Reader Question: Getting Clinical Education to Transition into Healthcare?


I received a question from a reader, which I'm sharing and posing here (with the reader's permission and removing identifying information).

The question:

Having only a year of experience in the healthcare industry, and almost 30 years of (quality and Lean) excellence in the Aerospace industry, I am still finding it very hard to break back into healthcare.

However, I am on my second face to face interview at a different hospital. They are specifically looking for someone without healthcare experience. Hallelujah!!!

The reason I am writing you, is because I am trying to decide on the best way to spend my money to increase my clinical knowledge, and credentials to make increase my credibility in the Healthcare environment, regardless of whether I am chosen for this new position. I have considered going after my BS in Nursing, or an LPN. Do you have any suggestions?

I wrote back privately, but can share my thoughts here — and I'm curious to hear your opinions if you're a career healthcare person or an outsider trying to get in (or if you've already made this transition):

I don't know what to tell you… don't know of anyone who has taken that path. 30 years into my career, I don't think I'd want to do that (or would I now, 17 years in), but to each their own.
I think one can be effective and gain credibility with out the clinical background… I've seen much more of that in my travels and experience. Showing respect for the clinical folks and finding a great clinical champion can do wonders.

What advice would you give?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Having been in that position several years ago, I was fortunate to start in a hospital who understood that I was not a clinical person, and that it would take time for me to be effective. I spent the better part of 4 months studying, observing, and learning the healthcare business, and specifically, the business of that hospital. I interviewed directors, vice-presidents, nurses, techs, doctors – anyone from whom I could learn. My boss also bought me a medical dictionary so I could look up terms I heard in meetings. Though I didn’t get andy “formal” education, I did learn many valuable things from this process. And I believe I was much more effective with my improvement work.

  2. If it’s a lean coach/facilitator position you are seeking, and the selection teams that are placing such a high emphasis on clinically-related credentials that they are weeding out people such as yourself who bring a lot of lean knowledge and skills to the table without much clinical knowledge, they are doing themselves a disfavor. The vast majority of lean healthcare coaches I know came originally from manufacturing (myself included), and it has been their lean skills that have helped their transformations move along more rapidly; it wasn’t because of any clinical credentials/experience. After all, as a lean coach, you bring the lean perspective – the people who work in the processes have the profound knowledge and apply the lean thinking to those processes. It is your lean COACHING skills and experience they should be after – not necessarily clinical experience and/or credentials.

    It seems the hospital that is giving you the second interview understands that, and they aren’t placing such a high emphasis on clinical knowledge or credentials. They know that, in time, your general understanding of the healthcare world will come. It is these kind of operations who “get it” moreso than the others, and if reasonable, I’d target my search toward hospitals such as these.

    So, I would not recommend you put any resources toward obtaining any clinical credentials. If it’s lean coaching in healthcare that you want to do, you might consider getting certified in lean healthcare. Off the top of my head, The University of Michigan and Healthcare Performance Partners both offer very good week-long certification courses. I’m sure there are more.

    Best of success to you in your search!

  3. Concretely, consider working to obtain CPHQ through NAHQ. Many healthcare organizations find value in that certification and identify it in job applications as a preference or requirement. If you want to work with an organization that is accredited with the Joint Commission, one of their branches, JCR, will soon be offering a JCCAP certification starting in January.

  4. Anything less than a four year degree would’t be worth much but it will depend on your organization. If you are looking to get ahead, look for organizations that have promoted people from the non-clinical/non-MHA ranks. It is ironic that most hospital leaders have zero to little operational proficiency beyond understanding a productivity report. Many organizations see industrial engineering types as a tool to solve problems beneath them. I can think of a couple of organizations that are exceptions. Also, be aware that lean can be a threat to leaders as lean subordinate’s superior management skills bump up against old boy management paradigms. Lean just doesn’t play well if those in charge hang on to old school methods. Bottom line is to go in with your eyes wide open.

  5. One more thing, don’t overestimate the value of your industrial knowledge. While a successful career in industry can be helpful, healthcare is full of ambiguity and a multitude of internal constituencies in competition with each other.


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