Healthcare HR Week 2024: Advocacy & Support for Professionals

One of the eternal challenges of any healthcare HR department is recruitment and retention.  The average hospital averages a 100 percent turnover rate every five years, which hits employer bottom lines hard. In 2021 alone, the average hospital lost $7.1 million due to turnover.

While keeping up with demand is always a hurdle in healthcare contexts simply due to the nature of population growth, the havoc wreaked on healthcare workers by Covid-19 led to a substantial exodus of employees, vastly shrinking the pool of experienced candidates for healthcare organizations to choose from.

Overall, the worst of the crisis has passed, with the days of ICUs bursting at capacity fortunately over. However, the aftermath is still playing out in hospitals and clinics. Experts are calling it a new era in healthcare, which will be defined by a catching-up period. The demand for non-urgent healthcare, such as elective procedures, is surging as individuals who postponed care during the public health emergency seek treatment.

Keeping up with demand in the current healthcare HR landscape can require a sense of creativity, especially with healthcare workers spread thin. Healthcare HR Week is March 18-22, 2024. Read on to learn the strategies and experiences of two distinguished experts.

Meet the Experts

Lisa O’Connor RN, MS, BSN, senior managing director at FTI: O’Connor is a senior managing director in the healthcare business transformation practice at FTI Consulting. She has over 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry. 

O’Connor consults with healthcare clients on operational strategy, executive leadership and governance, clinical quality improvement, risk management, operations, disaster preparedness, physician relationships, and many other key executive leadership responsibilities.

Sue Swan, SVP of people at Summus: Swan has served in HR leadership positions at companies across industries for over a decade. She joined virtual specialty care platform Summus in 2022 and rose to SVP in 2024. There, she partners with the executive team on leadership and strategic initiatives for the organization. 

Her specialties include talent acquisition, employee relations, HR software utilization, and performance management. 

Perfecting Recruiting

Being “ghosted” by recruiters has become a trending topic among job seekers on social media, largely within the tech industry where mass layoffs are rampant and competition for jobs is high. The overabundance of candidates can mean that applicants slip through the cracks despite recruiters’ best efforts.

However, in the healthcare sector—where qualified candidates are hot commodities—some job seekers have the same experience with the hiring process, which flummoxes job applicants and HR managers alike. “It’s interesting, you can hear, anecdotally, sometimes applicants say, ‘I applied for said job, I’m qualified, but nobody ever called me,’” says O’Connor. “And those kinds of things are hard to hear in the environment where there are a lot of vacancies.”

According to O’Connor, these oversights largely happen due to under-resourcing in HR departments. While frontline workers have rightly been spotlighted for the working conditions they faced during Covid-19, healthcare HR professionals were also stressed by poor morale, high turnover, the extra burden of facilitating policy changes like mask mandates, and navigating worker strikes. 

While the waters are calming substantially, the continued turbulent state of the healthcare sector could be contributing to errors in recruiting tasks like corresponding with candidates. 

According to a 2023 study by Findem and Karmacheck, seven in ten recruiters said they have missed out on top candidates due to inefficient hiring processes, whether it’s due to scheduling issues, slow screening, or inefficient communications. While these mistakes are human, they are not lost on potential employees, who can interpret spotty communication in the recruitment process as a red flag. Nearly three-fourths of job seekers say they consider the smoothness of an interview process when deciding whether to accept a position, according to a 2023 report by Chronify.

That’s why Swan emphasizes portraying organizational culture from the first interactions with candidates: “Really, just give them as much information as possible about the role and your process so that the expectations are set … and so that they’re completely engaged from the get-go,” says Swan.

That means laying out a timeline from the beginning for how candidates should expect the interview process to unfold, being responsive in correspondence, and keeping candidates in the loop throughout the hiring process, Swan adds.

Leveraging New-and-Improved Software

While the use of AI in healthcare organizations has so far been primarily aimed at healthcare delivery, newer software can also be a major boon to HR departments. “With recruiting, it is extremely valuable [to use software] to navigate and filter candidates. I think that’s where technology is valuable,” says Swan.

“We’ve had wonderful success with building pipelines, staying in touch with candidates here at Summus that aren’t the right fit for a job today, but we’ve kept engaged with them and hired them a couple months later when we find the right fit.”

While software’s ability to reduce repetitive or time-consuming tasks can be helpful, Swan recommends using it to save time for more important tasks—not a replacement for correspondence with job candidates. “Technology is great until it’s not,” she says. “Where you can run into an issue is that you … need to build a personal connection with someone [in the hiring process] in order for them to feel heard and for you to really get the full scope of who they are.”

That’s a task not replaceable with automation. Outside of recruiting, some innovative AI-based tools can use employee data to detect a higher risk of burnout, which can “help [HR professionals] intervene ahead of time versus when it’s too late and people have given their notice,” says O’Connor.

