Have you ever talked your way into getting hired for a role that the job description said you weren’t qualified for? Our guest in the third episode of the Abraham Lincoln Employment Series did that.

Fortunately for our guest and us, life skills, experience, and the ability to communicate are more impactful than the paper that reflects a job description. These facts hiring organizations would do well to remember.

We talk about this and other issues in What’s the why? A healthcare education podcast. 

Our guest is Jim Smith, Director of Engineering & Emergency Management at Springfield Hospital in Springfield, VT. Jim is the gentleman who interviewed his way into a healthcare management role without his college degree. Therefore, he is well qualified to discuss the topic of education and healthcare management. He has now attained both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.

Career beginnings

A Navy veteran, Jim joined the service out of high school. In the Navy, he did well enough in the screening process that he was selected for the Nuclear Propulsion Program. Jim says that Nuclear Power School involved cramming “several years of nuclear physics into six months.” 

Through his eight years of Navy service, Jim learned steam plant operations, electrical systems, chemistry, radiological controls, preventative maintenance, repair maintenance, safety, and construction. All these skills are necessary for healthcare facilities management success. 

After 8 years of Navy service, Jim joined the commercial nuclear industry. Then, leaving the nuclear industry, he was recruited to become a Pastor in his church, a position he held for more than 12 years. This was a genuine career transition!  

After his Pastoral service, Jim was hired into his first healthcare facilities management job, without a college degree. Jim had to convince hospital leadership to hire him, a story he shares in the podcast. 

Excerpts from this episode of High Reliability  

I don’t think a college degree is needed for healthcare facility management leadership. You have to look at the individual and their experience. Over the course of my career, I learned how to budget, how to lead, how to manage a crew, how to follow up, and how to trust and verify. I learned all the skills that were needed (for management), but I didn’t have that sheepskin that says, “look what I got.”

I don’t think a degree is essential, but it can be beneficial. We (the industry) have looked at a very broad requirement (the need for a degree) and made it way too specific. We have shut a lot of people out because of that.   

After his Navy experience, Jim joined the commercial nuclear field. 

The commercial nuclear field understood that if you were in the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program, then you had to academically have the goods, and you needed to be able to put it all together to operate a plant. So if you had that experience, the commercial nuclear field understood that you were already qualified for them to hire you. As long as you had that experience, you were good.

Healthcare was different. When I applied for the management position, I was not qualified (according to the Job Description) to get an interview. But I was able to get an interview, and when I talked with the leader, I asked “why are you looking for a degree?

He said we want them to read blueprints and understand drawings and systems. I said that is what I did from day one in the Navy. You don’t need to be a degreed engineer for that. Leading people and meeting needs, you don’t need a 4-year degree for that. 

The job description was changed. Jim was hired.

Learn more about Jim’s thoughts on the degree in this episode of the High Reliability podcast.

The Abraham Lincoln Employment Series

June 2: Dissecting Lincoln’s Resume: What we can learn from it (Read here)
June 9: Abe Lincoln, not qualified to run a hospital facility department? (View here)
June 16: What’s the why? A healthcare education podcast (Subscribe)

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