If you’re looking at switching careers at 40, you may have more questions than answers. For starters, is it even okay to take a different career path at this stage in life? (Spoiler alert: It is!) Also, how do you overcome your fear of a midlife career change so you can take the steps necessary to enter a different field? Better yet, what are some viable career options once you’ve surpassed your 20s and 30s?
At Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA), we understand that looking at a career change when you’re in your 40s can feel a bit scary. So, if you’re entertaining a career change but aren’t sure if this is a viable option for you, we’re here to help answer some of the questions you may have about it and what the process might look like.
Is It Okay to Change Your Career at 40?
The answer to this question is a resounding yes! You can absolutely pursue a career change at 40. If you have a career goal that, for some reason, you’ve never taken the time to go after before, it’s never too late to start walking that path now. Do you still feel like it might be too late for you?
There are many notable people who did not find success in their lives until after their 40th birthday. Among them are:1
- Sam Walton, who opened his first Walmart at 44 years of age
- Julia Childs, who—despite being known for bringing French food to America—didn’t even begin eating foods from that region of the world until she was 36 and didn’t share them on television until she was 51
- Grandma Moses, who started painting at 78 and is now known for various scenes depicting life in rural America
Each of these people is proof that finding success and happiness is possible regardless of age.
Maybe you used to love your current job, but it doesn’t seem to provide the same level of joy that it once did. Or maybe it doesn’t offer the work-life balance that you are looking for at this point in your life. That’s okay. It can happen. But that doesn’t mean that you have to stay in your current career just because you picked it long ago. You can start a new career at 40, even if doing so makes you feel a bit worried or nervous.
Does Going Back to School Scare You? It Shouldn’t. Here’s Why:
With age comes experience. That experience can be beneficial when going back to school later in life. When theories, processes, or practices are discussed in your courses, you can apply them to things you’ve experienced, accomplished, or previously encountered at home or work. This can make them easier to understand because you have a point of reference.
Your life experiences can also help you deal with situations you may face on the job more effectively. Imagine that you decide to switch careers and go into a position within the dental field. During one of your first few weeks on your new job, you encounter a patient who has a lot of anxiety about the upcoming procedure. You could draw on your own experiences in life and offer a few tips that have worked for you in the past when you’ve faced similar levels of anxiousness, such as taking deep breaths, for instance. Your experiences become an asset because they give you a bigger “toolbox” from which to draw when you need it.
Research has also connected learning new skills later in life with better brain function. In one study, older adults engaged in a new activity for three months, spending roughly 16 ½ hours per week on that activity. At the end of the study, their memory had improved.2 Another study connected general mental stimulation not only with greater working memory but also with the ability to process things at faster speeds.3
Going back to school when you’re older can also make you happier. A survey of 416 older adults enrolled in general interest courses found that their participation was positively associated with greater psychological wellbeing.4 The authors of this study also concluded that lifelong learning could help people remain autonomous while providing a sense of fulfillment.
Put all of this together and going back to school when you’re around 40 years of age gives you more tools and skills from which to draw while also helping to boost cognitive function and happiness levels at the same time. If these benefits sound worthwhile enough to consider switching careers, the healthcare industry offers some of the best options. What makes healthcare careers some of the best careers?
Why You Should Choose a Career in Healthcare
While you can certainly enter any field if you’re looking for a career change at 40, moving to a career in the healthcare industry offers a variety of advantages.
- Faster than average job growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that healthcare jobs are projected to increase by 16% between 2020 and 2030.5 This rate is much faster than average and is anticipated to bring about 2.6 million new jobs.5 When you’re thinking about changing careers, it can be appealing to know that so many positions are projected to open up once you’re ready to make the switch.
- Higher income potential. Depending on what you’re making in your current job or career, moving to a healthcare role may be a way to increase your income. The BLS indicates that, overall, healthcare practitioners earn a median annual wage of $69,870.5 This is higher than the median annual wage for all other occupations combined, which was $41,950 as of May 2020.5
- Numerous career options. Healthcare is a broad field. This provides the ability to choose a career path that is more aligned with what you want in your post-40 career. Do you have a desire to work with patients one-on-one? In this case, you may feel satisfied working as a pharmacy technician or health and human services worker. Would you rather work with computers? Medical billing and coding and healthcare accounting are two options that provide this ability.
