When the going gets tough, the tough get creative in recruiting health care professionals
By Wendy Opsahl
Just over a year ago, Debbie Walkenhorst decided to make a big change. Regional vice president of human resources for the 20 hospitals of SSM Health Care in St. Louis, she was frustrated with her outdated portfolio of health care professional recruitment techniques.
“We had a passive website and were advertising in newspapers,” she admitted. “I felt like we weren’t capturing the people I knew were out there.”
Walkenhorst began a quest for recruitment improvement and ultimately connected with Jill Schwieters, executive vice president for one of the nation’s top recruitment providers. Schwieters’ company handles SSM’s recruiting from job requisitions all the way through onboarding, utilizing a seamless “we become you” model.
“We couldn’t afford the technology or staffing to do it ourselves. We needed to partner with an external agency,” said Walkenhorst. “Jill is helping us broaden our recruiting strategy by doing things like using social networking tools to find health care professionals. Without them, we wouldn’t have ever thought of going there.”
As it turns out, technology is key to many of the new recruitment strategies. For example, Schwieters’ company has been seeing success with its virtual (online) job fairs.
“We weren’t sure how they would work,” said Schwieters. “They’ve been one of our most effective tools. People can log on and instant message back and forth with our recruiters from the comfort of their home, at their convenience. This concept isn’t new to other industries, but it is to health care, and it works.”
Some companies leverage new media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as key components of interactive recruiting. They help organizations create corporate and personal profile pages and also offer mobile recruiting solutions, where candidates can communicate via text messaging.
One particular recruiting firm specializing in temporary staffing offers a website that features career and lifestyle blogs, links to Facebook and other popular social networks, and medical education with an online community for physicians.
This new twist on traditional recruiting reflects a growing interest among health care providers in social media. In a recent Locum Leaders survey of physicians and CRNAs, 56% said they participated in or were interested in social networks; 37% of respondents said they belonged to Facebook.
Not all health care systems can afford to contract with external firms, but many of the techniques can be modified for low or no budget situations. John Eich, director of the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health and social media evangelist, recently instituted Web 2.0 techniques to aid in recruiting physicians to practice in Wisconsin.
“Medical students emerging today are of a generation that practically lives online and in social networks, and that habit carries over into their job search,” he said, “so it’s important to meet them there. Establish a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn. Put language in your profile that makes you sound like a real person. Have a place on your website for your recruiters to blog—they’re excellent sources of trustworthy information. All of these techniques are free.”
Beyond technology, some health care providers have gotten creative in the incentives offered to prospective employees. A Michigan company at a hiring event offered $50 gas cards for any experienced nurse who would interview. Other recruiters have offered chair massages, flat screen TVs, GPS devices and shopping sprees worth as much as $1,000.
When gas prices peaked last year, Scott & White Healthcare in Texas offered its RNs who live more than 50 miles away and willing to work a 12-hour shift, a $75 gift card or the opportunity to spend the night at the Hilton Garden Inn, according to Keith Minnis, director of Scott & White recruiting and retention.
“That way they wouldn’t have to drive if they were tired…especially if they were working two or three shifts,” he said.
Those flexible and attractive shift offerings are another important tool in recruiting health professionals. Maureen Kelly, RN, chief nursing officer at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., said one major attraction for nurses is the option of working three 12-hour days followed by four days off – an arrangement that grew from the nurses’ request for a work-life balance. Unlike most health care facilities, Roswell Park has a waiting list of nurses who want to work there.
Filling shifts and creating desirable shift opportunities are two of the recruitment strategies Brownwood (TX) Regional Medical Center sought to improve two years ago when they instituted new software that lets them leverage their own staff. They give their nurses (and other staff) the opportunity to go online from work or home to find and request available shifts which reduces their reliance on expensive outside agency personnel to fill the shifts. The shift visibility helps them quickly fill vacancies caused by vacations, holidays or emergencies.
The software has allowed our nurses to see open shifts throughout the hospital, not just their unit, and it has provided a venue for them to cross-train and staff other areas,” said Pam Craig, Brownwood’s chief nursing officer. “It’s been especially popular because the flexibility allows people to be in charge of their work/life balance.”
Workforce optimization software can save medical facilities millions in labor costs each year. The software is also a big employee satisfier, as it gives them scheduling flexibility and choice. Many software users have nurse vacancy and turnover rates well below state averages.
Even with cutting-edge technology, sweet incentives and attractive shift options, recruiting remains a challenge for health care systems across the country. Some are competing for a limited workforce and others have infrastructures straining under the high volumes of recession-related applicants. Some struggle with getting young people into roles, and others face geographic challenges.
“The bottom line is that we need to build relationships,” said Walkenhorst, who recently graced the cover of Human Resource Executive magazine. “Technology and other incentives can help, but in the end, it’s about people having a conversation that will ultimately lead to an enhanced experience for both.”