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Advice and a Question for Healthcare Professionals: Are You a Zombie or a Test Pilot?

  • Apr 19, 2021
  • Meaghan Puglisi
  • 5-min Read

Joel Theisen, Lifespark CEO, is still flying high from the opportunity to inspire the next generation of healthcare innovators and disruptors at the Mayo Clinic Health Innovation Sprint. As the keynote speaker, Joel started the conversation with one key question – ‘are you a zombie or a test pilot?’ And offered some sound advice for those embarking on a healthcare career.

Zombies, he explained, move through the ‘sick care’ system without questioning its brokenness. They see people revolving through a fragmented, siloed, reactive system and in their gut, they know, there has to be a better way. They are molded in their thinking that ‘this is how it’s always been done,’ moving through the motions collecting a paycheck. Dr. Nick Schneeman, Lifespark Chief Medical Officer, admits he’s seen it in his career. “Many start out wanting to change the system, make a difference, and 30 years later find themselves disillusioned by a career that has drifted so far from why they went into it in the first place.” Essentially, they lose their ‘why.’

Test pilots on the other hand push the boundaries. “They know their why, they have a vision, and they are passionate about executing it,” said Joel. “We see this in our people every day at Lifespark who are not afraid to ask questions, test theories, and let nothing get in the way of helping people live with a spark and age magnificently. What’s most impressive, we saw it in the midst of COVID – our team rocked the spark when people needed it most.”

The healthcare sector is expected to grow 14%+ over the next 10 years due in part to a largely aging population with increased health care needs. Will we have enough ‘test pilots’ ready to change their experience?  Long before the pandemic hit, healthcare professionals were hitting a wall with caregiver shortages and nurse/physician burnout threatening the way care is delivered. According to a 2019 National Nursing Engagement Report, 15.6% of nurses had experienced burnout and 41% were unengaged.

So many want to be the ‘test pilot’ but they feel more like a ‘zombie,’ what will it take to shift from burnout to sparked? Joel shares a few personal insights:

    1. Know your ‘why’ – what fuels your purpose and passion – and constantly evolve it. (If you haven’t listened to Simon Sinek explain it, you should, it’s worth a listen!)
    2. Innovate and serve people differently – focus on the whole person, not just their medical diagnosis.
    3. Surround yourself with the smartest and most thoughtful people as mirrors around you – don’t see the world through your own lens.
    4. Understand your emotional intelligence; nurture your own mind, body, and spirit.
    5. Don’t get stuck in the status quo because it’s easier than fixing what’s broken – be courageous and work to heal the brokenness to create a true ‘health’ system.
    6. Build and create longitudinal life experiences people want.
    7. Ask questions, test theories, and opportunities.
    8. Be bullish! Be passionate! Be purposeful!

Acknowledging whether you are a ‘test pilot’ or a ‘zombie’ is an important step towards understanding your contribution in healthcare. And right now, adds Dr. Schneeman, is the prefect time to join this vocation. “There’s an overall lack of workforce and a great demand for care, particularly for seniors. And there’s a cool intersection happening between healthcare and technology that is ripe for innovation and disruption to improve, augment, and enhance the work we do, especially as it relates to social injustice and inequity.”

Waking up the Zombies and Spurring Health Tech Innovation

The ‘test pilot’ mentality is one of the major drivers behind Lifespark’s role in advancing health technology that’s been spurring innovation and national media buzz.

For the second year in a row, Lifespark has been named to the Observer’s coveted list of the “20 Hottest Digital Health Startups” which highlights businesses doing outstanding work and creating extraordinary value in the healthcare space.

Lifespark’s data-driven approach to transforming senior health and wellbeing was also featured in Worth magazine. The article, “New Technologies Are Ushering in the Biggest Revolution in Senior Care in Over a Century,” cites Lifespark as building the model that will drive the next decade of innovation and advancement across this segment of the population.

And in a recent interview on the Medical Alley podcast, Joel talked openly about Lifespark’s investment in analytics, AI, and technology as a means to improving health and wellbeing for seniors. In other words, tech innovation in the service of better life experience and human connections.

The Timing is Now to Become the Test Pilot

It all sounds rather cliché for those who aren’t experiencing the thrill of being a ‘test pilot.’ But it’s not far-fetched either. It’s about knowing the kind of experience you want to have as a professional and the kind you want to create for others.  “Some of you will be in technology and some of you will be at the bed side,” adds Joel. “But all of you can still do your job serving people in a meaningful way and help them not just age, but age magnificently. Now is the time to let your creativity, innovation, and spark fly.”

One last piece of advice from Joel: If your career doesn’t address your ‘why’ for going into this industry, it may be time for a change.

Hiring ‘Test Pilots’ – Are You One?

Join our team of creative, passionate, forward-thinking individuals. Explore job opportunities and apply online at Lifespark Careers.


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