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Clawing Your Way up–When you Claw for a Living

May 11, 2012
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A U.S. Navy flight surgeon performs a shipboard exam

 There is a stigma associated with people that leave the military and enter the civilian workforce. I am not sure what it is. I know I was told that military people tend to be too rigid, don’t question orders and not familiar with managing a budget. Ironically, many military professionals live and breathe budgets every day.  The requirements to stay within budget often comes with a much more severe oversight than you can imagine. So I think the issue must be that the military healthcare is much more different than civilian healthcare.

 Well I was sure that there would be major adjustments to be made when I left the military after 21 years. I served as a Chief Navy Corpsman and as a Navy Medical Service Corps Officer. I had the opportunity to work on the clinical side and admin side of military medicine. So when it was time to leave I had a sense of apprehension over the steep learning curve of civilian medicine. What I learned was that the organizational structure was pretty much the same. The acronyms (believe it or not) are much the same. I guess the biggest cultural change came down to the uniform. In the military you always know who is in charge by all the “ornaments” in the uniform. The more the colors and “bling,” the higher up the food chain they are, especially the Army-they are all about the bling! I remember the first time I had to stand in the closet and try to figure out what to wear. This was not an issue in the military, you wore what everyone else did! No fear of committing that social faux pas.  So that is when it hit me. My biggest cultural challenge from military to civilian came down to the simplicity of dealing with no uniforms.

 The topic of conversations in the last few conferences I have attended centered on finding and recruiting talent for our organizations. Most of you know how difficult that can be. So here are some numbers to think about. There are 4.8 million veterans that served from 1990, to present. The Navy alone averages 37,000 military medicine personnel. You can tap into these resources through or You can also contact the nearest military base and find out when they have transition assistance seminars and find out how you can provide information on careers available in your organization. Keep in mind that they come out of the service with healthcare, leadership, and Information Technology talent. So what is the down side? You may have someone working for you that may not question your orders. Sigh…those were the days.



I am now about 10 months into my "second" career as a civilian after 34 years (four enlisted Coast Guard; 30 Medical Officer Navy) on Active Duty. I completely agree with Pete Rivera's assessment of both the stigma and true issues with transition between Active Duty life and my new civilian life. Rather than taking about two minutes to pick out my khaki pants and khaki shirt to wear, I now have to color coordinate my pants, shirt and tie...which I do the night before. Other than that, I have found that my understanding of quality, collaboration, budgets (yuck, but I know them), etc. are a benefit to my employer. The biggest difference that I have found is the difference in internal drive between the civilian workforce and the military workforce. By the work ethic "imposed" on Active Duty personnel, everyone knows they have to produce or the mission could fail and lives could be lost. In the civilian workforce, that is not the same. Still many very motivated folks and excellent talent/people, but the ones whose only motivation is the money or self are more evident. That has probably been my toughest to motivate the unmotivated without the ability to have the "big stick" in reserve as needed (if I cannot motivate them with positive inducements).