Career futures: health and helping

A blood pressure check.

If you already know you want to get into medicine or physiotherapy, great! If you’re interested in other health areas, helping people, or love everything about sports and recreation but aren't sure what a career might look like, don’t worry. There are tons of university programs to get you on your way.

So, how does a university degree translate into a job? What you study, your experience, and what’s going on in the world – economically, with technology, with health, and even with the environment – are going to have an impact on the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Let’s explore some of the trends affecting health, wellness, recreation, and well-being and how these trends may shape careers in the future.


Contents

  • Industry trends: how do changes in our world impact what's happening in this field?
  • Future of work: what will careers in this industry look like in the future?
  • Programs to study: what programs does Waterloo offer related to this field?

gears iconMachines and algorithms in the workplace are expected to create 133 million new roles by 2022.
heart iconIn Canada, a shortage of skilled, clinical healthcare professionals is expected to last beyond 2026.
icon of a brain.Great health and wellness experiences are all about the people who develop and provide them.

Industry trends

Seniors sitting on a bench.

Quality of life

Canadians are living longer, and have better health care than many other countries in the world. However, we still face challenges in preventing chronic diseases.

Cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes account for 65% of deaths in Canada. Some of these issues are exasperated by changes to the environment (pollution!), or because some people don’t know how to make healthy choices.

Maintaining health will include increased demand for health services from a wide range of practitioners (e.g., doctors, physiotherapists) and through a variety of facilities. The need for assisted living, policy changes to public health, or new recreation programming may also increase as Canadians seek options for health support, life skills, and leisure activities.

Older lady with a camera.

An aging population

There are more seniors than there are children under the age of 14 in Canada. Why? Well, there are a few reasons.

First, after World War II there was a “baby boom,” a sudden rise in the number of babies born. This boom lasted for 20 years until 1965, so there are 8.2 million Canadians who are – or soon will be – seniors.

People live longer too. Life expectancy in Canada is one of the best in the world because we live in a safe, prosperous country and have good healthcare. In fact, the fastest growing segment of the population is people over 100! On the flip side, people aren’t having as many children so Canada’s population has more older people.

 

A robotic hand.

AI, automation, and tech

It doesn’t seem like AI should have anything to do with health but it does. As Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and robotics get better and better, many traditional jobs are going to disappear. Robot surgeons, smart mattresses, handheld diagnostics imaging technology are going to have huge impacts on medicine, patient care, and treatment.

It doesn’t seem like AI should have anything to do with health but it does.

Technology can also be a powerful tool to help people connect, create, or have new experiences. Voice-activation, or self-driving vehicles might help a blind person be more independent, help aging Canadians find new ways to spend their leisure time, or use Virtual Reality to treat people with neurological disorders like autism, or Parkinson’s Disease.

A laptop showing statistics.

Crossing disciplines

New technology is changing how people work. We can access huge amounts of data instantly. We can collaborate across distances. We can tap into – or invent – new processes, products, and services to help make people’s lives better.

Bridging across disciplines and skill sets is becoming increasingly important.

People have to be tech savvy. Know a bit about working with or interpreting data. Maybe even understand how to take an idea to market with their own company. Bridging across disciplines and skill sets is becoming increasingly important.

 

The future of work

So what does all of this mean? It means that health and helping professionals will continue to be in demand and there may be new career options available.

Professor and students looking at cadaver on table

Multidisciplinary skills will be important

It’s clear that technology will be important in the future of work. Professionals in all areas of health, recreation, and leisure will need to understand how to use and interact with technology tools.

Beyond technology, however, there’s an increasing need to connect people across subject areas. For instance

  • health teams may work with engineers to develop prosthetics using 3D printing
  • heath professionals may work with scientists to develop new drugs
  • tourism professionals may work with data analysts to build meaningful vacation experiences.

In these examples, future grads from health-related programs may need to learn another language: a little bit of engineering or a bit of data mining.

The opportunity here is for individuals to develop unique combinations of skills that lead to career paths that simply don’t currently exist. Healthcare Automation Ethicist could be someone’s dream job.

Learning to wrap an injured ankle.

The business of health

Health, leisure, and recreation are big business. There are opportunities for entrepreneurs to create health-related products and services. There are opportunities in startups. There are positions for experts, researchers, and government officials.

In Ontario alone, there are 1,300 medical technology (medtech) companies generating $12.2B of revenue a year. Biotechnology is also booming. And we’ve already covered the increase in healthcare support needed for aging Canadians.

What’s most important is that opportunities for students pursuing a health-related education span across industries. There’s a lot of room to carve out a niche.

From consulting on accessibility design in a camper van, to developing wearables, nano-based drug delivery systems, or running a craft brewery.

 

There’s a growing demand for skilled talent

In Canada, a shortage of skilled, clinical healthcare professionals is expected to last beyond 2026.

Physicians, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists are some of the clinical jobs with the greatest future demand.

There’s also going to be a need for administrators, consultants and policy makers to manage our hospitals, long-term care, or recreation facilities and make the political decisions regarding financing or technology.

Finally, as the number of facilities grows, more recreation or music therapists will be needed to plan and deliver programming.

Staying human

Despite the rise of AI and technology, people are still needed. They provide the human interaction, the social intelligence needed to connect, build relationships, and empathize.

Critical thinking and problem-solving – the key things an undergrad degree helps you develop – need a human touch.

A machine can help analyze data, but the appropriate response is best selected by an actual person, whether that’s in a hospital, or on the playing field.

 

Students in the University of Waterloo anatomy lab

Programs to study

Great health and wellness experiences are all about the people who develop and provide them. At Waterloo, you’ll gain the skills to examine health and wellbeing from a wholistic perspective. You’ll learn how to identify opportunities to improve systems and processes – and how to turn those ideas into reality. We can’t predict the future – but we know you can be an important part of creating it.

One of these health-related programs could be your starting point

 

What's next