At hospitals, veterans make for some of the best hires: 2 leaders explain why

While a new generation of leaders prepares to take over the same positions as their predecessors, they will oversee a completely different type of healthcare organization. Health systems need flexible, dynamic leaders to successfully navigate a healthcare environment filled with constantly changing ideas, policies and technologies.

Debra Plousha Moore, system chief of staff and executive vice president at Charlotte, N.C.-based Carolinas HealthCare System, believes former service men and women are ideal candidates to lead a health system through ongoing change.

Ms. Plousha Moore and Russell Williamson, vice president and general manager of enterprise corporate accounts for Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health, recently discussed the immense value veterans can bring to a healthcare organization as leaders and employees.

Ms. Plousha Moore is married to Colonel John E. Moore, Jr., U.S. Air Force (Ret.). Mr. Williamson, a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, served as an officer in the U.S. Army and received the Bronze Star Medal in 1991. The two shared strategies for welcoming new veterans into the workforce and highlighted the importance of recognizing their service, while promoting their physical and mental well-being.

On the value of veterans as healthcare leaders:

DPM: A healthcare leader needs to uplift and serve people during times of joy, times of challenge, times of sacrifice and times of change. Leaders must have the courage to accept these changes and adapt their leadership styles in response. Veterans in the workforce exemplify how quickly they can adapt to change — it's in their repertoire. They understand ambiguity and uncertainty are just part of both life as a service member and life as a hospital employee.

There is this immediate response from veterans that brings great value to an ordinary workplace doing extraordinary things. We all benefit when veterans give their perspective. And, veterans also benefit from our workforce when they are going through the transition process from service member to civilian. I think CHS offers an incredible workplace environment to acknowledge the gifts veterans bring to the System. We highlight their extraordinary foundation as a service member and help them grow even more through their work in healthcare.

RW: The healthcare community is a dynamic and rapidly evolving industry, similar to the world a soldier, sailor, airman or marine has to operate in during combat. Our veterans are uniquely equipped to succeed in what can sometimes be a very unstable environment. When responding to change, it's important for healthcare leaders, like service members, to maintain a degree of focus on the mission. Veterans often bring this ability into healthcare leadership, which can translate to a continuous focus on delivering quality patient care. While the ground is shifting and everything seems to be changing, that keen focus means the patient's well-being won't be forgotten.

On helping veterans enter the workforce:

DPM: Veterans sometimes struggle to put their resumes together since they cannot list confidential information about their service experience. We've hired a veteran's affair liaison — and former marine — who works with our employment team to help translate a veteran's service experience into skills and values applicable to the healthcare setting. So instead of asking veterans about the specific work they did when serving, we ask them what that work looks like and what skills they used for it. Were they a facilitator? An operations leader? A navigator? This allows the veteran to reflect on the importance of their work and discover how it is transferable — and valuable — to organizations.

RW: As a veteran, I found the transition from active duty service to the civilian workforce filled with unexpected twists and turns. Had it not been for the assistance of a veteran who was willing to provide coaching and mentoring, I may have been significantly delayed with my transition and entrance into the healthcare environment. Carolinas Healthcare System and many other organizations that aid in translating the skills service members developed in the military into valuable proficiencies on their resume help the future employer better understand the great capabilities veterans bring to the civilian work environment. More importantly, it helps former service members gain employment sooner within a health system. Veterans who can recognize the value their military service brings to their day-to-day work will bring their total self to the workplace.

On recognizing veterans and active duty service members' achievements:

DPM: Carolinas HealthCare System decided we wanted active duty military members to receive thank you notes and cards from our health system. Our first challenge was 10,000 postcards, which were written by patients, teammates and families. For our 75th anniversary this year, our goal is 25,000 post cards.

For Veteran's Day, we host a large breakfast, bring in a speaker and invite all service members who work at the health system to attend. Some of our teammates even wear their uniforms. One time, we had an active-duty military speaker who was actually serving on a ship when our postcards arrived. We also have a wall at the event containing the names of every veteran at the health system, because we want to honor their services and contributions to our country and to CHS.

RW: There are not enough words to express the feeling of receiving a postcard or letter from people across the United States as an active duty service member, especially when you are deployed to a foreign land. It's great to know someone at home is thinking about you. The correspondence serves as a reminder for why you put the uniform on every day.

At Cardinal Health, we celebrate our veterans by displaying the names of each veteran in our organization on what we call our "Wall of Heroes." As you might imagine, there are hundreds of names displayed. We employ veterans from many countries, and celebrate their contributions in service whether it's Veteran's Day, Remembrance Day, Armistice Day or a veteran's holiday under another name. We value our veteran team members, their families and their sacrifices.

On promoting veteran health and wellness:

DPM: We're very interested in the health and well-being of our veterans. It's really about communication, access and understanding the veteran experience. For instance, we have expanded our behavioral health program to better care for veterans. We are trying to do our best at all times to serve the people who have served our country.

RW: I could not agree more with Debra and commend CHS on expanding behavioral health services, which is one of the biggest challenges for veterans across the country. Statistics show 22 veterans take their own lives each day due to behavioral health issues, so having access and utilizing behavioral health services is a definite need among the veteran community. The wellness and health of veterans is a key concern for Cardinal Health. We are fully engaged with advocacy of veteran health issues, and we partner with organizations seeking to improve and advance the health and well-being of veterans and their families.

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