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Jefferson Health S.E.A.L. RN Team Designed to Deploy Where It Is Most Needed

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   March 13, 2023

After less than a year, the special team has improved nurse staffing, patient care, and health system finances.

Much like the U.S. Navy SEALS go to where their services are necessary, Jefferson Health’s S.E.A.L. RN team deploys to areas of greatest need.

The Jefferson Health S.E.A.L. (Service, Excellence, Advocacy, Leadership) RN Team, which launched in May 2022 with an initial cohort of 25 nurses, is a flexible staffing resource of nurses who care for patients across Jefferson Health’s 18 hospitals in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

And, yes, the name is patterned after the Navy SEALS elite special operations forces.

“The name ‘S.E.A.L.’ team certainly draws on the concept that these nurses are meant to operate as a special workforce team deployed to hospitals where the staffing need is greatest on a weekly basis,” Andrew Thum, MSN, ML, RN, NE-BC, director of Nursing Workforce Operations for Jefferson Health, told HealthLeaders.

“S.E.A.L. nurses serve as leaders and ambassadors for Jefferson nursing as they work with different patient populations, nursing teams, providers, and leaders across our health system,” Thum said.

Recent events affecting staffing, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have prompted a transition from organization to employee-engaged workforce management, according to Thum, who co-authored the article, Building a Dynamic, Flexible Nursing Workforce: The Jefferson S.E.A.L. RN Team, which published in Nurse Leader.

“This change is imperative in evolving how organizations balance valuing their people with meeting operational needs,” Thum wrote. “Now is the time to engage and think differently in order to recruit and retain the best talent.”

How it works 

“Our SEAL nurses work primarily in one of three specialties which they select upon hire based on their experience: Medical-Surgical/Telemetry; Critical Care/Intermediate; or Emergency Services (ED),” Thum said.

Jefferson Health is exploring adding other specialties such as surgical services and respiratory therapy, according to Daniel Hudson, MSN, RN, CENP, vice president, Nursing Administration & Operations.

S.E.A.L. Team nurses are hired into one of three tiers:

  • Tier 1: deployed to two divisions within Jefferson Health
  • Tier 2: deployed to three divisions within Jefferson Health
  • Tier 3: deployed to all divisions across Jefferson Health

At the time of hiring, Tier 1 and Tier 2 S.E.A.L. nurses choose the divisions in which they wish to work and receive a base hourly salary that is incentivized depending on their tier selection. They also are eligible for shift differentials.

The S.E.A.L. nurses, who self-schedule in six-week periods, are required to work four weekend shifts per schedule and rotate in several holidays annually. Divisional staffing offices consult weekly with the S.E.A.L. Team leader to identify locations of greatest need and nurses are deployed divisionally based on these needs.

S.E.A.L. nurses also have full-time benefits including medical, paid time off, tuition reimbursement, and employer-matched retirement contributions.

“We offer S.E.A.L. nurses—like all Jefferson nurses—opportunities for ongoing continuing education,” Thum said. “We are in the process of launching a health system nursing clinical ladder program, which the S.E.A.L. team will be eligible for, that includes opportunities to engage nurses in their professional growth and development.”

The impact

The S.E.A.L. RN Team has positively affected staffing, patient care, and finances. 

“The nature of the S.E.A.L. role—working across so many different practice environments—is naturally intellectually stimulating, or so our S.E.A.L.s tell us,” Thum said.

On a weekly basis, the S.E.A.L. Team is meeting anywhere from 12%-16% of the health system’s proactively identified staffing needs, according to Thum’s article. Prior to the team’s implementation, these needs either went unfilled or were staffed with core staff overtime, premium paid shifts, and agency staff.

“The benefit of using our own S.E.A.L. nurses in lieu of external agency nurses to meet staffing needs has not only had a positive financial impact but it has also allowed us to ensure more consistent, higher-quality care for our patients as S.E.A.L. nurses are Jefferson nurses trained to our standards of excellent nursing practice,” Thum told HealthLeaders.

Indeed, “we are projecting to save millions of dollars annually by replacing agency RNs with S.E.A.L. RNs,” Hudson noted.

As the program grows, so will those cost savings. The initial plan was to have 100 S.E.A.L. RNs, but the new program has been so successful that Jefferson Health already has plans to boost that number.

“We have identified the benefit of this flexible type of nursing workforce for staff, patients, and hospital operations and, as such, we have begun an initiative to expand the team to 150 nurses over the next several fiscal year quarters,” Thum said. “We hope to have most of these nurses hired by the end of June 2023. At present, we have hired a total of 51 S.E.A.L. nurses.”

Reaching that staffing goal appears to easily be in reach, given the program’s popularity, Thum noted.

“The overwhelming interest in this program among internal and external partners has been very encouraging,” he said. “While we expected the program would be successful to some degree, we did not expect it to receive such intense interest and praise from patients, nurses, leaders, and professional colleagues across local and national healthcare organizations.”

“Now is the time to engage and think differently in order to recruit and retain the best talent.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: Jefferson Health


Jefferson Health nurse leaders are embracing employee-engaged workforce management with the S.E.A.L. RN Team.

The S.E.A.L. RN Team has positively affected staffing, patient care, and finances.

The eventual goal is to expand the S.E.A.L. RN team to 150 nurses.

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