Hiring For Today's Healthcare

A physician shortage, new technologies and shifting reimbursement policies require employees who can think critically and adapt quickly.

The future of healthcare lies in the quality of its people. This creates a significant challenge – and opportunity – for industry leaders. It’s clear that the talent supply of the past will not meet the demands of tomorrow. With payments tied to patient satisfaction and quality, a lack of clinicians to care for an aging population and shrinking reimbursement rates, healthcare organizations need talent that can successfully, and quickly, adapt.

Healthcare organizations should hire employees with more than just the usual competencies, degrees and certifications. Today, healthcare leaders must identify, develop and acquire employees with new skills – skills that aren’t learned in medical school and weren’t required to succeed in the traditional, volume-based system. This new requirement lets healthcare leaders create a strategic advantage by effectively building and harnessing the power of their people.


First, organizations must create a culture of engagement. Even the most highly motivated employees can derail an organization’s success if they are not engaged by their leaders and empowered to make decisions and drive innovation. Unhappy and dissatisfied employees not only decrease the productivity of those around them; they can also cost an organization millions of dollars when they decide to jump ship. In fact, a recent study by the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration estimated that reducing turnover by just 1% could save an organization as much as $1 million per year.

Most critically, with an increase in hospital consolidation and the acquisition of physician practices, hospital leaders must:

  • Engage newly employed physicians from the onset of hire to ensure they feel valued and connected to the organization and its culture
  • Help the new physicians adapt to the organization
  • Build support systems for these physicians.

Employee engagement can lead to improved patient satisfaction, better health outcomes and lower costs.


While employee engagement is critical, it’s not enough on its own to drive success in today’s healthcare environment. Organizations also need employees who can extend themselves beyond the walls of traditional silos and collaborate across functions, departments and venues to facilitate patient care. Finding talent that can work effectively in a collaborative environment can be challenging in an industry that has often been driven by individual achievement.

Victoria Rich, Chief Nursing Officer at Penn Medicine, an academic medical center at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Patrick J. Brennan, Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President at Penn Medicine, understood the problem when they brought together the chief medical officers, chief nursing officers and hospital leaders at Penn Medicine to acknowledge the organizational silos and lack of collaboration between parties.

“We weren’t getting to where we needed to be in terms of elevating care,” Rich said. “The first step was to get everyone in one room and set a simple goal around accountability. Regardless of our roles, we each had to agree to break tradition and create a culture of collaborative care.”

Rich and Brennan then interviewed 24 key stakeholders and leaders from the hospital on what was most important to them. They later asked the same question of 100 clinicians, physicians, pharmacists, nurses and therapists throughout the hospital. The results were compiled into a new blueprint for collaborative care with the ambitious goal of eliminating preventable deaths and 30-day readmissions by July 1, 2014. To reach this goal, Penn Medicine established a unit-based clinical leadership (UBCL) model that brought together collaborative teams of physicians, nurse managers and quality coordinators in patient units at each of Penn Medicine’s hospitals. Working together, UBCL teams are responsible for innovative quality improvements that help ensure the highest level of care.

Specifically, the UCBL model was designed to increase emphasis on four main components and on working together to meet the goals set for each component: 

Risk stratification. Goal: To identify patients at greatest risk for readmission and take actions to reduce or eliminate those risks. Steps: Use new-age technologies to track patients and reduce readmission rates. These include (1) the “risk flag” tool, which is installed in a patient’s electronic medical record and allows caregivers to calculate a patient’s likelihood for readmission based on an extensive set of personal health variables, and (2) the “daily readmissions report,” which provides comprehensive information to help Penn Medicine better understand trends and patterns for newly readmitted patients.

Planning for post-discharge needs. Goal: To listen to and learn from patients and create discharge goals and plans that reflect their unique needs and circumstances. Steps: Increase emphasis on planning for post-discharge needs by including nurses, physicians, nurse practitioners, social workers, pharmacists and others as identified by each UBCL team in daily interdisciplinary rounds.

Patient and family education. Goal: To make sure that patients and their families have the information they need after discharge to stay well. Steps: Increase emphasis on medication management by adding a unit-based clinical pharmacist to each unit. Develop a patient and family advisory committee. Penn Medicine also films classes and has them available on in-house iPads for patients who are discharged between the regularly scheduled classes.

Strong discharge communications. Goal: To make strong discharge communications a top priority. Steps: Use electronic discharge summaries that enable the electronic exchange of comprehensive patient reports between Penn Medicine’s hospitals and other facilities, patients’ physicians and the patients themselves. Penn Medicine also established patient care connectors – registered nurses who follow patients for seven days after discharge to help with family support, ensure patients make necessary follow-up appointments, and see that patients are taking medications properly.

“It was important to get everyone on the same page and focus on enhancing the quality of patient care,” Rich said. “With the new blueprint in place, we predict accomplishing our goal and higher patient satisfaction scores in 2014.”

Critical Thinking

As the pace of change in the healthcare industry accelerates, healthcare organizations also need employees who can think critically and solve problems. Healthcare professionals must be able to think on their feet, respond quickly to their patients’ needs and seek out greater efficiencies. Being able to think critically while following best practice guidelines and standards not only helps improve the quality of care, but inspires efficiency and cost-effective improvements. In addition, intentionally hiring for and filling departments with a combination of styles and approaches drives innovation and diverse thinking, which results in better patient outcomes.

Technologically Savvy

Employees who are willing to embrace technological changes are critical to the future of healthcare. With electronic medical records and technological advances constantly changing healthcare delivery, organizations will need technologically savvy, eager learners who can quickly and successfully embrace these changes.

High-Potential Talent

To effect change, healthcare executives and HR officers must agree on the competencies critical to their organization’s success. Then, these competencies must be incorporated into the organization’s broad human capital strategies, such as:

Design training and development programs to groom talent. HR leaders should create training programs designed to develop critical skills among employees. Creating enterprise-level training programs, for example, can help employees gain a broader perspective of their organization’s vision and purpose, and promote collaborative behavior.

Develop recruitment processes that test for required skills. HR leaders should evaluate candidates for desired characteristics during the interview process by developing screening tools that identify candidates who are more likely to, for example, think critically or collaborate. These traits can also be revealed in behavior-based interviewing and reference checks.

Promote and reward desired behaviors. HR leaders should encourage, measure and incentivize employees who exhibit the behaviors needed for the organization to succeed. This can be done through performance evaluations, reward plans, or recognition programs that send a powerful signal about the importance the organization places on these core competencies.

Maintaining a Patient Focus

Ultimately, the most important factor in the success of a healthcare organization is its employees’ focus and passionfor coordinated, patient-centric care. Without a strong desire to improve patient outcomes, hospitals and health systems cannot excel. Hospital leaders have the unique opportunity to set an example, develop their current employees and make sure their new hires fit within a patient-centric culture.

Tim Rice, CEO at Cone Health System in Greensboro, NC, set an example when redesigning the pediatric health services unit. He brought together the doctors and nurses from the unit and asked both parties to collaborate, leaving behind their individual goals and priorities.

To ensure the patient came first, Rice placed a baby doll on the table as the centerpiece to every departmental meeting. “We wanted to set the stage and make sure everyone was focused on the bigger picture,” Rice said. “Oftentimes, we get too caught up in what’s best for us. We should always be asking ourselves what’s best for the patient.”

Succeeding in the Future of Healthcare

High-performing talent is the solution to the rising costs and challenges facing the healthcare industry. Organizations that take a disciplined approach and develop, attract and retain talent with these new competencies will improve patient outcomes, drive revenues and succeed.