As healthcare IT systems catch up to 21st century technology, so should our hiring practices. We believe that those who succeed in this brave new world of healthcare will be those who are smart and courageous enough to leverage hiring practices that reflect the innovative technology we are busy implementing. Further, we believe those who do not take a hard look at their IT hiring practices will leave themselves in a very vulnerable position as the competition sweeps up all the good industry talent.
An outdated approach
This July, HIMSS Analytics released its first healthcare IT hiring practices survey, HIMSS Workforce Survey, the most recent of many surveys underscoring the staffing shortage. Hidden in the middle of the report is what I believe to be the crux of the hiring challenge:
Both healthcare executives and vendors described the types of individuals they would hire for their open positions using a one to seven scale, in which the number one indicated "not at all important" and seven represented "highly important." In summary, employers were most likely (6.12 rating) to hire seasoned professionals with relevant industry experience, highly likely (5.74 rating) to hire qualified current employees, less likely (4.44 rating) to hire seasoned professionals with experience in another industry and least likely (3.96 rating) to hire recent graduates. The report also mentioned that 43% of the respondents stated that lack of qualified talent is a barrier to their staffing.
The survey generally indicates hiring managers in healthcare IT continue to think industry experience equates to qualified talent.
Another relevant study completed in January 2013 by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity indicates that almost half of employed US college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests require less than a four-year college education. In addition, past and projected growth in college enrollments and the number of graduates exceeds the actual or projected growth in high-skilled jobs. This explains a key component of the nation's underemployment problem and its probable worsening in future years. Given this sobering data, the question is, why isn't the industry tapping more into a new pool of existing and available talent?
An Epic perspective
I spent seven years working in Implementation Services at Epic, which makes enterprise software for healthcare organizations. In my time there I led three large-scale implementations and participated in numerous others. This experience, both working with other Epic staff and working with healthcare IT staff from multiple organizations, gives me a unique perspective about what qualified and talented healthcare IT staffing looks like.
I believe Epic better understands how to hire more than most other healthcare IT organizations, which is reflected by the quality of the software, various industry ratings (KLAS, Gartner, HIMSS staging), the strong corporate culture, and the continued financial success of the company. Through rigorous testing, not only do they hire based on ability and cognitive intelligence, but they also evaluate personality to ensure the type of individuals they employ reflect Epic's strong corporate culture. Though Epic is often cited in the industry as having "green" staff, members of the Epic team tend to win over their customer counterparts because they have the emotional intelligence to build trusting relationships, the ability to quickly absorb industry knowledge, and the right skills to manage complex projects and tasks.
My advice on hiring (and keeping) the best:
- Look to those who are already succeeding at the hiring game. Organizations like Epic and The South Central Foundation (SCF), a Baldrige award winner in the healthcare category and developer of an innovative approach to recruiting and retention called the "Nuka Model" are able to attract and keep top talent. Both organizations take very different approaches to hiring and retention, but each model works for their different organizational goals and cultures. If you study organizations that seem to be hoarding all the good talent, my guess is you will find out that they have more innovative hiring practices.
- Look beyond years of experience. Epic hires bright, highly motivated people and does so in a way that is completely at odds with most healthcare organizations’ IT hiring practices. They hire smart people who are not necessarily sure what they want to do, people with degrees that are not overtly translating into a specific job, and people who otherwise may end up in a job below their skillset. While some organizations may pass over these resumes, Epic sees these candidates as full of potential. The diversity in college degrees represented at Epic is remarkable, and the organization actually uses this to its advantage by creating various venues for its employees to use those skills. For instance, Epic may hire someone with either a zoology (like me) or a theater degree as a project manager. The added bonus is that the employee with the theater degree will likely get to perform a musical number at Epic's annual User's Group Meeting! Taking this approach also means applicants will not be engrained in someone else’s corporate culture.
- Soft skills are harder to learn than technical skills. More than anything else, I suggest making sure your candidates have exceptional communication skills, are quick and life-long learners, and are customer service oriented. They should listen to the consumers of IT and work to meet their needs. Never underestimate the power of passion. While your new hires may not be passionate about healthcare IT, they may be passionate about making a difference. As an employer, you can help the right recruit channel his or her softer skills and goals into your mission and culture.
- Clear the path. Once you have hired, provide new recruits with clear expectations and a well-defined path. Notice I did not say "hand hold," but I do think it is important that you provide a clear route toward success. As SCF realized, "investing in staff training and development takes time and money, but the investment pays off in the long run." To reduce the time and money for training, start them out in entry-level positions, and give them time with operations so they can learn about their customers. Monitor progress and provide rewards (educational, developmental, monetary, and positional) for successes in short order to make sure you are keeping your top talent and not training those talented people for the competition.
- Reap the rewards. Using a more innovative approach will definitely be reflected in your bottom line. But lest we forget why healthcare IT exists, the real rewards are demonstrated in the high quality and low cost we should be able to deliver through our IT systems. After the industry spent so much effort and money implementing these systems to improve patient care, shouldn't their value be realized by the brightest talent out there? Healthcare IT will be important to us all, because whether we like it or not, we are all consumers of the healthcare industry. Don't we deserve to have energetic, creative people supporting it with an innovative approach?
Ultimately, taking this approach to hiring will lead to a blended pool of talent working together for the betterment of your end users. You more than likely already have a large pool of industry experts as employees; the key is opening your organization up to recruiting candidates who may not look like the obvious choice at first glance. Then partner your best seasoned people with your new hires so those new hires can absorb the industry knowledge and your organization's culture.
I feel fortunate to be part of such a rewarding industry, and I continue to be motivated by healthcare IT's ability to transform care. I owe much of my own success to innovative hiring practices that brought me in the door and onto my current path. I hope this advice brings others with my excitement and passion into this amazing industry.
Meg Grimes is a Senior Strategist of the Advisory Services Division for MedSys Group. She focuses on helping customers attain more value from their EHRs by identifying ways for improved workflow, adoption, and value realization.