From Military to Civilian: Healthcare Executives Describe Challenges

“I’m not sure many leaders understand the wonderful perspective, experiences and leadership qualities that veterans bring to an organization.”

Veterans ThumbThe comment above comes from a new Witt/Kieffer report, “Answering the Call: Veterans as Civilian Healthcare Leaders.” The report draws insights from a Witt/Kieffer survey of veterans currently in civilian healthcare leadership positions. What makes the report a compelling read is the thoughtfulness of the comments from respondents and their suggestion that former military medical officers face real obstacles in transitioning into the civilian healthcare leadership ranks.

Military healthcare veterans are not always given full consideration for top roles in civilian healthcare organizations, respondents note. Healthcare organizations might feel that military medical training and technologies are not equivalent to industry standards, or that leadership skills developed in the military are not directly transferable to a civilian environment. (See also “Myths about the Hire-ability of Military Medical Officers” and “Do Military Skills Translate to Civilian Leadership?”) This is unfortunate since many skills do directly translate – for example, military veterans tend to possess a strong affinity for mission and deep respect for the values of strong leadership. The survey report shows they may be especially qualified to drive civilian organizations toward strategic transformation.

“The Navy put me in charge of far more than I would have been in a civilian position,” another respondent said. “It also emphasized breadth and understanding of many aspects of medicine and leadership.”

Some of the executives surveyed admitted that they could have done more to prepare for life after serving in the armed forces, and that it is critical that military leaders stay abreast of trends and topics (and even technical jargon) influencing the broader industry. Preparedness was not an issue for most veterans who responded, however. Survey participants “strongly agree” that they felt ready to make an immediate entry to civilian leadership. Challenges included hiring organizations’ lack of appreciation for – and occasionally bias against – their military system values.

“I do not believe I received any consideration for the leadership skills/training I received in the military,” another executive said. “It was like starting at ‘square one.’”

While savvy civilian healthcare organizations are taking a closer look at veterans for leadership positions, the survey shows room for improvement. Survey respondents took care to argue the case for hiring healthcare leaders with military backgrounds.

“After active duty I was immediately able to transfer the skills learned in project management to the civilian workforce with significant advantage over others who had only limited actual experience.”

Survey respondents also drew from personal experience to share their wisdom with military careerists who want to launch their own campaigns to reach the top of civilian healthcare organizations.

“Be humble and willing to roll up your sleeves and work hard to make up for any experience gaps, yet with full confidence that you bring a lot of unique and highly valuable skills and experience to the table.”

At some stage in their careers, almost all military medical officers leave the services and seek out civilian roles. When given opportunities, these leaders have a lot to offer their organizations – and the industry as a whole.

Read the report now at:


By Paul Thomas, Strategic Communications Leader

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