Hospital COOs must 'go beyond what they've always done' to recruit employees, 1 leader says

According to one COO, the challenge of recruiting and retaining hospital employees goes beyond the emergency room and other clinical areas buckling under the current nursing shortage. 

Andrew Pete, chief operating officer at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, Calif., the list of healthcare job openings continues to grow, but there are not enough qualified applicants to fill the positions.

The result is a direct hit to the hospital's bottom line. "The shortage of qualified employees in the market has led to higher utilization of high-cost traveler resources," Mr. Pete told Becker's

His advice to other hospital COOs trying to tackle the shortage is to "go beyond what you've always done." Recruitment strategies need to be diverse; instead of relying on one initiative, Mr. Pete encouraged them to launch multiple strategies to attract and recruit qualified staff. 

He suggested launching in-house residency training programs, forging partnerships with nursing and technical schools, offering tuition support for employees who want to pursue further education as well as cross-training current employees. 

Note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What immediate solutions are you using to solve St. John's employee supply/demand issues?

Andrew Pete: We sponsor H1B clinical lab scientists from the Philippines to work at St. John's. Locally, we are partnering with a variety of schools to train clinical laboratory scientists, radiology technologists and respiratory therapists, among others. 

Also, to reduce expenses, our division of Dignity Health launched an internal nurse traveler pool to help quickly mobilize nurses at a fraction of the cost of an external traveler agency. 

Q: Have you launched any creative recruiting techniques designed to fill your employee pipeline?

AP: We have been hiring a pool of nurses once they graduate from nursing school and place them in our new graduate nurse residency program.

Also, we recently started a program for high school seniors to volunteer in key clinical and ancillary areas of the hospital. The intent is to expose students early to hospital operations to help guide them toward further education that will enable them to work in a hospital environment. 

St. John’s is located in a very expensive area of the state, which creates challenges with recruiting employees outside the area. Therefore, we are focused on developing our internal talent pool by supporting and cross-training employees who want to move into clinical roles. For example, someone currently working as an environmental services technician can train to become a certified nursing assistant. We have found this to be an effective way to fill open clinical and support services positions.


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