- Flexible work schedule. People get sick 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Many healthcare facilities have elongated hours to help accommodate patients all hours of the day and night. This could give you more flexibility in your schedule. Working second shift may be more preferable if you are taking care of your aging parents during the day, for instance. Or maybe you want to work weekends so you can better align your schedule with your spouse’s, which is a non-traditional shift. Healthcare enables this type of flexibility.
- No two days are the same. In some industries, the work you perform is the same day after day. Over time, this can become monotonous and potentially lead to boredom and burnout. Conversely, when you work in healthcare, every day could be different. If you are in a direct care role, your patient list can change daily. If you have a more behind-the-scenes position, the patient charts can change. This has the potential to keep you from getting bored because each day is an opportunity to do something new.
- Several skills are transferable. Even if you’ve never worked in healthcare, some of the skills obtained in other careers are transferable to healthcare roles. Transferable skills that are helpful when switching to a new job in healthcare include compassion, empathy, strong communication skills, and customer service skills.6 Put another way, your current position may be providing the skills necessary to potentially achieve greater levels of success in your future healthcare role.
- The opportunity to help people. For some, the most compelling reason to switch into a healthcare career is that it gives them the ability to help people. Maybe you are wondering what your purpose in life is, or you’re questioning how you can spend the next phase of your life in a way that enriches others' lives at the same time. Healthcare is all about helping patients achieve and maintain optimal wellness. To take a part in this process can be incredibly rewarding.
Careers in the Healthcare Field You Can Begin at 40
If you’re not already decided on what type of healthcare career you want, the large variety of options can feel somewhat overwhelming. One way to begin to narrow down the list is to put some thought into how long you want to go to school or attend training in order to make the switch.
Although the idea of spending years in school to become a doctor may not seem so bad when you’re in your late teens or early 20s, it can have a much different feel when you’re in your 40s. Fortunately, there are many entry-level healthcare roles that you can work toward filling with minimal training (two years or less). Here are a few of them.
Pharmacy technicians assist licensed pharmacists with the dispensing of prescription medications. They also provide services related to inventory organization and customer care, such as answering the phone, processing insurance claims, and making arrangements for customers to speak with the pharmacist to answer any questions they may have.
The BLS states that pharmacy technicians have a median pay of $35,100 per year as of May 2020 or $16.87 per hour.7 Additionally, jobs in this field are projected to grow 4% between 2020 and 2030, which means approximately 16,600 new positions in the next few years.7
Typically, only a high school diploma is required to work as a pharmacy technician. That makes this an option if you want a career change at 40 with no degree. That said, some states and employers do require postsecondary education, with many states regulating these healthcare professionals. Depending on the regulations, this could include earning the necessary certifications or becoming licensed.
What does education path look like if you want to work as a pharmacy tech? UMA’s Health Sciences – Pharmacy Technician online program can be completed in 18 months.8 In these courses, you learn about pharmacology, pharmaceutical calculations, drug interactions, and more.
This course also includes 180 hours of on-site training, providing you with experience in a real-world setting. It also prepares students to sit for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Examination (PTCE).
Medical Administrative Assistant
People working in a medical administrative assistant role spend their days helping healthcare facilities operate smoothly. Some of their responsibilities include scheduling patient appointments, processing insurance claims, organizing and updating patients’ health records, and more.
The median annual wage for medical secretaries and administrative assistants is $37,350 as of May 2020, or $17.96 per hour, according to the BLS.9 Doctor’s offices employ the highest number of medical administrative assistants, followed by hospitals, dentist offices, outpatient care centers, and other healthcare practices.9 This offers a lot of options when going through a career change at 40.
Working in this healthcare position requires that you know certain medical terminology and lab procedures. It also involves having the skills needed to schedule appointments, bill insurance providers, and maintain patients’ medical charts.
UMA offers two online medical administrative assistant program options. One is the online Medical Administrative Assistant diploma program, which can be completed in 11 months.8 This program includes courses such as Introduction to Healthcare Communication, Medical Terminology, Medical Transcription, and a couple of courses dedicated solely to diagnostic and procedural coding.
The other program is an online Health Sciences – Medical Administrative Assistant associate degree program. This program can be completed in 18 months8 and includes the same core courses as in the diploma program. It also includes a few general education courses (English, math, biology, etc.) and additional courses to learn more about computers, interpersonal communications, and patient relations.
