Answering the Healthcare Talent Shortage: 3 Strategies That Should Be on Your Radar

Female nurse assisting young boy in a hospital

Not long ago, a healthcare client explained the rationale behind moving tuition assistance under talent acquisition. The idea was to lay the groundwork to purposefully develop talent, not just hope to find it.

In 4 percent unemployment, the method was inspired. 

“Many people still look at me odd when I say I manage this program,” wrote the client’s head of recruiting at the time. But “My role is to ensure our organization has the talent it needs today and for the future. One of the best ways to do this is to focus on our internal talent and their growth.”

It’s the kind of creative approach we’re hearing more about lately as healthcare employers look for answers to today’s talent shortage. Mass retirements are threatening nursing levels. Physicians are reconsidering medical careers. Hospitals are desperately short of assistants and techs. It’s challenging healthcare employers to reimagine everything they think know about talent management, all with the goal of avoiding gaps. 

What are we hearing? 

Focus on the employer brand: Few employees are as mission-driven as those in patient care. But in single-digit unemployment, that’s not enough of a recruitment carrot. Nurses, techs and other employees want to belong to an organization that’s mission-driven, too. The reality is driving smart healthcare systems to purposefully build and promote their employer brands -- assembling volunteer days, encouraging social networks, and linking people in affinity and other groups to strengthen the social fabric of the organization. Such approaches do more than establish your organizational heart – they also share common bonds among employees who are likely spread across miles. “You can’t ever sit back and relax,” one client told us about what it takes to establish those bonds. But the effort will pay off beyond recruitment. As one research study put it, “engaged physicians, nurses, and other personnel – people who are proud of their organization, who believe it is committed to quality and safety, and who consider teamwork a core value – perform better.”  

Growing your own talent pipelines: Employee development gets unquestionably great results. How great? The above client’s tuition assistance experiment dropped vacancies for one key nursing position to its lowest level in nearly a decade. And internal training is only one creative use of upskilling. Smart healthcare employers are getting scrappy, matching positions looking for people with employees (even from other industries) looking for work. Need proof? One hospital system in Ohio found willing-and-able diagnostic tech candidates in laid-off manufacturing employees. In Chicago, a group of four hospitals teamed up to create training programs for desperately needed medical assistants. More than just a wing and prayer, both programs included school partnerships that made the path both plausible and affordable for employees. How’s it working? The Chicago program drew 300 applicants out of the gate.  "Look at an industry that has faced disruptions,” one consultant told CNN, “where there is an available labor pool that can be retrained to fill these positions."  

Sticky benefits: Dire labor shortages are opening providers’ eyes to a stark reality – that they’re in a no-holds-barred competition for hires against each other. And what they don’t offer, somebody else will. It’s prompting an arms race of benefits -- from furnished apartments for commuters, to student debt repayment to ease financial burdens that are forcing nurses into side gigs. Competing starts with knowing your competitors – and then raising the bar. “You have to continue looking at the needs of the employees -- the challenges of recruitment and retention.” one of our clients told us about the aggressive stance they’re taking to benefits. The extra added retention bonus is the effect on much-needed older workers who will forestall retirement to keep their great benefits. “We want to stay the first place they want to work,” says our client, “and the last place they want to leave.”  

There’s a fringe benefit to the above – reigniting employees’ passion for their healthcare careers. Changes in healthcare policy have placed new demands on these committed workers, prompting some to consider opting out. It makes a clear case for employers to give these hardworking people new reasons to stay committed. 

The creative approach will be well worth the advantages.

Written by: Doug Stefano

March 13, 2019

About the Author

Doug Stefano at Bright Horizons

Doug Stefano leads Bright Horizons’ healthcare practice. In this role, he’s charged with keeping Bright Horizons on the forefront of healthcare trends and ensuring that their solutions meet real needs and create maximum value for hospital clients. He and his team help CHROs, CNOs, and other health system leaders reframe their people strategies and win talent. He also specializes in empowering top Magnet hospitals to use their tuition assistance benefit as the foundation for workforce planning and for exceeding Institute of Medicine and Magnet recommendations.