Sourcing talent from outside healthcare into management positions has long been an emotive topic. Strong views exist in both camps and as with most complex hiring issues, there is no either-or situation. It’s a dilemma that has many factors at play, and the benefits and challenges of each hiring decision need careful deliberation. With that in mind, we thought we’d open up the discussion with our LinkedIn contacts. We approached healthcare executives across Australia and further afield to explore their views on bringing in management talent from outside of healthcare.
Here’s what they had to say on the recruitment challenges that they are facing, the pros and cons of hiring talent from outside healthcare, and the factors that can improve attraction and retention of talent.
For the purposes of this article, we have anonymised any answers to protect the identity of our recipients.
Those with clinical training best-placed to lead clinical organisations
The obvious headline when discussing the topic of hiring talent from outside healthcare is that individuals from within are best placed to lead clinical organisations.
One of our respondents asserted that in their view people with clinical training are best suited to lead clinical organisations, so long as they have the broad skills necessary to do that. He said that the evidence from overseas suggests that leaders with clinical domain expertise run organisations that perform better both culturally and financially. The challenge, however, is that not all clinical people want this role. Many want to stay in their professional field, feeling that it could compromise their professional integrity. He also noted that those with clinical expertise would have more credibility with their respective workforce.
Middle and senior level people already in healthcare lack financial expertise
One reason for venturing beyond those in healthcare is that internal candidates have a lack of financial expertise. One individual told us that in his view “for middle and senior level people in healthcare, it’s important to have a financial background or understanding.” Unfortunately, he believes that there are too many generalists at these levels. They don’t excel in any one area. So, hiring leaders with financial skills or background can be challenging.
The regional conundrum
A common theme amongst our respondents was a struggle to recruit talent in regional areas. One individual said, “it’s an ongoing challenge hiring doctors and other clinical and support staff in regional locations, despite a number of government initiatives.” Another mentioned that one of the major hiring challenges in medical and healthcare is the impact of location. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to attract executives to regional locations.
Senior executives lacking emotional intelligence
One MD told us that his major hiring challenge was recruiting senior executives who could think intuitively, who could understand the culture of a healthcare organisation and how to apply that. More specifically his primary challenge was finding executives with the emotional intelligence to engage successfully with doctors and clinicians in such a way that patient outcomes and commercial outcomes can be reconciled and both achieved. In his experience, some execs find it difficult to engage with doctors and other clinicians and are less able to read the situation as it unfolds.
Management in homecare and related allied health areas face unique challenges
Many of our respondents also pinpointed the unique challenges faced by outsiders moving into homecare and related allied health areas.
One noted that “as homecare and related allied health areas are regulated environments, it’s a challenge to find non-healthcare execs who can make the adjustment.” However, they did assert that recruiting leaders and senior execs without a healthcare background is possible. “There are many transferable skills, for example, leadership and mentoring, project management, management of the product and service lifecycle to name a few.” In her opinion, some non-healthcare execs don’t consider working in this sector because they don’t understand the range of opportunities that are available, and that their skills can be transferable.
Another of our respondents asserted that for aged care providers, there is a reluctance to hire people from other sectors into these roles, even if they have transferable skills. Sadly, there is a perceived risk that they will not adjust or work effectively in an environment that is heavily regulated and may fail to meet accreditation demands.
Ageism against young execs
Another issue that came up was a negative perception of younger execs. One respondent said there was an element of reverse ageism, i.e. younger people not being given the opportunities that they deserve in management positions. In her view, the lack of executive supply could be alleviated by investing in developing younger execs. Unfortunately, there is a perception that they will leave, which means organisations are unlikely to invest. In her view, this is a total fiction. Younger managers and execs can be loyal; their job satisfaction and mobility is more a reflection of the culture, values and leadership styles of the organisations that they work for.
Factors that can improve attraction, hiring and retention
Across the board, the common theme was the difficulties organisations are facing in attracting and retaining staff. One of our respondents offered their views on what employers needed to do alleviate their hiring woes.
In their view, some organisations were suffering from a poor brand. For example, some hospitals have a poor reputation or poor recruitment practices, hence doctors and other staff don’t want to join, and in turn, staff shortages arise. The calibre of hiring managers is also impacting on hiring staff. Those heads of department who are well renowned can attract people who want to work for them, can enable the culture to be positively shaped, and support positive change. By focusing on employer branding, benefits, and culture, organisations will have a better chance of attracting future talent.
Final thoughts from Geoff, the Director of Career Medical
I think there are divergent views on hiring executives from outside healthcare into healthcare. This was demonstrated by the feedback I received from different people. Some think it can be done, others believe it’s not the best approach.
More specifically, I think its possible when hiring for commercial roles in healthcare, e.g. in marketing, customer experience, business development, finance and areas of digital and technology. Where it becomes an issue for some hiring managers is for operations and leadership positions that involve management of clinical professionals, or managers that are dealing closely with patients, or have direct responsibility via teams for achieving patient outcomes. The challenges in these situations are the ability to adjust to the regulatory environment and the quality standards that need to be achieved for patient care. Having said that, given that the supply of executives for these roles is not keeping pace with demand, some adjustments will need to be made. People from outside healthcare with the tech and digital skills could bring these benefits to working in healthcare, so this could be a possible trade-off as a person adjusts to the more regulated environment. They may also be more adaptable to change than some Operations leaders who have “grown up” in aged care or similar. I think success can be achieved, but it will take time, but given the supply and demand imbalance for some roles, it will be necessary. It then comes back to the processes and controls that have been put in place for an organisation to maintain a healthy workforce.
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