Getting Ahead by Not Falling Behind: How to Take Ownership of Your Healthcare Career Through Staying Current

by Stephen Lindsey

Healthcare is a dynamic industry, in which it can sometimes feel as if change is the only constant. An overwhelming amount of information floods administrators on a daily basis, and there is simply not enough time to take it all in. Nonetheless, it is vitally important for early careerists and more experienced individuals alike to adapt to the transforming environment. Identifying and understanding trends is key, but this is easier said than done. Developing a plan to filter relevant information and utilize appropriate sources is necessary. As the great Peter Drucker said, “Today knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” Gaining the knowledge most pertinent to personal career goals can help facilitate career advancement.

Having a plan
Creating a career development plan outlining future goals must be the first step if you do not already have one. This plan should include strengths and weaknesses to help understand where your talents lie. Being able to use and grow your strengths is a key to success. Having a plan for how to acquire the knowledge you will need to cultivate these assets is easy to overlook, but is just as important. Personalizing how you stay current with your professional goals will help to narrow your focus on the vast array of resources available. Once a plan is in place, you can concentrate on topics related to your areas of interest. Information gathered should be relevant to both your career and your organization. Gaining knowledge that adds value should always be a priority. This will allow you to stay current and informed without wasting precious time on non-essential reading.

Making the commitment
Staying current and up to date must be a daily commitment, which is often a task valued in theory and forgotten in practice. This is why you should devote at least 15 minutes every day to reading about current trends in your industry. It can be tough to allocate any amount of free time due to busy schedules, but it will pay off in the end. Specifying a certain time of the day for reading may help, such during a daily commute or immediately after lunch each day. The key is making the commitment. Many successful individuals spend much more than 15 minutes every day staying current. As you grow more familiar with the process, attempt to increase your daily dosage of reading material. You may also find opportunities to catch up on heavier reading while waiting at the airport or when stuck at the dentist’s office. Maintaining a file of earmarked articles for future reading can aid this process for some. But for others, this may cause reading material to simply accumulate and go unread. Developing a system that works for you is the best strategy. Still, this should be in addition to a daily routine of reading which serves not only as a source of valuable information but also as a reminder to look outward and ahead.

Sources for national issues and developments
Keeping a finger on the pulse of the industry at a national level is important. It is easy to find all of your attention focused on your local market, but this can be detrimental to your organization and career. Looming federal policy changes, for example, can have a direct impact. The reliance of healthcare on constantly evolving technologies mandates continual learning for administrators. Innovation is often inspired from external sources, sometimes even from other industries. According to Peter Drucker, “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” While his statement aptly describes entrepreneurs, it also highlights the importance of foresight and adaptation. Awareness of industry-wide issues and developments is crucial to contending in a competitive market.

The following is a list of relevant sources to assist in information gathering:

  • Highly reputed newspapers such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are excellent on a broad, national level.
  • Magazine and trade journal subscriptions targeted to healthcare leaders.
  • E-newsletters are available from a variety of sources including magazine subscriptions and professional associations.
  • LinkedIn sites for healthcare leaders also highly recommended.

Sources for professional development
The overall goal of keeping up with recent news and trends is to assist career development. Staying up to date on management techniques and leadership can be as important as policy issues. Professional development periodicals like Healthcare Executive and Journal of Healthcare Management provide in-depth reports, leadership lessons and case studies. It can be extremely insightful to hear how colleagues around the country are dealing with current issues they are facing. Healthcare Internet blogs can be useful sources for similar information and provide the opportunity for interaction with other administrators. It should be noted that maintaining a professional attitude is important when blogging, given that an impulsive rant could come back to haunt you. Professional books written by experts from a variety of industries are excellent for gaining insight. Young careerists in particular should be reading about two professional books per month. A common feature among successful executives is they are always reading something interesting; the business section of the New York Times Best Sellers list is a reliable option for finding good titles. Recommendations from respected mentors and colleagues are also a great source, but if no suggestions are volunteered, do not be afraid to ask.

Seminars and conferences
Concerted effort to attend seminars and conferences relevant to your career pursuits is highly recommended. Matt Gitzinger, director of clinical and support services at Chowan and Bertie Memorial Hospitals in North Carolina, believes they are “one of the most helpful formats given that the speakers are usually recognized as experts and you have the opportunity to ask questions of the speakers or discuss with peers in attendance.” Reviewing the agenda beforehand to personalize the experience to your needs can also be extremely beneficial. This way you will be prepared with questions and know exactly which speakers and topics are of highest priority. Joining professional associations can help increase the number of events available to you. The American College of Healthcare Executives, for example, holds an annual national congress as well as numerous local chapter events throughout the year.

