Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Applicant

“What you’re describing is commonplace,” he said, “Business as usual. The applicant is unimportant.”

“It’s so inconsiderate,” I frowned, “So dismissive. Society in general is more callous; we are less attentive to the other. I am supposed to know that if they don’t call - even though they said they would - I didn’t get the job. And I do know - but I want to have a conversation - and that’s socially awkward.”

My friend Martin works in an ancillary industry to my own. His broad shoulders withstood my tears. “One of the ways our managers are evaluated,” he offered, “Is by how quickly they respond to phone calls, emails, requests, and applicants. They have 48-hours to respond, even if it’s to say, ‘I have no information and will have to call you back.’”

Brilliant. His company uses customer service as a measure for competency. I think most companies do. It breaks down internally when we do not consider employees customers - and treat them as such.

Five years ago, three nurse practitioner (NP) jobs at Kaiser were surgically excised from the budget to stem the flow of red ink. My termination notice arrived via email. (Yes, that raised more eyebrows than my own.) No exit interview, no apology, no semblance - even feigned - of care. I felt no administrative concern for my welfare. 

Courageous are individuals and organizations who can look within, identify weaknesses, and take steps toward remediation. If we are unable to accomplish change within our own lives; how quickly do we expect an organizational response? Organizational intelligence is hard won. Make no mistake, I believe Kaiser is an intelligent and responsive organization and employer AND we both have work to do.

Over the years I have applied for two nurse educator positions, a peri-operative NP position, and interviewed thrice for a position on a proposed cardiovascular team. They always say, “We’ll call you next week.” They never do. 
Kaiser’s cardiovascular (CV) team has experienced many setbacks and hiccups and is finally being assembled. I interviewed, yet again, in early December for a CV NP position on said team. The interview panel wore their best poker-faces and were difficult to read. 
“You don’t admit and discharge; do you?” I realized that my CV NP workflow at Mercy is exceedingly narrow and specific. I lack the broader skills an NP should have, like admitting and discharging. Nothing I couldn’t learn but in the current job climate, employers need not train. They can seek and hire persons able to don scrubs and start work.
“There could be resentment and animosity toward a Kaiser team inside Mercy. How would you handle that?” The questions went round-robin.
“There is resentment and fear already,” I said. “One of the cardiologists refers to Kaiser as the gorilla in the building.” 
“The gorilla in the building?” they snorted.
“Here’s the thing,” I continued, “They know when you put a full team in place, there will not be enough work to support all of them. I’ve already heard that docs are interviewing cross-country. They’ve been here many years; they thought they would work out their careers here and raise their children. Now they are looking at moving and uprooting their families. I have lots of compassion for that. But I never hear their frustration directed at people. They think highly of your surgeon so he is a good ambassador for Kaiser.”
“But how would you handle it?” someone pressed.
“Head on, by asking questions like, You seem irritated. Is there something I need to do for you that I’m not doing or something I’m doing incorrectly? Or is there something else? You know, I’ve been there for years; I know the people. There is nothing that can’t be handled in a conversation. It’s all about communication.”
The interview wore on. They showed little enthusiasm for my skill-set or what I could bring to the team.
“We’ll call you next week.”
Neophyte no more, I clarified, “Either way?”
“Yes, either way.” 
I left that interview feeling inadequate and unqualified. 
Something didn’t feel right. “These interviews my be a ruse,” I told friends, “A fulfilling of their contractual obligation to post and interview for NP jobs before hiring PAs (physician assistants).”
“Remember,” a sagacious friend offered, “They will make selections based on organizational needs that may have little to do with you.”
While vacationing over the holidays, CV NP jobs #3 & #4 were posted on our jobs website. Though I had already interviewed, I applied for them all. They cannot say I wasn’t hired because I failed to apply. Just how many CV NPs work in Sacramento? A handful, I probably know them all. How many CV NPs at Kaiser? None. If we hire four people, one would think I was a shoe-in.
Regardless of words to the contrary, I knew she had no intention of calling me and she did too. I’ll call you next week is a social lubricant to get us over a sticky wicket. From the applicant’s perspective, continuing to see jobs posted without a word from the interview panel is very weird. They have no idea... After a month had passed I committed a social indiscretion, I called.
“I keep seeing jobs posted on the website and I haven’t heard from you so I thought I would call to touch base.”
“Well, I am not prepared to offer you a position today.” Her irritation was thinly veiled.
No duh! “That’s clear and not the purpose of my call.” I did my best to remain gracious, to check my ego and feelings. “What is going on?”
“We think we want people who can help in the OR and you don’t have that skill-set.” She was curt, pointed. 
“I can see that,” I said. And I can. Few NPs have operating room training. “If you are looking for people with OR skills, you will be better served by PAs.” I thanked her for her time and ended the call.  …as I suspected.
There is sadness for me in that I have worked split days off for five years, keeping a particular skill set alive, waiting for Kaiser to build a cardiovascular team. That time is now, the team is being assembled, and obviously, I will not be tapped. I am deeply disappointed. I don’t have to fix this for there is nothing to fix. Can I be with my sadness? 
I had hoped to discuss the interview. Most nurses are unskilled interviewees for lack of practice. We have had the good fortune of being highly sought and readily employed. I would love to use the experience to grow and expand myself. I was stopped by her abrupt tone. I may yet have that conversation elsewhere.
We are, for the most part, uncomfortable with the discomfort of others. We deal with our own discomfort by avoiding and fixing. Demonizing the perpetrator is common. Do I think they think the applicant is unimportant? No, though clearly not a priority.
Can I be with my disappointment? Can you? Can we include my disappointment without clichés like: Something better is coming? Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Can I include that interview panels never place follow-up phone calls to applicants? Can I do that without thinking them inconsiderate boors? Though they are? Can I treat the new Kaiser team members with the same consideration and respect for which I am indignant when absent? ‘Tis a bigger game; is it not? Who am I in the face of uncomfortable circumstance?
Last week, my twelfth patient weaned herself from insulin. TWELVE! And while twelve is a drop in the bucket, the social and financial implications of what I can cause and create – is gynormous.
I’ve received several offers to create a web-based program. One offer comes from a Silicon Valley software engineer with whom I would partner. Beyond organizational restraint and constraint is likely the place for a non-traditional path, the road less traveled.

In looking toward my next best place – 

it may well be precisely where I am planted- 

the confluence ancient wisdom & modern medicine. 

The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest her or his patients in the care of the human frame, in a proper diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease. ~ Thomas A. Edison


  1. Written with eloquence and heart. The reader, your friends, can feel your deep sadness, the interviewer your gentle sting of disappointment.

    And now, what is this about a web based program? :-)

  2. I agree with Laurel. Your heart is revealed in this post.

    You are probably right where you are supposed to be, saving the lives of people who need to learn from you how to better manage a killer disease and live well.

    I wonder what God wants you to learn from this experience?