Medical Office and Billing Specialist
Just as with other healthcare positions, medical office and billing specialists provide a valuable service to providers and patients alike. This includes assisting with the healthcare reimbursement process, medical coding, and sometimes interacting with patients one-on-one.
The BLS reports that medical records and health information specialists earn a median annual wage of $37,350 as of May 2020 or $17.96 per hour.10 Furthermore, jobs in this particular role are projected to increase 11% between 2020 and 2030, which would mean the development of 64,900 new positions in this healthcare role alone.10
Depending on the employer and the state in which you work, a postsecondary certificate or higher level of education may be required. Even if this is not required, the BLS indicates that employers may prefer people who have taken these steps when hiring for this role.
If you are interested in this type of career, UMA offers two medical office and billing specialist options as well. The first is a Medical Office and Billing Specialist diploma program which can be completed in 11 months.8 This 38-credit hour program includes courses such as Introduction to Medical Billing, Healthcare Reimbursement and Claim Cycle, and courses that focus on both diagnostic and procedural coding.
UMA’s Health Sciences – Medical Office and Billing Specialist associate degree program can be completed in 18 months.8 It includes the same core courses as the diploma program, along with general education courses and a few additional required degree courses, some of which include Computer Fundamentals, Interpersonal Professional Communications, and Patient Relations.
Medical Billing and Coding Specialist
Another entry-level option in the healthcare field is medical billing and coding specialist. In this role, you would take an active part in seeking reimbursement from a patient’s health insurance provider. The coding part of the role involves transforming a patient’s diagnoses, testing procedures, and treatments into the appropriate codes using standard coding systems.
The BLS doesn’t provide information specifically for medical billing and coding specialists. Instead, this position is categorized under medical records and health information specialists, which has a median pay of $37,350 per year as of May 2020, or $17.96 per hour.10
Typically, a postsecondary diploma or degree program must be completed to work as a medical biller and coder. Some employers also require applicants to have their certification while, for others, it is more of a preference than a mandate.
UMA offers both Medical Billing and Coding diploma and associate degree programs. The Medical Billing and Coding diploma program can be completed in 11 months.8 In it, you learn about diagnostic and procedural coding, healthcare communication, claims processing, and health record management.
UMA’s Medical Billing and Coding associate degree program can be completed in 18 months.8 It also teaches coding, claims processing, and health record management, while adding other courses related to how to work with computers and people, and general education courses that teach more about English, math, biology, and sociology—providing a well-rounded education.
Health Information Management Technician
If you are interested in a career change at 40, you might consider becoming a health information management technician. In this role, you would help healthcare agencies collect, organize, store, and track their patient’s health information. Oftentimes, this involves working with electronic health record (EHR) systems. It also involves keeping patients’ private health information secure.
Employment in the health information field is projected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, providing approximately 37,100 new openings during the next decade.11 This is due to an aging population and widespread EHR usage.
Take this career path and you can have your degree in 18 months.8 UMA’s Health Information Management associate degree program includes courses in computer productivity applications, healthcare information technology, health information leadership, and career success.
This program also includes 90 hours of hands-on experience and prepares you to sit for the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certification exam offered through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), if you meet the necessary requirements.
If your goal is to rise to a management position in healthcare, that’s an option as well. While this higher-level role often requires more education than other entry-level healthcare positions, it is something you can start working toward during the next phase of your career.
Working in a healthcare management role involves helping providers plan, coordinate, and execute various business activities. Hospitals, nursing homes, and group medical practices all employ healthcare managers.
Jobs in these roles are projected to increase 32% between 2020 and 2030, which is a rate that is much faster than average, contributing an projected 139,600 new positions during this time.12
Typically, a bachelor’s degree is required for a management healthcare position. You can earn your associate degree to start gaining the education and skill sets needed for more advanced healthcare duties related to budgets, implementing processes, creating forms, and more.
UMA’s Health Management online associate degree program can prepare you for these functions. It can be completed in 18 months8 and teaches you about medical malpractice management, accounting and payroll, business office operations, human resource management, and healthcare law compliance. It also includes general education courses for a well-rounded education.
Then, if you decide to continue your education, UMA has agreements with educational partners. UMA alumni who meet their requirements can go on to pursue their bachelor’s degree, or even a master’s degree, in their desired area of study.
