Population Health Insights

What the Marine Corps Taught Me about Working in the Healthcare Industry

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At the age of seven I saw my first USMC commercial and I was mesmerized by the scenes of action, attention to discipline and, of course, the Marine Corps blues uniform. I knew from that moment that I would eventually become a Marine. It was my goal in life to serve with purpose, and this would be the beginning of that journey.

Fast forward to the late ‘80s: After I enlisted, I found myself being deployed overseas to support Operation Desert Storm. Flashbacks of that seven-year-old boy came rushing back, and the calling to this purpose was never clearer to me.

While I know that the healthcare industry and the Marines are on separate ends of the spectrum, the principles I’ve picked up along the way have been foundational in helping me navigate through my entire career. Here are just a few that have helped me stay grounded as we witness and embrace new technologies, ideas and clinical concepts that are changing how we engage as consumers, patients and in the healthcare system as a whole.

Lesson 1: Always be prepared for change … and don’t plan for the easy path

Everything I learned through boot camp, infantry training and all of my combat exercises shared one common fabric: Don’t always plan on an easy path to completing a mission. As an anti-tank gunner (MOS: 0351), I was part of a group that trained for the most unfathomable scenarios. This required learning to communicate up and downstream to the teams, over-rehearsing missions and, per the mantra of the Marine Corps, knowing how to "Adapt and Overcome" in unpredictable situations.

The same principles hold true today when I work closely with our internal teams and external clients and customers. We always have to remind ourselves of the mission. Today, I’m fortunate enough to have a unique role that involves both pre- and post-sales. I get to be part of an incredible sales team that shares our value proposition to the industry and I’m also lucky enough to be part of the team that executes on that value proposition, which brings this lesson front and center. Communicating, knowing our roles, and being able to adapt to changes is critical. 

In my 25+ years in high-tech, it’s become apparent that this industry moves fast and is full of challenges. We don’t always find ourselves presented with the easiest path forward. It’s full of detours at the clinical, business and operational levels. Being able to identify those changes at an early stage and communicate them to the team is a key advantage. Whether it’s a last-minute change to a presentation we’ve been rehearsing for weeks, or a change in scope during a deployment, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is a necessary mindset to have. Knowing how to quickly adapt to change is imperative.

As we continue to experience the shift from fee-for-service to value-based care, the mission is still the same: focus on the patient, even if the path to getting there may not be familiar.

Lesson 2: Think strategically, but act tactically

In an infantry unit, you have to understand both the big and small picture at the same time. In a military offensive, you are thinking through the subsequent actions and what strategies and tactics you will use to meet those episodic events. The Marine Corps makes sure this is a symbiotic relationship between the planning and executing teams. There should never be a disparate connection between the two; strategy and tactical execution are one and the same.

The same lesson applies to healthcare. In the U.S., we are witnessing major changes at the policy level that have a direct impact on how the consumption of healthcare will shape our wellbeing. As a country, we are very much focused on lowering the amount of GDP spent on healthcare, reducing avoidable readmissions and driving positive transformation to the industry.

Crossing this chasm has been traditionally slow, yet in the last seven years we’ve started to see something really amazing happen. We are witnessing earlier adoptions of new web-based technologies, increased interoperability, incentivized adoption models and many other innovations coming to bear. Quite a bit of this is inspired by ONC’s Meaningful Use, telehealth reimbursement models, and new CMS programs mandating effective change. Ultimately, the CMS is driving the strategy for the industry to execute.

Today, I’m part of an amazing team of leaders that operates at the clinical, technical and business level. As a unit we’re tight and nimble, and work together to strategize where market transitions are going. We don’t focus on what features we have or need today, but rather how to anticipate the bigger policy changes, market drivers and customer trends that will impact us in the long term. We collectively research (gather intel), understand the shift (adapt) and then put together a tactical plan (execute). Execution is everything and having a plan that includes gathering input from your tactical team is critical.

That same symbiotic relationship I mentioned earlier holds true here too. In order to succeed, you can’t separate the two. In doing so you only create false expectations in your organization. I once heard that strategy was for the rookies, because anyone can come up with one. Tactically executing on strategy is what separates the pros from the rookies, and ensuring inclusiveness early in the process is the key to success.

In closing, while there are many more lessons and principles I could share from the Marines, the most important analogy to healthcare is the call to serve with purpose. Whether we planned to be in the healthcare industry or fell into it by chance, we are very fortunate to be a part of something really big that has a direct impact on the people we love and care for.

Armed with this attitude and the winning combination of strategy and execution, we’re capable of driving change and improving the healthcare delivery model for all.

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I planned this blog to post on the Marine Corps' 244th birthday, which falls on the eve of Veterans Day. Happy birthday to all of my Marines out there, and happy Veterans Day to all who have served, as well as the family members who have supported them in doing so. We’re all one.

Happy Birthday Chesty Puller … wherever you are. Semper Fi!

About Enrique Estrada

Enrique Estrada is the Director of Strategic Solutions Sales at Care Innovations, and has more than 25 years of broad consulting, product lifecycle and strategy experience in networking, telecommunications and healthcare. He has worked in many transformational roles, including startups and Fortune 500 companies where he’s served as principal innovator and product owner of new and disruptive technologies and services.

Over the course of his career, Enrique has productized network management tools, partner portals, telemedicine solutions, healthcare exchanges, and a virtual scribe service integrated into EMRs. He is passionate about the intersection of technology, clinical process and healthcare delivery.