If you're interested in a health care-related career, then you probably know that information about this growing field is very accessible. You can ask your school counselor, contact the career placement office at a local college, or look up trade organizations like the New Jersey Hospital Association in Princeton, or others that focus on a variety of specialties.
But for Renata Zdancewicz, a 27-year-old medical technician at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, the process was a bit more involved, requiring a transatlantic flight and additional schooling. In the end, though, she says the effort was worth it. After all, you're never bored as a medical technician, who performs and interprets various chemical, microscopic, and bacteriologic tests that will aid in diagnosing and treating patients.
Renata had earned a master's degree in medical technology back in her home country of Poland. But a crummy economy there meant few job openings. So about three years ago, she packed up and came to the U.S., where she figured her education would make it easy to get a job. She soon found out, though, that the U.S. also had its obstacles. "Because of international standards, my master's degree from Poland wasn't accepted here," she explains. "So I had to go back to school."
Bergen County Community College, to be exact. Renata picked up a two-year associate's degree in medical technology there, then found out that the combo of her master's degree from Poland, her associate's from BCCC, and one year of on-the-job training at Valley could qualify her for a bachelor's degree in medical technology from Kean University. When she completes the requirements next summer, she plans to go on for a master's degree in her field--a degree that will be recognized in the U.S. "This is an important job where you don't really have to get messy," explains Renata. "I'm working in a lab instead of on a hospital ward, but my work helps doctors to diagnose and cure their patients."
It's also a well-paying position, which can carry a salary of $20 or more per hour. It's interesting too, since medical technicians often rotate among departments, picking up a wide range of skills. Among other duties, they may be testing blood in the hematology department, or working elsewhere examining fluids--from sperm to spinal--seeking telltale signs that aid in a doctor's diagnosis. They're also asked to calibrate instruments, so doctors and others can be sure that the measurements they're reading are accurate. Renata's rotations also include the urinary, chemistry and microbiology departments.
"We're often behind the scenes, peering down the barrel of a microscope," says Renata. "But our responsibilities place us on the front lines, because without our tests and results, how could doctors know what they should be treating?" Despite the fact that none of her family had a health care-related job, Renata says she was always interested in medicine. But it wasn't until she was in college that she discovered the medical technology field. "Once I found out about it and spoke with some medical technicians, I knew it was right for me," she says. "It lets you help people without getting too close to them. I enjoy having the space, maybe because I'd feel bad if I had to deliver bad news. Here, you're still seeing a world that most other people don't."
But while she enjoys her job, Renata cautions that it's a very serious business. "A person going out for this should have the right kind of personality," she says. "You should be interested in learning; you have to be methodical and value accuracy. Medical technicians deal with life-or-death decisions, and we have to be certain of what we're doing."