Lean Leap to Healthcare: Hospital Sabbatical


Lean Leap to Health Care #10 (click for Part #9)

by Scott McDuffee

In my first Leap to Health Care blog, I mentioned using a two-pronged industry approach of Health Care and Defense – patch 'em up and blow 'em up. In Networking with Buffalo and Doctors, I mentioned blasting e-mails in response to job alerts.

It is said, only 15% of jobs are found via this explicit avenue. Most landings come from networking, connections, and seeking – a “rifle approach” vs. the “shot gun approach” of the published job market.

But given a sample size of two – my job search associate Steve and me, it looks like we are defying the odds. Steve found a job via Internet job postings which he started this week. He will be relocating his young (as in easier to move than than my teenagers) once his house sells. But for now, he will commute the two hours and stay in a furnished apartment.

Despite my two industry approach, it appears a third option is opening for me (via an Internet job board like Steve) in the manufacturing of building materials. It seems the most interest I am getting is for a role is the third down on the totem pole of 1) Health Care Lean, 2) Manufacturing Lean, and 3) Manufacturing Manager.

This is a dilemma. Since I had a career shake up, I have really been focusing on reinventing myself and trying to find an ideal fit. The trick they say is to make your vocation a vacation by finding your “natural” making you jazzed up to go to work each day. The more I learn, I am convinced continuous improvement in Health Care will be my legacy. My personal mission statement simplified has been to help people do things better. I am already moving toward a mission to help people do things better to help other people .

But what if my interview tomorrow (with 8 people in 2 states) goes well? I have every indication it will. My background, energy, accomplishments, and leadership will take any manufacturer to a better place. I am confident of this – which will certainly come across in an interview. I just hope hope I can do some verbal ju jitsu if they ask my about my ideal job.

During this multi-step interview process, I have already been given an indication my qualifications would set me up for 2 or 3 positions up the chain of command. This company has only begun any kind of improvement and employee involvement so it could be challenging and exciting.

Although I believe Health Care is my “natural” or my calling, decision-makers have not seen it as my natural often because I lack a clinical background. I just heard it again this week. Through linkedin.com – a professional networking tool we should all be utilizing (employed or not), my associate Mike introduced me to the Director of HR at a major Health Care system I have been targeting. The positions I am interested in had lean and process improvement in their titles. One was a director level and the other was a specialist.

The HR Director's first question to Mike was, “Does Scott have any clinical experience?” When Mike said no, the Director said, “No thanks.” He went on to explain there were plenty of people out there with both clinical and lean backgrounds.

Really? I thought. Are there really an abundance of people which have built grass-roots lean efforts, engaged the executive team as champions, driven dramatic technical as well as cultural change, and sustained the gains as a leader of the operations through visual controls, leader standard work, daily accountability, and discipline? Have they worked through strategic planning and budget processes to ensure continuous improvement and lean become the organizing philosophy of the enterprise?

Are there a lot of people who have led hundreds of formal improvement events as well as engaged organic employee improvements – running into obstacles and adjusting approaches to connect to cultures and sub-cultures with multiple businesses and functions? Are there a lot of people who have experienced the challenge and reward of influencing lean nay-sayers to become lean evangelists? For the benefit of Health Care, I hope the HR Director is right.

The manager of volunteering is on standby for my potential hospital sabbatical. It would be sad to turn in my hospital badge (after waiting so long for it). Despite fighting boredom at times, volunteering earned me what I was looking for – information and an affirmation Health Care is right for me. I would also miss seeing Grown Folks in Slippers and Pajamas (Crocs and Scrubs) especially after coming from an environment of steel toes and safety glasses.

After my rude awakening this spring, I am not so naive to think I will spend the next 20 years at my next company. The world has changed in the past two decades. It may be helpful, if I do land in manufacturing, to think of it as a bridge job. Don't get me wrong, I only know one way to work which is to put my heart, head, and hands into what I am doing. But, I don't want to have all my eggs in one basket ever again.

If I refocus on manufacturing, my blogging would probably go on sabbatical too at least in this form. I will continue to network, research, and participate in leading the kaizens which I have starting to get requests to do – mostly on the east coast.

