs, owner and therapist for Best Life Therapy, and Sean McNabb, business community liaison for the Excelsior Springs Job Corps Center, both commented they had tried different career paths before finding one that was truly “right.” Combs started as an elementary teacher before earning a degree and certification in counseling, while McNabb earned a degree in journalism before finding a better fit in a human service support role.
Flexibility was another common thread. Karen Hughes, a nurse for the Kearney School District, said few things were consistent during the COVID pandemic, and the ability to deal with change was critical. “You go with the flow, whatever is at hand,” she said. “Whatever it is, you just have to work through it and keep going.”
Cassidey Collins, manager of School Based Integrated Services for Synergy Services, saw similar challenges when COVID scrambled area schools while raising anxiety for many. “We worked really hard to make sure nothing shut down,” she recalled. “There’s been a huge rise in demand for counseling with COVID and that’s meant we had to change a lot of things we do and how we do them.”
A big surprise is high demand for business skills in seemingly non-business careers. “A big area that I wished I had more of is business management,” Dr. Moreno added. “Business management, organization and staff management. Those are things you don’t think of that you use in almost any area.”
Emily McVey, vice president of the KC Animal Health Corridor association, agreed. She noted that even nonprofits must remain solvent. “Everything is a business,” McVey said. “Every decision you make impacts the bottom line, and you need an understanding of that.”
Also surprising is the sheer volume of opportunity offered by these fields. For instance, the Kansas City region contains the single largest concentration of animal health businesses – in the world. Kansas City is also a major center for human health services. These “opportunity surprises” underscore the need for students to really examine their options and how those fit their abilities and interests.
“A lot of times we think we’d know what we’d enjoy, but we don’t really know until we actually get in there and try it,” noted Jessica Murphy of the Kansas City Zoo Education Department. “And don’t be afraid to research. You may find that in a given job you don’t spend all day doing the one thing you love but are expected to take care of other things.”
Speakers involved in the Feb. 15 Career Speaker Series were:
Health Sciences 8 a.m.
Karen Hughes, nurse, Kearney School District
Dr. Miralda Moreno, Moreno Family Dentistry
Human Services 9 a.m.
Cassidey Collins, manager of School Based Integrated Services for Synergy Services
Dana Combs, therapist, Best Life Therapy KC
Sean McNabb, Business Community Liaison, Excelsior Springs Job Corps Center
Health Sciences noon
Jessica Murphy, education instructor and program animal handler, Kansas City Zoo
Emily mcvey, vp of animal health corridor; assoc; large pharmaceuticals and food
Human Services 1 p.m.
Jennifer Munroe, director of Adult Community Services for Swope Health
Chloe Fey, senior brand ambassador for Big Brothers Big Sisters
Candis Boily, director of Crisis and Access, Tri-County Mental Health Services
NEBA members who hosted and facilitated the programs:
Courtney Reyes, NEBA business co-chair and Government Affairs &
Workforce Development Director for the Kansas City Homebuilders Association
Brian Noller, director of the Northland Career Center and former NEBA co-chair
Carol Noecker, Real World Learning and Community Partnership facilitator for the Smithville School District
Julie Lewis, business retention specialist, Clay County Economic Development Council.