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ATD Blog

Working With SMEs for Healthcare Talent Development

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The ATD Talent Development and Training in Healthcare Handbook (ATD Press, November 2021) addresses the many opportunities and challenges TD professionals face in the growing and rapidly changing healthcare space. Effective talent development is the thread that weaves through an entire healthcare organization to ensure it is up to standard with the latest practices in treating patients while providing a safe and engaging environment for staff. TD professionals have the unique role of tying together organizational and employee advancement in healthcare systems—and likewise, this handbook dives into areas for both business and professional evolution.

Written by 25 fellow healthcare practitioners with extensive experience in the field—from nurses, physicians, and administrators to instructional designers, chief learning officers, technology experts, and leaders across the industry, it covers six key themes across 26 chapters:

  • Learning and Development Basics
  • Organization Development
  • Employee Development
  • Business Acumen for the Health System
  • Digital Transformation and Literacy
  • Patient-Centric Care

Dale Ludwig is founder and president of Turpin Communication, and Greg Owen-Boger is EVP of learning and business development. They co-authored the chapter focused on working with subject matter experts in the ATD Talent Development and Training in Healthcare Handbook. In this spotlight Q&A, learn more about Ludwig and Owen-Boger and their contribution to the book.

How have your experiences developing and working with SMEs influenced recommendations in your chapter?

Ludwig: The challenge with subject matter experts (SMEs) of all types is the tension between expertise in their field and their inexperience in the field of learning and development. For most SMEs, content drives delivery. The challenge is always to help them understand that, in fact, it is understanding that drives delivery for L&D.

Owen-Boger: We have been working with SMEs turned trainers for many years. In that time, we’ve learned a lot. One of the more important things we’ve discovered is that SMEs have good intentions. We’ve never met a SME that didn’t want to do well in the classroom. Most often, they just don’t know how. They come from an academic background. That’s what they know, so that’s what they do. And that results in lifeless and uninspiring learning for the adult professionals they’re training.

Once we point that out, SMEs recognize they need to alter the way they think about, prepare for, and deliver training. This shift in their thinking makes all the difference.


With continuous shifts in healthcare trends, how do you foresee advancement of the role of SMEs (in other words, how do you see this area flourishing for employee or organization development)?

Ludwig: I think SMEs will continue to play an important role in healthcare, just as they play an important role in other industries. No matter what type of SME we’re thinking about, they will always have the expertise and experience learners demand.

Owen-Boger: I don’t see it changing much. SMEs will always be an important and necessary part of the healthcare training and development mix.

What is something unexpected you learned or encountered while working on this book?

Ludwig: I had some interesting conversations with talent development professionals who work in healthcare. The challenges they face are huge, from finding a way to offer training at any time of day to working with highly stressed caregivers. I gained a new level of respect for everyone in healthcare.

Owen-Boger: I’ve heard it said that you don’t truly understand something until you’ve written about it because writing clarifies your thinking. Writing helps uncover ideas that have been lurking in the back of your head for some time. In our case, we clarified a lot when we wrote our first book, The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined and later when we co-authored Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning. Writing forced us to document our methodology in the classroom and solidify our guiding principles.

What was new in the ATD Talent Development and Training in Healthcare Handbook came from Dale Ludwig, my co-author. We’re big on helping business communicators play to their strengths. Dale realized that most healthcare workers are already good at communicating clearly and with empathy when talking with patients and their families. This strength—their bedside manner—can be leveraged in the training room by expressing genuine interest in learners. Examples of this include connecting through eye contact, pausing to let others process information, listening closely to the nuance of questions, and reserving judgment when people struggle.


Is there something you are proud of accomplishing in the past year (professionally or personally)?

Ludwig: The pandemic forced us to move all our face-to-face training to virtual platforms. We did that in a matter of days, thanks to the leadership of my co-author, Greg Owen-Boger. I’m proud we made it through that.

Owen-Boger: For me, the past two years cannot be looked at through any lens other than the global pandemic. Is it flippant to answer I’m proud of surviving—both personally and professionally?

What is a fun fact about yourself or one sentence of advice you’d like to share?

Ludwig: Degrees in the arts and liberal arts are excellent preparation for a business career.

Owen-Boger: I started my professional life as an actor, to which I can attribute to my success in talent development, because I learned early on the importance of listening well and climbing into the shoes of someone else.

About the Author

Niranjani Chidamber Papavaritis is the Head of Content for ATD's healthcare and government industry verticals, and the Manager for ATD's global conferences and strategy. In her role, she is responsible for content and product development, partnering with SMEs and executives to create a suite of training resources through blogs, magazine articles, webinars, books, and events. Prior to working at ATD, Niranjani served as a business development advisor at Optum (under UnitedHealth Group). Her specialities include healthcare management, organizational development, business development, and content strategy. Niranjani received a degree in political science and information systems from UMBC, in Baltimore, Maryland.

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