To Be or Not to Be ... a Manager: The Career Choices of Health Professionals

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper focuses on decisions made by professionals working in the health industry who have, at some stage in their career, considered taking on a management role. It describes some of the factors that appear to influence their decisions. The study, based on 60 interviews with professionals working in the health industry, identified six different categories in terms of their approach and attitudes to taking on management roles. The paper concludes with an analysis of the implications for people considering a management career in the health industry.

Aust Health Rev 2005: 29(2): 218-225

THE LITERATURE ON CAREERS in general, and management careers in particular, lends to focus on the competencies required to perform in a management role1-5 and how to make the transition to management. There is often an implicit assumption that moving into management is a positive career move. The issue of whether a person wants to become or should become a manager (and how they determine this) receives far less attention.12,13

During fifteen years working as a consultant and academic in the health field, I have been struck by the lack of career planning on the part of organisations and individuals in the sector, especially in terms of individual decisions about pursuing a management versus a technical (clinical or professional) career path14 and the lack of organisational practices such as succession planning, mentoring and strategic management development.15-17 Given the nature of the work that these organisations perform and the amount of resources involved, it is vital that people who are both willing and able to do it well manage them. Getting the right people into management roles in the health sector is important, but somewhat problematic. This study sought to answer the research question:

What factors are described by senior professionals working in the health industry as being important to their decisions to take or not take promotion into management roles within an organisation, or to apply for a management position with another organisation?

The research did not aim to look at whether the people were making the right decisions (ie, that the people most suited were deciding to become managers and less suited people were deciding not to). Rather, this study focused on identifying the factors that health professionals thought influenced their decisions to become or not become managers, and why people who had taken on management roles at some stage in their career chose to continue in management roles or to take another career path. The study included some professionals with non-clinical backgrounds because I was interested in the choices made by all professionals working in the industry.

Methods

The research was conducted in Melbourne, Australia. I recruited 60 participants who were currently or had been employed in professional roles in the health sector for at least 5 years and had made choices around taking on a management role.

The aim was not to get a representative sample of health staff. Rather, I wanted participants who exhibited the widest range of career behaviours. I was interested in the different approaches people took regarding their career choices rather than trying to identify the most common career paths. I interviewed people from a range of professional backgrounds including medicine, nursing, social work, human resources, food services, podiatry, speech pathology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, pathology and radiology. The participants were drawn from a range of health care settings including acute services, aged care, community health, mental health and residential care. They were recruited using snowball sampling.18 Once some of the categories began to emerge I switched to theoretical sampling18 and intentionally sought out participants whose career stories appeared to have followed different paths from those already interviewed. …