I had an interesting discussion recently with a colleague about the advantages of having a clinical background when you work for a healthcare company.
When I say clinical background, I’m referring to a professional who previously treated patients in a medical setting. Think doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.
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.
This background makes me unique because most business professionals I meet who work in healthcare-related private enterprise come from non-healthcare backgrounds.
For reasons best left for another post, there are a handful of healthcare professionals like myself who see their influence and expertise being directed beyond the four walls of a hospital. They up-skill and re-educate, then they shift and pivot into different careers and industries, taking a unique set of skills and experiences with them.
What are are those unique skills and experiences, 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 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 working clinicians.
I’m in the situation now where people I once called my colleagues are now my customers.
When I meet these people and explain to them that I was once like them, there’s 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. Rightly or wrongly, I always respected professionals who came from where I did. And I could always tell when the person in from of me had a clinical background. I could tell in their language, understanding and approach.
3. Understand and can deal with risk.
Clinical work is much grey-er than most people think.
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 evidence as you can, knowing as much of the research evidence as you can, and, to be frank, problem solving the shit out of it.
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 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. Constantly pushing towards an end goal.
When you work in a hospital, you work hard, you are constantly on the move and you hustle. 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 usually givers and highly empathetic.
Most clinicians are good with people and are highly empathetic. What drives them towards clinical work in the first instance 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.
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.
In summary, ex-healthcare professionals like myself bring a unique skill set and set of experiences to the business table. We appreciate and understand the healthcare system better than most because we were once intricately a part of it.