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Soldiers in the Hospital

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A Virginia health system looks to a partnership with the Army Reserve to help fill staffing needs.

Healthcare organizations around the country have been forced to develop new employee recruitment strategies as the supply of new talent dwindles. In Virginia, Inova Health System has turned to an unlikely source to help combat the staffing shortage: the U.S. military.

The eight-hospital system has joined the U.S. Army Reserve in a pilot program that aims to "ensure a competent work force" by allowing Inova and the Reserves to share soldiers trained in military occupational and clinical support areas of the healthcare field, says Daniel Nichols, director of system recruitment and human resources information systems at Inova. The program, called Military to Medicine, includes soldiers trained in radiology, surgical occupations, pharmacy, and respiratory care, among other areas. "We have to be more creative to fill staffing needs," he says.

Inova is the first health system to join the program, which Nichols says will serve a dual purpose. Medical schools are not producing enough healthcare workers to fill hospital systems' growing staffing needs, he says, so the initiative could prove invaluable in filling health system openings. But Military to Medicine will also provide employment options for the thousands of reservists who are completing training in medical-related fields; the program will allow the reservists to utilize their training and continue honing their skills, Nichols says.

Virginia's large military community made the program "a natural fit" for Inova, Nichols says, but the program is not without potential challenges. In particular, the transition from a leadership role in the Army Reserves to a "floor level" employee in a civilian hospital system could be a difficult one for some new staffers who struggle to shift from one role into another. So far, however, the program generally "hasn't really been a tough sell," Nichols says.

Military to Medicine was developed, in part, by U.S. Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Lie-Ping Chang, who served in the military's medical command since the early 1980s and was trained in a family medical practice, says Nichols, who has also seen staffing challenges from both angles—he is an active lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve. The Army Reserve is looking to eventually build the program to a national level, and even expand to assist military spouses and injured reservists. For now, though, Military to Medicine remains in its early stages. Nichols says Inova and the Army Reserve hope to recruit at least 10 new hires by the end of the year.

Justine Murphy

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