Health and Human Services
If part of the reason for wanting a career change at 40 is because you want to work face-to-face with people and help them improve their lives, you may find a role in health and human services rewarding. Although the exact job duties vary depending on the agency in which you work, they often involve connecting people with allied health services that can help them live a higher quality of life.
The BLS reports that social and human service assistants earn a median annual pay of $35,960 as of May 2020 or $17.29 per hour.12 Additionally, jobs in this type of role are projected to grow 17% between 2020 and 2030, creating an anticipated 69,500 new positions.13
This field is one to consider switching to after 40 if you like working with a variety of people and you have empathy and compassion. You can use these skills to help guide those you work with, leading them to the services they need to improve their circumstances or situations.
UMA’s Health and Human Services online associate degree program teaches you more about the challenges people face, offering courses such as Family Dynamics, Social Welfare, Human Growth and Development, and Human Behavior in the Social Environment. It also includes a few general education courses designed to provide a well-rounded educational experience, such as Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Psychology, and Sociology. Making a transition to a health and human services role can be completed in 18 months.8
If you have a knack for bookkeeping and/or financial information, why not let your career change at 40 lead you to a position that involves the use of these skills in a healthcare setting? That’s exactly what you’d do in a healthcare accounting position.
Healthcare accounting involves working with healthcare organizations and facilities to help them monitor their financial data. It also involves ensuring that their information is accurate, creating reports when needed to identify certain data or trends.
The BLS categorizes healthcare accounting positions under bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks and offers a median annual pay of $42,410 per year as of May 2020 or $20.39 per hour.13
Working in healthcare accounting generally requires some type of postsecondary education. UMA’s Healthcare Accounting associate degree online program can provide that education in 18 months.7
This program prepares you for an entry-level healthcare accounting role through courses such as Payroll Accounting, Cost Accounting, Healthcare Business Operations, and Principles of Accounting I and II. You also take computer and communication courses, as well as a few general education courses in English Composition, College Math, and more.
Begin Your Path to Your New Career Today!
If you’re ready to pursue a new job, UMA is here to help. Still a bit afraid of making this change? You don’t have to jump into a full-time change if you aren’t ready. You can always work on your education and do something part-time until you feel comfortable enough to make a transition full-time.
As graduation approaches, we can also assist you with personalized job search support that includes helping you write a resume that highlights your education and transferable skills, along with providing mock interviews so you can practice your responses before being face-to-face with a prospective employer.
Instead of asking, “Can you change your career at 40?” perhaps the better question is, “How do I change my career at 40?” Contact UMA today and we can help you find the answer based on your specific goals.
In the meantime, remember that age is just a number. The best career change at 40 is the one that brings happiness to your soul. You’ve got this! And we’ll be here with you every step of the way.
1 Lifehack. 20 People Who Only Achieved Success After Age 40. https://www.lifehack.org/370180/20-people-who-only-achieved-success-after-age-40
2 Park D, Lodi-Smith J, Drew L, et al. The Impact of Sustained Engagement on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: The Synapse Project. Psychological Science. 2013;25(1):103-112. doi:10.1177/0956797613499592. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797613499592
3 Kelly M, Loughrey D, Lawlor B, et al. The impact of cognitive training and mental stimulation on cognitive and everyday functioning of healthy older adults: a systamtic review and meta-analysis. Ageing Research Reviews. 2014;15:28-43. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2014.02.004. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568163714000208
4 Narushima M, Liu J, Diestelkamp, N. Lifelong learning in active ageing discourse: its conserving effect on wellbeing, health and vulnerability. Ageing and Society. 2018;38(4):651-75. doi:10.1017/S0144686X16001136. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5848758/
5 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Healthcare Occupations. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm
6 Military.com. Four Skills You Can Transfer to a Healthcare Career. https://www.military.com/veteran-jobs/search/4-skills-to-transfer-to-healthcare-career.html
7 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Pharmacy Technicians. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm#tab-1
8 Completion times vary based on individual students.
9 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. Medical Secretaries and Administrative Assistants. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436013.htm
10 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Medical Records and Health Information Specialists. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm#tab-1
11 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Medical Records and Health Information Specialists. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm#tab-6
12 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Social and Human Service Assistants. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-and-human-service-assistants.htm#tab-1
13 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/bookkeeping-accounting-and-auditing-clerks.htm