When it comes to treating patients and using technology, military healthcare workers have been there and done that -- sometimes with missiles flying overhead and supply lines under threat. No wonder medical service personnel have such bright and varied career prospects once they leave the military.
In the healthcare job market, where demand continues to outpace supply, the armed forces are viewed as a font of high-quality talent. Military healthcare providers are in demand, says Ted Daywalt, president of VetJobs in Marietta, Georgia. "Their work environment is much more hostile and demanding than at a US civilian hospital," he says, so they're able to hit the ground running after military retirement.
Healthcare organizations readily recognize the value of candidates' military backgrounds. "Employers don't question the ability of military people to deal with high-stress environments," says John Harol, a partner at Lighthouse Recruiting in Avon, Connecticut. Harol, a staff sergeant in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was on active duty for eight months in Iraq, where he set up satellite communications for a hospital.
Military medical personnel have also seen it all when it comes to patient care. "In the Navy, I saw thousands of patients," says Michael Wood, a military optometrist who retired in 1992 after 20 years to open a private optometry practice in Greenville, South Carolina. "You actually get stranger eye diseases in the Navy -- more difficult than anything you would encounter in a civilian practice."
Translating Healthcare Skills
When making the transition to the civilian workforce, military medical workers face many of the same challenges other armed services professionals do. However, "military healthcare workers have an easier transition into civilian life than do other servicemen and women," Harol says.
Why is that? "Federal standards and patient load are the same in the military as in civilian life," Daywalt explains.
Also, medical jargon stays the same, as do most of the procedures and protocols defining the healthcare professions. "Only job titles and the names for policies and procedures are different," Harol notes.
As all retiring service members must do, healthcare workers need to mind their language in resumes and cover letters, as well as in face-to-face interviews, which they should drill for. For example, a serviceman retiring as a Laboratory NCOIC (Noncommissioned Officer in Charge) would be known as a blood-bank supervisor in civilian healthcare. The Transition Assistance Program, available to all armed forces members, can help soldiers, sailors and Marines overcome this language barrier.
Wide Range of Opportunities
Although many former military healthcare workers make the transition to civilian hospitals, there are other choices. "In optometry, you can go into commercial, private or institutional practice or research," Wood says. "Retiring from the military, you're prepared for any of those areas." Veterans who are medical professionals find employment in settings ranging from stand-alone clinics to doctors' offices, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and private or public research laboratories.
There are also varied healthcare career opportunities at the Veterans Health Administration. Jobs are available at VA hospitals and other veterans healthcare facilities across the country. Current openings include those for physical therapists, pharmacists, radiologic technologists, social workers, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists and medical technologists.
Another option for veterans is to work for a military healthcare institution, such as an Army hospital. Caring for active-duty servicepeople adds a layer of meaning for ex-military medical workers. And these jobs come with the often-generous benefits of government employment.
Most military healthcare workers are prepared to enter the civilian workforce with no additional training. Even so, some may choose to update their skills or reach for a higher professional level as they make the transition. Some veterans wisely use the various forms of assistance they have earned to do so.
When they separate, most veterans have two or three months of accrued vacation time and terminal leave that gives them full military pay while they study or otherwise prepare to reenter the civilian labor force, Harol says. Of course, they're also eligible for the GI Bill. And in wartime, most state colleges waive tuition for retiring service members.