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Hiring in Healthcare: Education vs. Experience

A hotly-debated question in the healthcare industry is whether an employee’s education is more important than experience or vice versa. But this generalized query may be an oversimplification. Real-life tends to be much more nuanced than theoretical speculation. Perhaps the most honest answer is, “It depends”.

In exploring the “education vs. experience” debate, one should consider the following:

Benefits of Education

While it’s nice to think experience can always make up for classroom training, reality says differently. Nobody is going to trust their heart surgery to someone other than a licensed physician, regardless of that person’s experience level. Formal education often provides the foundational knowledge necessary for higher-level tasks.

Education is particularly important for clinical care providers, as the consequences of “learning on the job” can be disastrous. For example, an inexperienced landscaper may make a mistake and mangle a shrubbery. Perhaps he learns from the error. However, an RN who misreads a vital sign indicator may be responsible for a preventable death.

Benefits of Experience

Education is critical for many healthcare-employee functions. However, it’s merely a starting point. Experience teaches nurses and medical workers the lessons that can’t come from a classroom. Formal education is a world of theory, but real life throws curve balls that can’t be predicted. Healthcare workers learn from these experiences and create a mental bank of empirically-based knowledge that comes in handy at future times.

The Right Candidate Can Get Either on the Back End

One thing to remember is that a generally-strong healthcare candidate can often gain either additional education or experience while on the job. Employers often envision recent graduates gaining hands-on experience once hired and are open to training them. But this can be a two-way street. Perhaps an experienced prospect can be hired and allowed continuing education during night classes or weekends.

Some Roles Favor One over the Other

As demonstrated with the previous “heart surgeon” example, certain healthcare positions favor one over the other. Educational requirements, licenses, and certifications are especially important in the highly-regulated and life-and-death world of care delivery. Doctors, RNs, physical therapists, radiologists, and such medical professionals must have the right formal education.

However, there are positions within the healthcare world that favor experience. A Home Health Aide’s (HHA) performance, for example, can be better predicted by assessing her experience and focusing less on her education. These folks are often called “non-medical caregivers” and can have classroom training as an HHA or Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). But, many healthcare leaders can attest to the fact that some HHAs are better than RNs at completing certain tasks, like incontinence care and grooming assistance.


A good rule of thumb for healthcare recruiters and hiring managers is to view all candidates holistically. While hard-set educational and licensing requirements must be met, experience is also a good predictor of future performance. On the other hand, leaders shouldn’t discriminate against less experienced candidates who demonstrate a passion for healthcare and are “trainable.”


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