By Liz Bickley
Senior Vice President, Cielo Healthcare

Hire six healthcare professionals. It doesn’t sound like a tall order for us at Cielo Healthcare, where we regularly hire hundreds, even thousands, of employees for our clients – everyone from nurses, clinicians and physicians to administrative staff, custodians and cafeteria workers. But this partnership presented a special healthcare Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) challenge that called on us to be innovative, resourceful, and delve deep into our talent acquisition expertise.

Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC), a comprehensive healthcare system that operates 41 village clinics, five sub-regional clinics and one regional hospital in southwestern Alaska, turned to us to help with their clinical hiring. And while Alaska is certainly a popular tourist destination, thanks to its rugged beauty and abundance of outdoor activities, The Last Frontier isn’t really known as a destination for healthcare industry professionals. This is especially true in an extremely tight healthcare labor market, where candidates have more choices available to them than ever before. Getting people to work and live in Bethel, a town of 6,400 that is not on any road system and is only accessible by floatplane, meant finding professionals seeking something unique.

Frozen part of the river in Bethel (where the transport ships come in during the summer months – this is near by the port of Bethel)  Healthcare recruitment
View of the frozen Kuskokwim River in Bethel, where the transport ships come in during the summer months

It’s the kind of job where if you’re an Advanced Practice Provider (APP), you only find out at the beginning of the week what village and location you’re going to have to travel to. You need to be comfortable trekking in the wild on your own, sleeping on a cot for several days at a time, and going without the creature comforts of modern life.

Defining the ideal healthcare professional

“We knew we had our work cut out for us,” said Abbey Marquette, Delivery Lead - Recruitment, who led our team. “We had to target our search strategically and go after candidates for whom this wasn’t going to be a brand new concept. That meant finding healthcare professionals with experience working in extremely remote locations or with an underprivileged population. Maybe they were in the Peace Corps, had done some mission work, or are military veterans. We wanted people who had an idea of what they would be getting into, who would see this as an opportunity and an experience.”

Our recruiters interviewed current YKHC employees to gain valuable insights into what drew them to their jobs and why they stayed. For many, it was being able to pursue their hobbies of travel and adventure while also working on complex cases and treating conditions not often found in more traditional settings. Others cited the incredible sense of camaraderie that came with serving such tight-knit and unique communities, including often getting to work with several generations of the same family.

Aerial view from Napakiak, Alaska (population 367), near Bethel

Getting creative with employer branding in a remote location

Abbey’s team also tapped into Alaska’s popularity as a setting for adventure-themed reality TV shows such as Alaskan Bush People, Alaska: The Last Frontier, Gold Rush, and Life Below Zero, just to name a few. While the shows don’t always provide a realistic portrayal of day-to-day life in Alaska, the exposure was enough to instill some excitement and familiarity for possible candidates. Abbey knew her team had to be creative as they went about building rapport and trust with candidates, all of whom would have to relocate and face a drastic change in lifestyle.

“It’s a place and a way of life that really resonates with people and captures their imaginations,” Abbey said. “So while we weren’t offering conventional jobs, we knew that there are people out there who were really going to connect with this opportunity.”

A memorable candidate experience

A great example of this is when YKHC brought in a dental hygienist from south Florida for an on-site interview. Sourced by Cielo Healthcare, the opportunity to explore a completely different environment and community appealed to him. The interview process, which included the hospital director hosting the candidate at his home for a meal, won over both the candidate and his wife, who also happened to be a dental hygienist.

“They said that they were blown away and left completely speechless by the hospitality and friendliness they were shown,” Abbey said. “And the feeling was mutual, the organization really loved this couple. So that led to both of them being offered jobs, and a month later they relocated and began their new life in Bethel.”

Other candidates had similar experiences, learning more about Bethel and the life they would lead in Alaska, and eventually coming onboard.

Healthcare RPO done right

From the initial batch of six hires, Cielo Healthcare has gone on to help source, attract and engage candidates for more than 30 positions at YKHC – RNs, LPNs, behavioral health clinicians, dental hygienists, pharmacists and APPs – with hires now coming at the rate of 8 to 10 per month.

Rural, remote areas present unique talent acquisition challenges, but they also have the greatest need. For us, finding candidates for healthcare roles isn’t just about filling positions, it also means making sure the people of a community get the care and services they need. Whether that’s in the wilds of Alaska or the small town down the road, we have the proven, creative strategies and resourceful recruiters to get the job done.


Connect with Liz Bickley on LinkedIn.