I want a career helping people – what are my options?

Careers helping people - two hands linked together
Want a job helping others? There are plenty of options, whether you'd like to work directly with those in need or help society more widely.

Careers helping people come in all shapes and sizes. You can get hands-on in a healthcare or emergency services job, think your way around problems as a social worker or lawyer, or create broader benefits for society in a career such as science or engineering.

Take a look at our top ten careers for helping people, plus our ‘best of the rest’ suggestions you might not have considered.

Teaching and education

A career as a teacher allows you to help individuals very directly and see the results first-hand as your students develop and grow. As well as primary and secondary schools, teachers can work in further education colleges, schools for pupils with disabilities and special needs, pupil referral units, young offenders’ institutions and hospitals. You need a degree to qualify as a teacher but if you don’t fancy going to university there are other careers in education you could consider, such as youth work, playwork, childcare or being a teaching assistant. Find out more about different jobs in teaching and education.

Medicine

Becoming a doctor is another great option if you want to help people directly and see the effect your work has had on each individual and their family. There’s also the opportunity to get involved in medical research if you’d like your work to have a wider impact, such as finding new cures for diseases. Some doctors carry out research while continuing to work with patients; others do it as their full-time job. You can work in a hospital, GP surgery, outpatient clinic or even with the armed forces and choose from a huge range of medical specialisms, from surgery to psychiatry. All doctors need a degree in medicine – read our guide to medical degrees to find out what’s involved and the qualifications and experience you need to get in.

Nursing

Likewise, as a nurse you can work with patients in a huge variety of settings. As well as hospital wards, there are jobs in GP surgeries, assisting surgeons in theatre, or visiting people in their own homes as a district nurse. You could specialise as an adult nurse, children’s nurse, neonatal nurse (working with newborn babies), mental health nurse or learning disabilities nurse. Nurses need a degree – most study for this full time at university, though a new nursing degree apprenticeship has just been launched, which will offer you the opportunity to work for the NHS while studying and have your tuition fees paid for you. Find out more about degrees in nursing.

Psychology

There are numerous types of psychology careers, many of which involve helping people. Some are in healthcare: health psychologists deal with psychological aspects of physical health (eg giving up smoking), clinical psychologists and counselling psychologists work mainly in mental health, and neuropsychologists help those with brain injuries. Other careers include educational psychology (helping children who are struggling to learn) and forensic psychology (working with prisons to reduce offending). You’ll need a degree in psychology – take a look at our guide to what studying psychology involves and the qualifications you need to get a place on a course.

Alternative careers in healthcare

There are lots of other careers in healthcare besides being a nurse, doctor or psychologist. For example, you could work in audiology (treating hearing and balance problems), radiotherapy and oncology (treating cancer), optometry (treating the visual system) or podiatry (treating feet and lower limbs). Or how about a career as a paramedic, physiotherapist, midwife or pharmacist? Read up on the degrees that lead to these careers.

Social work

Social workers work with individuals and families who need some support. They can help elderly people, adults with mental health issues or adults with learning difficulties to live as independently as possible. They can work with children in care or families in which there are child protection concerns, or manage fostering and adoption processes. Or they can work with offenders. Social workers need a degree and are involved in activities such as conducting assessments, organising packages of support or referrals to other services, and liaising with other professionals such as doctors and teachers. Non-graduate jobs can involve providing hands-on support with tasks such as cooking, washing and dressing. Find out more about social work and related jobs.

Emergency services

Tempted to join the police, ambulance service or fire and rescue service? In many roles you can serve your community while getting out and about and being physically active. You could also consider a career in emergency planning, which involves devising plans for how to protect the public against threats such as terrorist attacks and severe weather. There are a number of different entry routes to the emergency services; some require a degree but others don’t. Read up on emergency services careers and how to get into them.

Public service

There are many jobs in central government, local government and government agencies. All of these involve working for the good of the country and its citizens. Your work could affect thousands or millions of people – though you might not meet them personally. You could help keep the UK safe by joining MI5, MI6, GCHQ or the Defence Engineering and Science Group (DESG), develop proposals for new laws with the Government Legal Service, work in a strategic role devising new policies for central or local government, or provide services such as pension payments directly to the public. There are lots of other jobs too and you don’t always need a degree to get in. Find out more about public service jobs and employers.

Charity careers

Similarly, if you work for a charity you might interact directly with the people (or animals) that the charity helps, or you might have a more office-based job. For example, your role could involve fundraising, marketing, campaigning, lobbying parliament (trying to influence government policy), accounting, admin or IT. There are jobs for both graduates and non-graduates; to get one you’ll either need to do lots of relevant voluntary work or start your career outside the charity sector and then join once you’re an experienced professional. Find out about the different types of jobs and employers in the charity sector.

Law

Not all jobs in law involve helping people but there are some that do. You could work in criminal defence, representing those accused of crimes. You could specialise in immigration law and support people claiming asylum in the UK. Or you could have a career in child protection law, keeping children safe from neglect or abuse. The two main types of lawyer are barristers (who spend quite a lot of time representing clients in court) and solicitors (who are more office-based). You need a degree to become a barrister or solicitor, though there are support roles available that don’t require this. Read more about jobs in law.

Best of the rest: jobs helping society that you might not have considered

The following areas might not leap to mind as you won’t normally help individuals one-to-one but there are opportunities to create benefits for society more widely.

  • Science: not every job is about helping people but there are many opportunities to do so, from protecting the environment to developing new drugs to ensuring that products, foods and industrial processes are safe.
    science
  • Engineering: lots of roles have positive benefits for the public – think clean water, defence, renewable energy, the rail network, and public buildings that are warm, light and safe.
  • The armed forces: help to keep the UK protected – there are all sorts of specialist roles and you can join with or without a degree.
  • Finance: you could work for a charity or public sector body managing its finances, or be employed by an accountancy firm to audit these organisations and check no one’s cooking the books.
  • Management consulting: consultants help businesses to make changes or improvements, but some do the same with public sector bodies or charities too.
  • IT: protect citizens in a job in cyber security, or join a charity or public sector employer to support its work.

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