Text messages and $10K signing bonuses: How 2 health systems have found nurse recruitment success

Hospitals and health systems are using various recruitment methods amid a national nursing shortage, including text messaging and large financial incentives.

Various areas of the country are facing a shortage of nurses, and the problem is expected to worsen as baby boomers retire and the U.S. population continues to age and require more medical services. Industrywide, 3.5 million healthcare workers will be needed to fill new jobs in the U.S. from 2016-26, and 8.1 million additional healthcare workers will be needed to replace workers who leave the occupation or retire during that time period, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. There will be an especially high demand for nurses, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting the need for 1.1 million new registered nurses by 2022, according to the American Nurses Association.

Text-based interviewing

Indianapolis-based Community Health Network, a nonprofit health system with more than 200 care sites and affiliates in Indiana, is working to address this growing need by using text messaging to recruit nurses and other workers.

Through Canvas, a text-based interviewing and recruiting platform, 22 recruiters respond to applications from job candidates with a text. The candidate may text back and answer any questions about their application, and then may end up scheduling an on-site interview or phone call, reports the Indianapolis Star.

Recruiters send one message to multiple candidates and have standard responses ready for frequently asked questions.

In the past, Community Health Network primarily used traditional recruitment methods, such as job boards and email marketing. However, it sought a faster and more efficient way to contact, source and recruit candidates through a mobile device in real time, according to Scott Sendelweck, the network's human resources digital marketing manager. With that in mind, hospital officials began looking at potential vendor partners. Community Health Network began using Canvas in May.

Since that decision, the network has garnered more responses from candidates. One hundred emails from a recruiter might draw a response rate of 50 percent, while the response rate with 100 text messages is as high as 87.5 percent.

"In a traditional [recruiting] method, the candidate applies, and the recruiter picks up the phone [or emails]. That means potentially days between applying and having a conversation with us. Text messaging allows us to have immediate contact and feedback instantaneously," said Mr. Sendelweck.

"As soon as we started using Canvas in late May, we started to see faster turn-around times with candidate communication, interview setup and hires. Our recruitment process became faster and more efficient."

Community Health Network, which is the first healthcare system in Indiana to use text-based recruiting to attract nurses and other caregivers, has hired nearly 100 workers using Canvas over a two-month period. Its goal moving forward is to shorten the recruiting process by weeks. 

Signing bonuses

Another nurse recruiting method used by healthcare organizations is financial incentives. Aurora, Colo.-based UCHealth, a 10-hospital, nonprofit health system that operates over 150 clinics across Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska, in March began offering nurse recruits relocation allowances and signing bonuses of up to $10,000, in addition to up to $4,000 annually to invest in continuing education.

The system has specifically focused on hiring nurses in its major operating rooms, predominantly at University of Colorado Hospital in metro Denver, due to increased operating room patient volume, the addition of four new operating rooms and other growth, according to Kathy Howell, RN, chief nursing executive for UCHealth and chief nursing officer for University of Colorado Hospital.

She said UCHealth has made significant strides toward filling this need, largely due to the bonuses and a generous benefits package. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, UCHealth hired 59 operating room nurses in the Denver metro market, up from 37 in fiscal year 2017.

UCHealth has also developed a career transition program to place non-operating room experienced nurse recruits into a perioperative course so they are competent in the operating room.

"We feel it's been successful," Ms. Howell said of the bonuses. "We don't utilize the recruitment bonus in all our markets, just where the significant demand is. It continues today, and we still have it as part of recruitment strategy."

She said UCHealth will continue to analyze its recruitment strategies monthly, particularly as it adds more operating rooms and opens new hospitals in Highlands Ranch and Greeley, Colo., in 2019. The system has 558 full-time and part-time positions open for nurses, with at least 200 of those related to the new hospitals.

Ms. Howell said UCHealth is also using technology to ramp up its nurse recruitment efforts. The system is conducting more virtual initial interviews with potential nurse hires and recruiting via social media. The system also continues its Traveler RN program, which allows nurses to work at different UCHealth facilities for up to a year for a flat salary and housing stipend. About 40 percent of UCHealth's traveler nurses become full-time employees.

Additionally, she said, the system is embarking on an assessment of nurses with two to five years of experience to see why they stay with the system and what other retention strategies it may need to deploy.

"We don't have an answer yet [on nurse recruitment and retainment], but that's one of our strategic priorities for this year — to develop creative methods to retain nurses that would be beneficial to all nurses at that level in their career," she said.


More articles on workforce: 
5 findings on hospitals' employee health benefits
Healthcare adds nearly 17,000 jobs in July, but growth slower than in June, May
Florida health career fair set for Aug. 22

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