Our Wednesday series continues with responses to questions from students. Erik asks below:
I have just finished my undergrad in Sociology and will be pursing an MSc in Health Management this fall. As one of the few students in the programme coming directly from undergrad (and without a medical background), I decided to intern with Senior Management at a hospital.
One of the issues for me is that everyone, except for the CFO, comes from a clinical background. When I look at many of the VPs, much of their learning progressed as they moved through various clinician roles and eventually into Senior Management. As someone who will not move through these clinician roles, but is nonetheless interested in working in hospital management, what core competencies should I be focusing on during this short (6 month) internship?
I do not think that someone is going to be trained in core competencies during a six-month internship. I think you take an internship to get exposure to a certain type of institutional situation, to meet interesting people, and to have a chance to "show your stuff." Rather than trying to learn one specific thing or another, go into an internship that provides you with an opportunity to take on a specific project, where you will have responsibility for a reasonably hard, but doable, assignment -- and then get it done well.
You will, of course, learn things along the way, but the more important thing will be that you will demonstrate to a set of senior managers that you are thoughtful and competent. This very often leads to a request to stay with the organization in a more permanent capacity. If it does not lead to that, it nonetheless provides you with a credible reference for your job search.
On the larger issue, there remains a prejudice against hiring non-clinical people in hospitals. This stems from several ill-founded beliefs. The same phenomenon occurred in many industries and only changed over time because the supposedly "expert" job candidates were found to be incapable of guiding their companies through the shoals of structural change. This was because they were promoted into positions of authority based on the qualifications of their discipline rather than the needs of their organizations. I have watched it happen in electric utilities, telephone companies, water utilities, steel companies, auto companies, and many others.
I'm not saying that non-clinicians are necessarily superior managers in a hospital setting. (The jury is still out in my case, for example.) I am saying, though, that non-clinicians can bring a useful perspective and aspects of managerial experience even in the highly technical world of medicine. The way for you to prove that, though, is to get into some position -- virtually any position -- in a hospital and prove your merit. Trust me, you will be noticed, and you will advance.
(By the way, isn't it interesting that the last positions filled for CEOs of three Harvard teaching hospitals -- BIDMC, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, and the Joslin Diabetes Center -- were not doctors? All three places faced major structural problems, and the Boards felt that managerial experience trumped a medicine degree in their selection process. We'll see if they made wise choices.)