How IU Health is attracting millennials, retaining new nurses

Healthcare organizations are increasingly focused on recruiting millennials and retaining new nurses as baby boomers retire.

Millennials are expected to outnumber baby boomers in 2019, 73 million vs. 72 million, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Since millennials make up a significant portion of the workforce, it's critical for hospitals and health systems to explore ways to attract millennial talent. This can be challenging because millennials have different expectations than their baby boomer counterparts.

That's why Indianapolis-based Indiana University Health is making efforts to address those expectations.

"We want to be the destination for nurses to aspire to work and be part of our team," said Michelle Janney, PhD, RN, chief nurse executive of IU Health."To do that, we have to have a very contemporary approach to leadership and create the environment in which they thrive, so a lot of what we're doing is toward that agenda."

IU Health's updated dress code

Last spring, for instance, IU Health updated its dress code to allow visible tattoos, piercings and brightly hued hair.

Hospital officials told The Indianapolis Star at the time that the dress code changes reflect IU Health's value of "messaging authenticity" and its confidence that employees know how to present themselves appropriately at work.

Months later, they say the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"We continue to hear from team members about what a difference it made to them," said Liz Dunlap, the system's senior vice president and chief human resources officer. "Some were considering leaving our organization because of the strong policies and restrictions we have, and now that that's been freed up and contemporized, they feel they can bring their whole selves to work."

She said this was evidenced in October during breast cancer awareness month. Many employees sported pink hair styles and pink accessories in ways they wouldn't have been allowed to under the old dress code policies. Employees have also indicated that the change related to tattoos has specifically made a difference for them, as they no longer spend time covering their tattoos each day.

Additionally, employees told Ms. Dunlap their tattoos have led to interesting and engaging conversations with patients.

"It's given them a common thing to talk about and bond over in many cases," said Ms. Dunlap.

Although not everyone believes tattoos are professional, market research showed patients were much more concerned with the quality of care they received from providers rather than the way they looked, according to IU Health.

Nurse applications and hiring

To attract and retain millennials, IU Health also shortened its job application and allowed candidates to apply via smartphone.

The system was looking to fill nurse openings, as well as other job openings, in a timely manner, including through the spring graduate recruitment cycle. But Ms. Dunlap said there were challenges to fill jobs with high-quality applicants, and one was the application process.

Previously, applicants had to go to IU Health's website to apply for jobs, and it was difficult for them to find the specific position they were interested in. Once they found the right job, applicants had to fill out an application that was multiple pages and complete an online assessment, according to Ms. Dunlap.

"We said that's probably not the way people are used to applying for jobs. So, we made our application process mobile-enabled, which has had a dramatic effect on people's ability to apply," she said.

The system also made the application process shorter and easier to navigate. The system eliminated the online pre-employment assessment requirement for each applicant and pushed that step later in the application process. Additionally, IU Health began using more social media to reach nursing applicants, said Ms. Dunlap.  

As a result of these efforts, IU Health now receives 65 percent of its applications through mobile devices. Additionally, the health system saw nurse applications increase 50 percent in 2018 compared to the year prior.

With respect to hiring, the system has also changed its mindset around hiring new graduates vs. experienced nurses, said Dr. Janney.

She said more experience is often perceived as better in nursing, but that may not always be the case if the person hasn't had experience at organizations with a similar culture. That's one of the reasons IU Health has embraced new graduate and millennial nurses in most areas, including operating rooms and intensive care units. 

"Nurses coming out of school come with the most up-to-date knowledge. They know how to participate in research, they know what the best evidence-based practice is, they know how to use technology: they're very tech savvy, and they have high energy and are driven to be their best," said Dr. Janney. "So, we've worked to take stigma away from new grads and millennials. What we're finding is they bring fresh eyes and a new perspective."

Encouraging career exploration

The system also set up career paths that help prepare new employees for future roles.

In the past, IU Health had restrictions that prevented nurses from moving to a different practice location, said Dr. Janney. However, the system recently lifted those restrictions. For example, if a nurse wants to move from the system's main campus in Indianapolis to a suburban location, hospital leaders encourage them to do so.  

Previously, IU Health did not allow new employees to transfer locations within the system for a year, but that requirement has been reduced to six months with coaching at that point in time to assess fit. Dr. Janney said the system has also equalized the hourly rate for the same position at different locations.

IU Health also no longer requires newly hired nurses with an associate degree to sign contracts agreeing to complete a bachelor's degree within five years. Instead, Dr. Janney said, the system put support in place to encourage these nurses to go back to school. For instance, the organization increased tuition reimbursement and has initiated academic practice partnerships to provide seamless opportunities for obtaining a bachelor's degree in nursing.

"It has actually increased the number of nurses wanting to get back into school and being more interested in continuing their education. So, we've seen, again, a lot of enthusiasm with that change," she said.

IU Health said the goal behind all the changes is "becoming a destination employer for nurses as the health system moves from a rules-based culture to one driven by values."


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