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Phoenix Forward magazine

University of Phoenix alum’s career path has been roundabout, but always aimed at helping others

James Cannon

James Cannon’s focus has never been about limiting his options.

At 23, he earned his MBA. A few years later, he became chief financial officer for a Fortune 500 company. In his 30s, he switched careers from finance to health care and became a physician assistant. He’s currently a commander in the U.S. Coast Guard serving as director of medical administration, but he started out in the U.S. Army Reserves.

So it should come as no surprise that when he decided to pursue his doctoral degree, he tried introductory courses at four universities before choosing University of Phoenix.

He says he appreciated the academic rigor and collaborative environment in his Doctor of Health Administration program. “If you can’t work with other people, you’re not going to work,” quips the 2010 graduate, whose dissertation focused on the roles of physician assistants in the Coast Guard.

“Little did I know when I started my research that this topic — the alternative delivery of health care services through physician assistants and nurse practitioners — would become part of the national dialogue,” he notes.

But then that’s generally how Cannon’s professional life has unfolded. He has had the good fortune, drive and prescience to integrate much of what he knows — and has learned — into everything he does. He follows the maxim, “Study what you do, and do what you study.”

Study what you do,
and do what you study.

So he recently added a psychiatry certification to his portfolio.

“In the military, the clinics, the VA hospitals, I’ve seen a lot of soldiers who need mental health support just as much as medical intervention,” he says. “Sometimes, to help people, you have to know what’s going on in the inside.”

To the casual observer, Cannon’s career path may seem quite random. But it has grown exponentially along a continuum that makes perfect sense to him. With seven more years of active duty before retirement from the Coast Guard, he’s beginning to wonder what’s next.

He’ll be in his mid-50s by then. “We might need to redo our end cap,” he says, knowing that he and his wife won’t be ready for the recliner and the remote.

“What will our world look like in the next five to seven years?” he muses. “My dream future is to start a federally qualified mental health clinic and connect everything I’ve done in my career — from business and finance to health administration, clinical work and education” — to establish and run such a facility.

“When the day is over,” he adds, “you want to end your career in a meaningful way. That’s my idea of success.”

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Learning to make a difference

James Cannon knew early on that he wanted to help others. Earning his doctorate showed him new ways to approach problems, and he hopes his work will contribute to greater access to health care in the U.S.