Staff recruitment and retention in the age of clinician shortages: 2 experts weigh in

As the clinician shortage becomes more widespread, hospital leaders are scrambling to find innovative strategies to retain and recruit staff to protect their organization's reputation, clinical outcomes and bottom line.

At Becker's Hospital Review's 9th Annual Meeting in Chicago April 11, a panel of hospital leaders — including Robert Dahl, president and CEO of Chicago-based Presence Health's Northwest Region and Nicole Thorell, CNO of Lexington (Ky.) Regional Health Center — discussed various workforce strategies that can drive staff engagement and retention to improve clinical, financial and operational outcomes.

Ms. Thorell and Mr. Dahl weighed in on a few methods and strategies their respective organizations deployed to deliver better care outcomes and boost tenured employee morale.  

A few years ago, several tenured nurses at Lexington Regional Health Center said they felt it was unfair the organization gave new nurses $15,000 dollars for loan repayment when they were hired.

Shortly after that discussion, leaders at the hospital "completely switched our focus from recruitment to retention," explained Ms. Thorell.  "[We wanted] to recognize what a long term commitment means to our facility … When you have happy staff, they really are your recruitment tool … When the tenured nurses are happy and feel valued, they are out recruiting those new nurses."

Since switching the focus to retaining nurses instead of recruiting nurses, Lexington Regional Health Center achieved an 82 percent reduction in readmissions, added Ms. Thorell. In addition, she mentioned the hospital has no nursing jobs open.

Both Mr. Dahl and Ms. Thorell emphasized the importance of the recruitment process, because finding the right people for the organization is vital to keep tenured staff happy, maintain the organization's reputation and derive brand differentiation in the marketplace.

"In terms of what creates differentiation in the marketplace … It's really the people that make the difference," Mr. Dahl said. "What we've found to be successful [while recruiting] is looking at behavioral-based interviews, engaging peer-to-peer conversations so they hear what the units are like … to make sure it’s the right fit culturally. We also engage physicians in the process to make sure everyone is bought into this new individual … to set the bar high for success."

Ms. Thorell agreed with Mr. Dahl that an individual should have missions and goals that align well with the organization.

"Sometimes it's really hard to not just fill the position, but if you don’t have the right person to fill the position, it can wreak havoc on an organization and create more work in the long run."

In addition, Mr. Dahl said tapping interim leadership can help provide stability for an organization in high need, low supply positions.

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