When it comes to setting up healing in raids, we like to lump healers into different specializations. We have players who strictly tank heal or raid heal. In some cases, there is a specific role they need to play within the encounter (like kite healing). Blizzard has done a great job of trying to equalize the healing classes to the point that they can do everything competently. Even then, we continue to instinctively place the different classes into specific healing roles. If you are a healer who has traditionally done only one type of healing, then it is time to diversify.
Is it bad to be considered all-purpose?
One of the stigmas that comes with being a well rounded healer is the perception that you aren't really great at anything. You're above average in every category. Now, that criticism is going to be accurate depending on your individual talent selections, glyphs and other augments.
To use a car analogy my dad likes to use, all-season tires for vehicles are okay. They're not the best, but it means you don't really need to change them at all at any point of the year. When it snows in Canada, you should probably grab winter tires. While all-season tires might do the job, it would be a heck of a lot easier driving through all the snow with tires designed for the season.
All-purpose doesn't mean zero skill
If you're an all-purpose player, it means you're able to recognize what the current needs of the raid are at the time and seamlessly switch your roles as needed.
- The tank healer You understand that the tank is about to be in jeopardy. You'll snap off a cooldown like Pain Suppression and cast bomb heals until things stabilize or until you notice that you're needed elsewhere.
- The raid healer You notice that the entire raid group is about to take a ton of damage. You zero in on a specific group of players (say, group 2) and start casting powerful group heals to maintain their health.
- The dispeller Interrupters are dropping the ball. Certain magic effects are breaking through much more than usual, and you need to weave debuff-removing spells on the raid to shake off the different negative effects.
- The special tasks healer These are the players who have specific assignments. They step into portals. They need to constantly move. They have to stand in specific areas and heal key players. They travel up the spider line to the top of Beth'tilac's web. Whatever the job is, they're the ones who can improvise and make things happen.
My first point is that you increase your value to your guild. I'm not asking healing priests to switch to a DPS spec or anything. But if you're limited to insisting on only doing one thing really well, don't expect to last long in a progression environment. Being able to do multiple assignments really well allows your leaders to place you in creative positions that just might be the difference between a kill and a 2% wipe.
Being versatile can also be way more fun! While you can certainly keep dropping your single-target heals on the tank with your eyes glued on the TV, it can be much more engaging to fulfill different duties. You feel like you're doing more!
I watch the mana bars of other healers as we get close to the end of encounters. Some of their mana pools often end up above 75% or so. This feels wrong with me, because it looks like there's wasted healing going on. I don't mean wasted in the sense of overhealing; I mean wasted in the sense that there was no spell cast. In a raid environment, there is always someone who needs a heal. It helps equalize the healing load a little more. I'm not saying you should completely tank your mana pool down to 0 and barely scrape by to the dying seconds of an encounter. I'm saying you should look for every opportunity to heal someone if you can afford it.
Above all, be aware of your limits. Strive to hit them as often as you can.
Now, if you've been constantly pigeonholed into a specific healing assignment fight after fight, that's usually because your leaders trust you and are comfortable with your doing that. The reason I used to keep asking my paladins and disc priests to stay on the tanks is because I knew that pairing would minimize tank deaths easily.
Growing in your role
Look for openings in your assignments. Tank at full health? Drop a group heal on melee players. Nothing else to do with the raid? Position yourself closer and see if you can mitigate incoming damage somehow by preemptively healing. Do something a little different each time.
Start off slowly. When I started tank healing, I stayed exclusively on him the whole time. I didn't even try to watch myself, because I placed faith in the other healers to cover my back. But then I started trying to keep my own HOTs and other spells on both myself and the tank. After that, I pushed myself even further to keep even more spells active on myself, the tank and another target (like a rogue or something).
Always look for ways to improve, however tiny they may be! It isn't always going to be easy the first few times, and you might accidentally cause a death or two. Keep your key players and yourself alive. It is okay to be slightly inefficient; just don't be extremely inefficient.
Need advice on working with the healers in your guild? Raid Rx has you covered. Send your questions about raid healing to firstname.lastname@example.org. For less healer-centric raiding advice, visit Ready Check for advanced tactics and advice for the endgame raider.