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David Dejesus

Opportunity In a Time of Change: Veteran HR Exec David DeJesus On the Value of A Career in Healthcare Administration

There’s unprecedented change in the healthcare industry right now, as well as immense opportunity – including for those looking to build or change their career. David DeJesus, Jr. a human resources executive who’s worked at hospitals and health systems in Rhode Island and Massachusetts for the last 40 years, recently retired from the field and is now teaching Healthcare Administration at Providence College School of Continuing Education. Here, he shares some insights into the unique growth and opportunities the field has to offer.

You’ve spent your entire career working in healthcare, including the last 24 years at Southcoast Health, where your most recent position was Senior Vice President for Human Resources. That gives you great insight into how careers in the industry are growing and changing. What are your thoughts on that?

There’s been historic transformation happening in the healthcare industry for some time now and it’s not completed yet. There’s a lot of change with the ACA [Affordable Care Act], there’s continuing increases in costs, and continued efforts to change the industry in order to address those costs – so there’s a lot of work to be done there, and a growing need for people with the skills to answer that call. It’s also a growing industry as a whole, and one that will always be there. It’s an industry that in large part is domestic, and so not totally subject to outsourcing as so many others are. In terms of growth and opportunity, it’s a great time for people to enter the field.

You’re teaching the first class in SCE’s new Healthcare Administration degree program right now. What sort of career path can you follow with that degree, and who is best suited for it?

The Healthcare Administration degree program really has two audiences.

One is the clinical practitioner who’s already in the field – maybe working as a radiology tech, a nurse, a respiratory therapist – who wants a bachelor’s degree to round out their education or position themselves for advancement into management. For that audience, the degree accomplishes both of those things. But it also provides a lot more knowledge about the broader industry in which they work, which is very helpful in understanding what’s happening in the field and how that affects the particular type of work they’re doing – and that makes them better able to grow and improve upon that work.

The other audience is those people who don’t currently work in healthcare, but want to build a new career working on the business or administrative side of the industry. Healthcare offers many more opportunities now for those sorts of non-clinical roles than it did even ten or twelve years ago – data analysis, process improvement, patient relations, business management, regulatory compliance – all of those fields offer someone with no clinical background great opportunities for a successful career in healthcare.

Right now in the class I’m teaching at SCE, the students represent a good mix of both of those audiences including respiratory therapist, cardiology technician, certified occupational therapy assistant, social worker, certified nursing assistant, administrative assistant. Some are just starting out in pursuing their career and others are already working in the clinical setting. The class is Introduction to Healthcare in the U.S. which is a pretty broad topic. We cover the history of healthcare in the U.S., how our current healthcare system is constructed, why cost has become such a significant issue, and some of the strategic initiatives underway to address the challenges in the healthcare system. We have a guest speaker from a different aspect of the healthcare system in to talk to the students at almost every class meeting, and the students already working in the field also have insights to share. It makes for a pretty rich discussion.

Jobs in healthcare administration are projected to grow by 20% from 2016 to 2026, and offer an average salary of nearly $100,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That kind of job security and earning potential is obviously attractive for anyone considering a career in the field. But what about the less tangible (though perhaps more important) qualities like job satisfaction and a sense of purpose?

The reason I went into human resources in the healthcare industry was because I wanted to be a liaison, sort of a bridge, for the relationship between employees and the organization. Filling that role has been the most rewarding part of my job.

I’ve been fortunate that every organization I’ve worked for was led by honorable people trying to do the right thing for patients and their employees. But with so much change there’s also a lot of noise in the field, a lot of hard decisions, and so a lot of opportunity for those good intentions to not be realized as much as they could be. I saw the role of Human Resources as trying to be that bridge so that those good intentions could be realized by both the organization as a whole and by the individual employees.

Healthcare professionals need to come to work every day driven to serve patients as well as possible, and to do that they need their input to be respected and their needs to be served as well. That’s what we tried to do, and when I could see that happening it was incredibly fulfilling.

When you’re in the midst of so much change and so many challenges the way we are in healthcare today, it’s easy to make assumptions and to make decisions that are based upon perceptions rather than facts. I think that’s what the healthcare administration degree is all about – bringing clarity to the process, so that it can work better for everyone, whether your role is in HR, or finance, or as a clinical manager, or other administrative role. And that’s what leads to what is really the most unique and important opportunity of working in this field – the ability to make a difference for people.

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