November 8, 2019

Swords into stethoscopes — veterans in health professions

Kaiser Permanente has actively hired veterans in all capacities since World War II.

“Oxygen therapy is only one of the areas in which hospital corpsmen and medical specialists are trained in caring for hospital patients.” 1972 slide deck script

Studies on best places to work indicate that a diverse workforce brings strengths and opportunities to an organization, a fact that Kaiser Permanente has long understood. But implementing an effective program for recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce is not easy.

In the late 1960s, the United States was projected to see a severe national shortage of health care professionals. In 1969, the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Department of Defense launched the Military Experience Directed Into Health Careers program to maximize civilian use of the professional skills veterans had acquired while in the military. Governor Ronald Reagan authorized MEDIHC in 1970 in California, and a year later Richard Nixon expanded it nationwide as part of a national health strategy. 

Veterans who had received health care training in the military and ex-military personnel who were interested in civilian health careers were eligible for counseling and placement in a suitable training program or an opportunity leading to employment. MEDIHC provided no direct training, but connected veterans to academic and vocational health training programs. The effort was extended under the Veteran Health Care Expansion Act of 1973 and lasted into the early 1980s.  

Kaiser Permanente has actively hired veterans in all capacities since World War II and was part of MEDIHC, recognizing the value of military veterans and that a diverse workforce complements the diversity of our membership. 

MEDIHC graphic from 1972 Southern California Kaiser Permanente training slide deck

MEDIHC graphic from 1972 Southern California Kaiser Permanente training slide deck

But hiring veterans is only half the battle. Veterans come with special skills as well as special requirements — there are many stereotypes and misconceptions to overcome. Retention requires a strong human resources commitment and support from other veterans.

In 2015, Kaiser Permanente sought to strengthen its firm foundation for retaining the current generation of veterans with a 40-minute video called “In Our Boots — The Veterans' Journey.” The video was co-produced by Kaiser Permanente’s National Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity program and the National Compliance, Ethics, and Integrity offices. 

“In Our Boots” DVD cover

“In Our Boots” DVD cover

The video was one of several produced for the Diversity & Health film series. “In Our Boots” offers concrete examples of best practices, such as not pressing for details about a veteran’s experiences, avoiding stereotypes, and listening with an open mind. The video was used across the organization to increase expertise in hiring veterans and supporting their transition to Kaiser Permanente.

Among the 10 featured veteran employees are Ronald Copeland, MD, FACS (U.S. Air Force Medical Corps), senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer for Kaiser Permanente, and Joseph Monroe (U.S. Army 1995-2002), IT project coordinator for Kaiser Permanente in the Mid-Atlantic states.

The advice is straightforward and from the heart. “Military mentality is to break you down from the civilian world to make you a soldier,” Monroe explains. “Someone needs to break you down from a soldier to make you a civilian again.”

And in the video, Copeland advises that “there is a stereotype … about military veterans, this notion of command-and-control and only following orders … that is based on ignorance. We have many military veterans in our organization. We’re role models to demonstrate that’s not the case. And we can also help the organization appreciate the transferable skills that people cultivate and develop in a number of areas in the military that are very applicable to what we are trying to get done in the civilian sector.”

Kaiser Permanente’s efforts to recruit and retain veterans continues today. Marcus A. Williams, military and individuals with disabilities talent strategy leader in human resources, notes, “Kaiser Permanente values the extraordinary experiences veterans gain in the military, and we know that our organization will benefit from the many positive attributes and characteristics innate in our veterans. Through our outreach and support of the veterans, and due to our employees who are veterans and reservists, we have been recognized as a top Military Friendly Employer for 5 consecutive years.”

In 1972, one of the MEDIHC participants praised the program, saying “It has made me realize that the time I spent in the service was not wasted.” HR programs such as those at Kaiser Permanente continue to honor the sentiment of Henry J. Kaiser when he said, “If we can build ships, planes, tanks, guns, and bullets to protect our national security, can we not build hospitals and clinics to protect the lives of our people?”