Nurse Recruiting Gets Creative

June 16th, 2011


By , BSN, RN

It’s good to be in demand. Despite a weak economy and significant job losses in recent months in nearly every industry, healthcare continues to flourish. Hospitals, long-term care facilities and other ambulatory settings added over 17,000 jobs in May 2011, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Registered Nurses (RNs) are the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, and recruiting to fill these new positions is a full-time job all on its own. The days of putting an ad in the paper and picking from a host of applicants are gone. Now, nurse recruiters are challenged to find more incentives and more creative means to attract quality nurses who want the job.

As reported by CBS News, three hospitals in Boston, including Beth Israel Deconess Medical Center, have banded together to test a new program. The hospitals help lower-level workers earn a degree, free of charge. They are training “up from within.” Medical technicians are becoming RNs, food service employees are now lab techs, and virtually any employee with career aspirations can advance.

This is a new take on developing an environment that encourages education. It builds employee loyalty and allows the hospitals to literally grow their own nursing staff. It may take a few years to realize its full potential but, with 33 hospitals in the Boston area and with 6,500 jobs that need to be filled, it means they won’t all be competing for the same small skilled worker population.

Do You Know The Way To San Jose?

Moving West, the good news from California is that by 2014, the state will be short only 12,000 registered nurses. This number is an improvement over the 29,000 previously anticipated open positions by a study from the University of California San Francisco. California nurse recruiters are using increasingly creative tactics to attract caregivers to the coast, even as their medical centers vie for public support.

Back in 2004, San Jose Medical Center (SJMC) announced it would be closing up and relocating. Almost immediately the neighborhood began treating SJMC as if it was already out of business; however, the closure was not immediate and the hospital doors needed to stay open. To survive, the hospital devised a seemingly outlandish plan for promoting nurse recruitment and returning positive attention to the hospital.

From a pool of volunteers, 12 employees were persuaded to have their cars wrapped in vinyl. As moving advertisements covered in swirling designs and flowery artwork, the cars sported sayings like, “If your job ain't rocking, opportunity is knocking;" "My other car is an ER gurney;" and "I'd rather be rocking at SJMC." The drivers were picked by how far and in what direction they traveled to and from SJMC to reach the greatest number of people.

In six months, the San Jose volunteers achieved approximately 40 million impressions from other drivers, conversations at the gas pump, and sightings in parking lots. The toll-free number that appeared on the cars generated 12 to 15 calls per week to the hotline. The campaign helped to hire several nurses and also generated interest in other ancillary positions. The campaign also earned the hospital significant television and radio news coverage with an equivalent advertising value of $35,000 to $45,000.

Earn Your Dream Home

Riverside Community Hospital in southern California took a different approach with its recruitment efforts. The campaign, named "Dream Job, Dream House," refers to the prospect of purchasing a home for which the hospital would pay the closing costs (up to $12,000) in exchange for a two-year commitment to work at the hospital.

Word about the campaign was spread through brochures inviting nurses to attend job fairs and receive more information about the hospital. At the fairs, nurses were encouraged to enter a raffle to win the down payment on a house. Billboards were also constructed as an attempt to reach those who commute long distances to work.

Riverside received more than 500 entries as a result of the campaign, and 96 nurses were hired.

Beyond Bonuses

Money is often used to recruit new nurses. Sign-on bonuses are offered, sometimes up to $10,000. While the money is a legitimate attraction and comes with a contract typically lasting two to five years, many nurses move on after it expires. But the goal for hospitals is to recruit and keep staff.

Despite the nursing shortage, Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital in Yakima, Washington, has no problem attracting a steady stream of job candidates. “We’ve never offered nurses a sign-on bonus,” says Kathy Franz, the hospital’s director of human resources. “Sign-on bonuses typically keep nurses in their jobs for two years. Our goal is to attract candidates who want to work here for other reasons.”

Among those reasons are a supportive corporate culture, flexible shifts, opportunities for upward mobility and benefits that include a matching 401k, onsite child care and tuition reimbursement.

Recognizing that nurses have a life outside the hospital can make an employer more appealing. Programs that strive to add to the nurses' work/life balance can be used to attract new recruits. Offering a variety of shifts, not just "the straight eight" is a great idea. Hospitals offer 10-hour shifts giving employees that one extra day a week to run errands, go to the doctor or be a Girl Scout leader. Many hospitals have adopted the Baylor Plan, originally developed at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas to help alleviate the nursing shortage. The Baylor Plan allows nurses to work two-12 or -16-hour shifts on the weekend and receive full-time pay, leaving nurses' weeks open for a regular family life, attending school or even working another job.

In California, at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center, employees can tap free concierge services for help with dinner reservations, car repairs, mailing packages, catering and event planning, picking up and dropping off dry cleaning, and lawn and garden care. It's the "life" part of the balance. Discounts to local recreational events, health clubs and even theme parks and movie theaters add to the attraction of working at the facility.

In 2008, Scott & White Healthcare, located in Temple, TX, hired 906 people to fill nursing slots system wide, said Keith Minnis, director of recruiting and retention at Scott & White. They did not offer sign-on bonuses; instead, they rewarded their own employees $1,000 for referring an RN who comes on board. “We feel our employees are the best source of other great employees,” said Minnis.

Scott & White came up with another creative perk to entice nurses living farther away to commute. When gas prices peaked, the hospital began offering its RNs who live more than 50 miles outside of Temple and who are willing to work a 12-hour shift, a $75 gift card or the opportunity to spend the night at a local hotel. Minnis reports about 15 nurses still take advantage of that program.

All of these kinds of recruiting can work. My first hospital offered a sign-on bonus and paid for my move from Texas to Washington, D.C. The challenge for hospitals is to keep the job appealing and build employee loyalty. With programs focusing on education and job advancement and work/life balance hospitals are hanging on to those hard fought after nurses.

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