These AI-based tools, such as Erudit and ActivTrak, remove the time-consuming aspect of performing these predictive analytics manually, helping HR professionals stay ahead of the curve in terms of keeping employees happy.

“The other places it’s being used is in capacity management where you can anticipate trends in volume, which then can lead to [improving] scheduling,” says O’Connor. QGenda Capacity is one such example. The software can anticipate busy periods based on historical data, which enables HR professionals to optimize scheduling. In turn, this can help prevent capacity overload, which is a major cause of burnout and turnover in healthcare environments.

Modernizing Perks and Benefits

Many healthcare organizations are boosting their appeal to candidates by updating their perks and benefits packages. A successful recipe for employee satisfaction that O’Connor has observed from working with healthcare clients is offering flexible scheduling when possible. New software tools make this easier for HR departments to coordinate.

For example, software like ScheduleFlex, designed for nurses, notifies workers when there are open shifts and allows employees to trade shifts with or without manager approval (depending on customizable settings).

“[Such software] gives transparency to everybody in the schedule to look and see, ‘Oh, well there’s a hole here. I could work this day instead of that day,’ and put requests in a way that is more automated and gives more real-time feedback,” says O’Connor.

“Having that kind of control over schedules, although they’re not 100 percent guaranteed, really allows people to participate in that process more and makes them satisfied because scheduling means a lot for folks.” Additionally, strong healthcare benefits remain a top priority for employees, but many employers are still lacking in this fundamental area.

While reducing costs by opting for less expensive healthcare network plans is tempting to leadership, unsurprisingly, these plans often come with a limited number of participating providers. According to a 2023 survey by KFF, one in ten firms offering health benefits in 2023 reported offering at least one plan that they considered “narrow” in terms of provider availability.

This results in longer wait times for employees to see in-network providers, Swan says, and can tarnish an organization’s reputation among job seekers, undercutting an organization’s appeal compared to other employers.

Swan says the value of virtual specialty care is “truly coming to light” due to its convenience and ability to shorten wait times for doctor’s visits. “It ties back in with being able to connect with [a provider] in a short period of time,” she says. Most people, when they don’t feel well, want a response right away. And it’s really important to be able to get that responsiveness and address whatever issue there is.”

According to a 2023 survey of HR leaders by Summus (where Swan is SVP of People) more than a third of HR leaders believe that virtual specialty care could address employee needs when it comes to having a choice of specialists, promote a wider range of care options, and ease of access to specialty care.

Another benefit structuring strategy that has become more popular is giving employees a choice of which benefits they would like to utilize, O’Connor says. “This current generation doesn’t necessarily look toward retirement benefits or certain other benefits that people in my age group would look to be important to them,” says O’Connor. “So HR departments being flexible in terms of what benefits folks can sign up for [can be attractive].”

This model is often referred to as a “cafeteria style” benefit structure, which allows employees to designate a portion of their pre-tax salary to pay for certain expenses, such as child care or dental work. But even smaller perks can add to the overall appeal of a healthcare organization. “Some places have put in place some concierge-type niceties,” says O’Connor. “Even simple things like having food trucks come around on certain days in a hospital … can make the work environment feel a little more joyful for people.”

“They want better work-life balance; they want to make it a great work experience,” says Swan. “And so offering these [perks] up to be competitive is important.”

Investing in People

Like members of any industry, healthcare professionals seek challenges and growth opportunities at work. According to a 2022 survey by Deloitte, 42 percent of frontline clinicians find it difficult to change roles inside their organization and 33 percent say the option is not even on the table. Only a quarter of respondents said growth opportunities are available to them.

In an industry that is so regulated, providing growth opportunities can also mean contributing to employees’ education and training so that they have the credentials to advance in their careers.

Employers have responded to the call to action; tuition reimbursement programs have boomed in popularity with nearly 94 percent of healthcare employers providing such programs as of 2022. 

Relatedly, “We’re seeing that folks really want to work at the top of that license and training that they have,” says O’Connor. This idea is becoming increasingly popular in healthcare circles. It’s not only about utilizing the full scope of an employee’s education and training but also reallocating non-clinical tasks like paperwork and medical billing to more appropriate team members. “Organizations are doing much more work around the focus of what is that position… and designing it in a way that allows people to function to the top of their training,” says O’Connor. 

On a final note, attracting and retaining employees in the new healthcare landscape comes down to respect and transparency—not only within the hiring process but throughout an employee’s time spent at the organization.

“You want to come into a company and feel like they’re open, they’re transparent, they’re authentic, they’re sharing their information—nothing’s hidden behind a door,” says Swan.

Nina Chamlou

Nina Chamlou


Nina Chamlou is an avid writer and multimedia content creator from Portland, OR. She writes about aviation, travel, business, technology, healthcare, and education. You can find her floating around the Pacific Northwest in diners and coffee shops, studying the locale from behind her MacBook.

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