But wait, I just received an e-mail from a hospital administrator which I have been networking with from a premier hospital in Dallas. I had offered to do a guest gemba for his staff who is studying Creating a Lean Culture. Additionally, I offered to be a thought partner to help brainstorm and strategize for disseminating lean beyond the model built in one part of the hospital.

The e-mail says he would like to set up time for us to meet with a prominent VP with a continuous improvement and lean mindset. Hmm, they are expanding their lean efforts. It would be an amazing place to work.

Coach Mike's hospital also called wanting me to interview with the director of the training and development department next week.

Maybe there is still hope for me in Health Care after all.

Scott McDuffee is an experienced Lean professional who is currently searching for a new career opportunity. He is based in Mansfield, TX.

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Scott McDuffee
Scott is a Lean Change Leader who has worked in multiple manufacturing sectors. He blogged primarily about his steps taken to investigate switching into healthcare in 2009.


  1. I met Mark 3 years ago after I started posting here. I think my arrival here was serendipitous rather than planned.

    I lived in the US for a decade (near as damnit) and returned to the UK due to some serious health issues. My blood clots like soup.

    I decided after receiving some excellent care that I wanted to work in healthcare.

    Through a long a convoluted path involving a post grad course and perhaps 200 applications over 3 years I was offered a job in healthcare.

    That was 5 years ago when my background and experience was the exception rather that the rule.

    I had NO healthcare experience, and at that point in time it was not thought that those outside healthcare had anything of value to contribute.

    Five years on the story internationally is very different.

    I work in primary and secondary care, with mental health, big pharma and medical and surgical equipment manufacturers.

    I do not think it would be possible to enter in to health care at director level with no experience of it. Thats my opinion and five years in, that is truer today than when I entered.

    The complexities, the cultural and endemic differences from the other sectors I worked in would simply prevent 99.99999 recurring percent of outsiders from being successful. Now, thats not to say that you might not be the person that could be, but I think its tricky as an organisation to take a risk at that level of seniority.

    Anyway, I think there are numerous organisations that value input from other sectors and to be honest you do not want to work for an organisation that does not. If you were to it would always feel like you were pushing water up hill with a pin.

    I'd crack on with the applications, I felt like I had to work in health care as a result of being ill. It took nearly 3 years and a pay cut for that to happen, and that was 5 years ago and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.


  2. As 'Anonymous' commented above, it looks like breaking into healthcare may quite a challenge. I just want Scott to know that his new mission "to help people do things better to help other people" is inspiring to me. I can't think of a better purpose for Lean thinkers than facilitating improvements in organizations that exist to do good in this world: healthcare providers, charitable groups, education institutions, and even local government (Federal gov't may be too far gone at this point). I would love nothing better than to have such a noble calling in life. Kudos to all you Lean thinkers who are pursuing this path, whether you've found your spot yet or not.

  3. Scott,

    That is awesome news. I hope one of the latter two work out for you. I know you will keep us posted. Once given a shot to interview – or even screen – you would quickly and easily dispel the concern that your "hypoclinicalism" is excessively limiting.

    In fact, based on my experience, I suspect some of the leaders you might encounter as you try to make the leap might be intimidated by your confidence, enthusiasm and energy! I do hope that is not the case, but I have seen more than one once where my self-assuredness and drive seemed to hurt my chances of securing a position. Especially when I was bringing some skill or knowledge to the organization that the leadership did not already have. Of course, when that happens the "fit" question has answered itself, hasn't it?.

    We are on parallel paths just carrying different suitcases. I have healthcare experience from the past and am trying to leverage my Lean experience from manufacturing back that direction after a 15 year furlough. My current obstacles are being unable to find many Lean hospital opportunities to apply for and not having as much depth of Lean experience as many others who might apply. So I am networking my way to hospital executives and administrators in hopes of giving a "Lean Healthcare" presentation that I have prepared. I have had 2 meetings thus far with a hospital VP and a Quality Director (maybe a good blog series?). These guys were from 2 different hospital systems in 2 different cities. But fruit from efforts like ours can often be overtaken by a faster moving glacier.

    As a possible countermeasure to the current problem, if we pasted your Lean experience on my resume, and pasted my medical experience on your resume – perhaps we'd both be working Monday morning?


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