Networks
Growing and maintaining a network early on and throughout your career is an important aspect to most successful careers. The time and actions necessary to foster these relationships can be used to learn from these contacts concurrently. Your network can serve as a valuable source of information and insight that may not be readily available through other sources. The ability to discuss current changes and issues faced with people in your field is a worthwhile opportunity. Reaching out to former classmates and current colleagues at sister hospitals, for example, via telephone, email and LinkedIn are great ways to discuss these topics and exchange ideas. These forms of communication are still no substitute for meeting with colleagues in person for coffee or lunch though, which is advised at least once a month. Getting into the habit of sending articles you find particularly beneficial to others in your network and encouraging them to do the same kills two birds with one stone. You are able to have others help narrow your focus on staying current, while preserving your network relationships at the same time.

Make calculated career decisions
Decisions that will benefit your career the most are those that facilitate learning and use your strengths. By seeking jobs and assignments where you will learn new things and be exposed to the latest trends in your field, you continue the progression of your professional development. By staying current, you will have a better understanding of where the industry is headed and can make more informed decisions. Comfortable assignments that do not require extra learning may be easier, but could cause you to fall behind and hinder your career development. By challenging yourself, you will be introduced to new people and ideas, and will be able to take on larger roles in the future. Choosing between higher pay or a better learning experience is a common dilemma. It is important to always keep the big picture in mind and make career decisions based on your ultimate goals.

Conclusion
Attempting to stay up to date in an ever-changing industry is an uphill battle for administrators. Terrie Edwards, administrator and vice president of Sentara Leigh Hospital in Virginia, knows first hand what it is like; “We are overdosed on information. For me, it is a matter of weeding out all the extras and focusing on what adds value. The key is constantly learning and challenging our leaders to seek new ways to improve.” Using a professional development plan to help dictate which information is most important is key. Staying current must also be a high enough priority to incorporate it into your daily agenda. Your schedule will always be busy, so if you do not create time, it may never offer itself. The effort to continue learning and challenging yourself throughout your career is not an easy undertaking. It may provide a competitive edge though, that complacency does not offer.

Healthcare is a dynamic industry, in which it can sometimes feel as if change is the only constant. An overwhelming amount of information floods administrators on a daily basis, and there is simply not enough time to take it all in. Nonetheless, it is vitally important for early careerists and more experienced individuals alike to adapt to the transforming environment. Identifying and understanding trends is key, but this is easier said than done. Developing a plan to filter relevant information and utilize appropriate sources is necessary. As the great Peter Drucker said, “Today knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” Gaining the knowledge most pertinent to personal career goals can help facilitate career advancement.Having a plan
Creating a career development plan outlining future goals must be the first step if you do not already have one. This plan should include strengths and weaknesses to help understand where your talents lie. Being able to use and grow your strengths is a key to success. Having a plan for how to acquire the knowledge you will need to cultivate these assets is easy to overlook, but is just as important. Personalizing how you stay current with your professional goals will help to narrow your focus on the vast array of resources available. Once a plan is in place, you can concentrate on topics related to your areas of interest. Information gathered should be relevant to both your career and your organization. Gaining knowledge that adds value should always be a priority. This will allow you to stay current and informed without wasting precious time on non-essential reading.

Making the commitment
Staying current and up to date must be a daily commitment, which is often a task valued in theory and forgotten in practice. This is why you should devote at least 15 minutes every day to reading about current trends in your industry. It can be tough to allocate any amount of free time due to busy schedules, but it will pay off in the end. Specifying a certain time of the day for reading may help, such during a daily commute or immediately after lunch each day. The key is making the commitment. Many successful individuals spend much more than 15 minutes every day staying current. As you grow more familiar with the process, attempt to increase your daily dosage of reading material. You may also find opportunities to catch up on heavier reading while waiting at the airport or when stuck at the dentist’s office. Maintaining a file of earmarked articles for future reading can aid this process for some. But for others, this may cause reading material to simply accumulate and go unread. Developing a system that works for you is the best strategy. Still, this should be in addition to a daily routine of reading which serves not only as a source of valuable information but also as a reminder to look outward and ahead.

Sources for national issues and developments
Keeping a finger on the pulse of the industry at a national level is important. It is easy to find all of your attention focused on your local market, but this can be detrimental to your organization and career. Looming federal policy changes, for example, can have a direct impact. The reliance of healthcare on constantly evolving technologies mandates continual learning for administrators. Innovation is often inspired from external sources, sometimes even from other industries. According to Peter Drucker, “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” While his statement aptly describes entrepreneurs, it also highlights the importance of foresight and adaptation. Awareness of industry-wide issues and developments is crucial to contending in a competitive market.