The COVID-19 pandemic has caused healthcare technology to take great leaps forward seemingly overnight. Around the world, doctors have adopted new ways of reaching patients; researchers have developed tools to diagnose, treat and track disease; and engineers have developed solutions for manufacturing drugs, tests and devices quickly and in large quantities.
Many of the technological advances we’ve seen in the past year are here to stay, and with them comes an increased need for science, technology, engineering and math professionals. STEM careers will likely become even more prominent in the future as the broad range of skills needed to succeed will evolve.
STEM Careers in the Midst of COVID-19
According to Angel Palmer, a research scientist in Abbott’s Rapid Diagnostics Business, “At this point, any career that serves to improve the health of communities is in demand.” Two careers, in particular, that Palmer spoke about included research scientists and IT professionals.
Given the enormous need for health technology and information over the last year, research scientists in infectious diseases, diagnostics and vaccinations have seen a sharp increase in demand. These roles have been pivotal in increasing efficiencies and testing.
For example, at Abbott, Palmer is part of the team that developed an innovative, high-quality rapid diagnostic test called BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag Card — a portable, single-use antigen test used to detect COVID-19. Researchers were able to work with engineering teams to produce 50 million tests a month, expanding testing capabilities and delivering quick results to millions of people during the pandemic. Because the development process took the hard work of many people with talents that go beyond understanding diseases, Palmer says that she’s seen an increased need for researchers, scientists and roles that support research efforts as well.
“Every person within our team has a different skill set,” she says. “It is important to recognize and appreciate diverse talents that people have, as it takes different perspectives to make a great team.”
To become a research professional, it helps to have a science education background, but there’s no one right set of educational and professional experiences. For instance, Palmer has a master’s in biomedical science, but some of her colleagues have advanced degrees and others have decades of experience.
According to Palmer, anyone with a strong sense of curiosity — who’s creative and willing to learn from their failures — can do well in STEM careers. It’s important to be able to accept failure, she said, because in science, especially research, you learn from what didn’t work. As for creativity, she noted that any scientific development involves some level of creativity.
“Scientific innovation begins with creativity and furthers human expression,” she says. “This is one of the many reasons why the arts and humanities have an important connection to STEM and should be included when considering these careers.”
Due to the increased use of contact tracing, connecting with patients via apps and telemedicine, the pandemic has also brought to light the need for IT professionals. During this time, people shifted to using technology to communicate with their doctors almost immediately. As a result, healthcare providers quickly adopted telemedicine to reach people in remote areas across the United States and around the world.
Many health professionals, as well as patients, have seen the benefits of telemedicine and the increased use of technologies to communicate. In fact, the BinaxNOW™ diagnostic test includes an app called NAVICA™ which is used for sharing COVID-19 results with patients. Because of this, Palmer says, “Jobs that support technology and allow healthcare to be accessed from anywhere in the world are necessary now and opportunities will continue to increase in the future.”
In addition to apps and telemedicine, the need to analyze healthcare data or predict outcomes will only continue to grow. Professionals who understand data analytics and artificial intelligence are in need now and will be essential going forward as the healthcare industry continues collecting vast troves of data.
For those seeking a career in STEM, there’s a wealth of paths to choose from. “The world is constantly changing and evolving to include more technology and more advances,” she says. “STEM is all about learning and understanding the world.”
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the rate of technological adoption in healthcare. Although some aspects of care and technology usage may shift —people will start seeing their doctors in person again — much of the lessons learned will remain. The industry continues to need STEM professionals who can respond to the next crisis, help develop the right solutions and ultimately, improve the delivery of healthcare worldwide.