Spring is in the air, a time when everything seems possible. For young people, it's graduation season, as a new generation looks forward to getting out into the "real world" and starting careers, hoping for success and professional satisfaction.
The reality, of course, can be far different. Many young people are as confused as I was when I started out many years ago, not really sure of what to do or how to get started. Even those who have a clear sense of a career path may find the job market is tight. They might have to tread water for a while doing other things to make ends meet. It can be a difficult time of life.
There are two things that I preach to young people in this position. The first one applies to everybody, the second to a more select group, as I will explain.
First, no matter how tight a job market, there is always room for good people who are persistent, and that's the secret of success. Too many people become easily discouraged if things don't go exactly as they anticipate. They wind up abandoning their dreams without a fight. I don't know how many times people have told me wistfully how they wanted to be a doctor or lawyer or journalist but that they didn't have enough money for school or that something happened along the way. They wind up doing something for a living that isn't what they intended, and they never get back to pursuing their dreams. So I advise them to never give up, to always keep their goals in mind as they make career or life decisions.
I was lucky, in a way. When I graduated from college I didn't have much of a choice about what I wanted to do. I was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in the Korean conflict. That may not sound lucky, but in those two years that I was in fatigues I had plenty of time to ponder my future career. By the time I was discharged from the service I knew where I was headed, and that was into journalism. So I enrolled in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., to learn more about the profession. In retrospect I made a smart decision because journalism has been my career for four decades and I have never lost my love for this great field.
No, the current economic climate isn't the best, but business is starting to pick up, which will open many opportunities for college graduates. So keep dreaming.
That brings me to the second point. Whenever I have the opportunity to talk to young people I always tell them of the wonderful opportunities in healthcare administration. Healthcare may not be recession-proof, but it's as close as you can get to that ideal. As the average age of Americans rises in the next two decades, the demand for healthcare services will increase concomitantly. New healthcare facilities are already going up across the country, new types of organizations are being formed, and they all need someone to lead them.
When young people think about healthcare the first thing that seems to come into their minds is becoming a physician. But not everybody has the requisite skills to be a physician, nurse or physical therapist. But many people have administrative and financial skills, and I believe that if more young people understood the opportunities available in healthcare administration they would look more closely at the field.
What other profession does more good for mankind on a day-to-day basis than healthcare? Of course, there are many well-documented problems in this industry, as any reader of this magazine knows. But from my vantage point as a journalist, I cannot think of a more honorable profession to be involved in than healthcare. Administrators may not perform surgery, but they do the work that makes cardiac surgery or neuro-oncology available to patients. They don't devise new drugs, but they run the institutions where new drugs are administered or where new devices are tested. When we talk about charity care, it is administrators who do the work that makes caring for the uninsured affordable.
There is a good deal of talk today about workforce shortages, about the lack of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. What gets less discussion is the shortage of people to run healthcare organizations, but that shortage is there, and it is becoming more acute. What this means is that there are many opportunities out there for enterprising young people with the right kind of training.
Unless someone is running the business properly, healthcare facilities can end up closing. Luckily healthcare has been well-served by some of the most gifted executives in American industry, and I have been lucky enough to know many of them. They are a dedicated lot, individuals who have committed their lives to serving the interests of their communities and their country. Many of them could have gone into other professions and done very well, but they chose healthcare.
What hasn't been done is selling the profession to young people as a place to find good jobs and, more importantly, to do great things for society. I cannot think of a more fascinating, fulfilling career than healthcare administration, and I know that too many young people today who want to pursue dynamic careers don't have any idea of the opportunities that exist. We have to do a better job of finding new talent.
Spread the word,
Editors note: This is a reprint of a May 6, 2002 column. Lauer is recuperating from knee surgery.