Professionals who make the jump from hospital bedside to the corporate world bring a unique set of skills and experiences to the business table.
I’m one of them. I worked as a speech-language pathologist in large acute hospitals in Australia for almost 10 years. I treated patients with strokes, other neurological pathology and head and neck cancer. I transitioned out of the clinical world via an MBA several years ago and I now work for a health technology company.
Nearly 15 years after first graduating, most of my peers are now in some kind of middle management role. I know only one or two like me who made the full corporate/business jump. People like me see their influence and expertise being directed beyond the four walls of a hospital. We upskill and re-educate, shift and pivot, usually into different careers and industries while taking a unique set of skills and experiences with us.
What are are those unique skills and experiences for clinicians who go corporate, and what are their advantages? Here are some thoughts.
1. A deep appreciation and understanding of the experience of illness.
Those with clinical experience already have a deep fascination and interest in health, disease and healthcare.
Taking that a step further, when you work with patients in hospitals you develop an intimate understanding of the patient journey. Your job is to help people to navigate the experience of illness and disease. You learn to recognize the patterns of how patients, money and influence flow through the healthcare system. You deal with the unique politics and organizational structure that’s present in hospitals and other large healthcare organisations.
2. Instant commonality and connection with healthcare professionals.
When I engage with clinicians today as part of my current job and explain that I was once like them, there is a shared sense of having ‘worked the trenches’. It feels like an instant commonality, a mutual respect and a sense of camaraderie.
I felt it too when the tables were reversed. When I was a clinician, rightly or wrongly, I always respected professionals who came from where I did. And I could always tell when another professional had a clinical background – in their language, knowledge and approach.
3. Understand and can deal with risk.
Clinical work is much grey-er than most people realize.
More often than not, the course of action to take with a patient is not clear. It’s a process of gathering as much good information as you can, consulting with everyone around you, drawing on your prior clinical experience, knowing as much of the research evidence as you can, and then problem solving it out to the best of your clinical ability.
When I worked as a clinician, I dealt with disease risk every single day. My area of expertise was dysphagia or disordered swallowing. I was dealing with something that in normal people is a complex and intricate process involving coordination and timing of neurology and musculature.
Until it goes wrong. The ability to eat and drink easily and safely is something that most people never pay attention to until it doesn’t work properly. Swallowing just happens and there’s no true way to tell exactly what’s happening inside someone’s throat. You can’t ‘see’ inside someone’s neck to find out exactly what was happening while they eat or drink. I had to infer lots of things and manage each patient’s relative risk of having food or drink end up in their lungs rather than their stomach.
4. Expect long hours and hard work.
Everyone works hard inside a hospital. The hours are long and intense, you are constantly on the move and you hustle.
Information comes at you from everywhere. Your job is often to drill down to the info that is of most value to you and your patient. In a hospital there is a continuous and consistent push towards the same common end goal – get the patient well enough to discharge them. In the business world by comparison, I find that sometimes the end goal can be less clear or worse, not clear at all.
5. Are team players, highly empathetic and good with people.
Most clinicians are good with people and are highly empathetic. What drives them towards clinical work in the first place is their tendency to be givers who are service-orientated, humble and smart. They generally come from a place of compassion, hope, comfort and an intense desire to want to help others.
Clinicians have to talk to, connect with and build rapport with different kinds of people. The best clinicians do it naturally and authentically. That ability to connect and talk with anyone lends itself well in the business world, and especially in tech where there’s a tendency for insular work among smart tech minds.
I cut my professional teeth within a team environment that knew the value of collaboration. In my clinical experience, I worked in small teams alongside other healthcare professionals and together we treated patients to the best of our collaborative ability. The best teams I worked on had a common goal, competent members, a strong leader (usually the resident doctor) and valued the input of each of its members.
6. Expect pressure and can handle it.
There is no other pressure quite like dealing with sick people. Make a wrong move in business, and someone might lose money. Have a brain fade inside a hospital, and you could make a person sicker, or worse.
The pressure can be intense. I frequently dealt with very unwell patients with special kinds of breathing tubes (specifically, tracheostomy or tracheotomy tubes). On more than one occasion I had mere seconds to decide whether I could do something to make a patient breathe more easily or call in reinforcements in the form of the crash cart.
There’s no other working environment like a large acute hospital. It wasn’t until I left the hospital as a workplace that I realized what a unique and unusual workplace it actually is. For many years I didn’t know any other workplace.
No one really talks about what it’s like to work inside a hospital. You are in the front seat, witnessing modern western medicine in full flight. From that front seat you can see humans at their worst. Sickness and illness become the norm, to the point where you forget what normal ageing and healthy socioeconomics actually look like. A routine day for you is never a routine day for your patient and their loved ones.
To summarize, professionals like myself who were once clinicians and go on to roles in the business side of healthcare bring a unique skill set and experience to the business table. We appreciate and understand the healthcare system better than most because we were once intricately a part of it.