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New Year, New Rules for Recruiting Healthcare Workers, Leaders

 |  By Lena J. Weiner  
   January 09, 2015

To replace aging leaders, hospitals and health systems are more open than ever to executive candidates from backgrounds outside of healthcare. Methods of interviewing candidates and retaining clinical employees are also changing.

It's time to get back to work. Many organizations hire multiple positions in January, so now is a good time to take the temperature of the job market, economic climate, and trends in healthcare to get a good idea what the recruiting and hiring scene will be like in 2015.

"We're seeing an aging out of C-suite executives," says says Kimberly Smith, FACHE, board vice chair and managing partner for the eastern region with the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. She's seen a lot of CFOs retire over the past year, which is true across most career capstone roles as baby boomers begin to retire, she notes.

New Rules for Leadership Searches
To replace aging execs, hospitals are more open than ever to executive candidates from backgrounds outside healthcare. Popular backgrounds will include human resources, business development, communications, and hospitality, as healthcare organizations seek to distinguish themselves from the competition through patient experience and learn new skills from candidates who have experience in other industries.

A more important factor will be a candidate's previous employer, Smith believes.

"Organizations are looking for candidates who worked for companies that are on 'best places to work lists'; companies with strong reputations… [organizations with] a customer focus mentality and tradition of breeding leaders." What matters most, she says, is that the candidate has the right set of values, and has a history of working for organizations with strong values.

As older executives retire, their replacements won't have a lot of time to get up to speed. "Search committees are looking for 'fully formed executives,'" says Smith. "They want someone who has already fully arrived, has all the necessary skill sets and competencies. These organizations have no desire to nurture or groom these leaders—they must have someone who can do it all from day one."

A World of Possibilities for Clinicians
For ambitious MDs and RNs, the world is their oyster this year, says Smith.

"[Recruitment for clinicians will] certainly be very competitive at the executive level. At staff level—I think it's hard to say, there is lots of variability by specialty. Primary care, for example, is a hot commodity, as are advance practice nurses and physician assistants."

While supply and demand are roughly equal for entry level nursing jobs, there aren't enough nursing leaders to go around, Smith believes. Many hospitals are at risk of losing their nurse leaders to colleges and universities, who seek leaders who can teach the next generation of nurses. Hospitals will have to remain competitive to hold on to their nurse leaders, says Smith.

While Smith believes the traditional role of CEO "is in decline," physician leaders—including physician CEOs—are about to get hot, along with other physician-executive roles.

"This is most common in New England, but pretty prevalent everywhere in the United States, especially in academic centers and community hospitals," Smith says. Physician and nursing leaders are likely to see opportunities open up for roles in operations management, patient experience officer roles, and various executive jobs.

A Virtual World
Let's say you operate a hospital in New York City. You are doing your first round of interviews, and several of your candidates hail from the west coast. Do you fly them out for this round?

While you probably would have five years ago, this is no longer as common, says Smith. "To fly a candidate across the country for first interview just doesn't make sense for some organizations." Instead, many organizations now make use of live video interviewing, either using proprietary interviewing software or simply using free services available to consumers such as Skype or Google Hangouts.

"My personal preference is to see [the candidates in person], but it's not always possible, especially for physicians with practices or who already hold leadership roles," said Smith.

"It wouldn't surprise me if [video interviewing] continues to pick up," agrees Kenneth Hertz, FACMPE, Principal at the Medical Group Management Association, who says it's becoming standard practice to do a video meet up even for the second round of interviews if one or more candidates aren't local.

And, adds Smith, once the position is filled, that role might be filled remotely. There is no question that telemedicine programs are about to accelerate. "More of my clients talk about it. It's really grown exponentially… It's difficult to recruit deeply experienced people for these roles, but more physicians with innovative, creative mindsets will begin looking for these opportunities.

Following a trend set in recent years, any increases in salary are likely to be modest. "I think they'll go up slightly. We're also seeing more and more transparency around compensation," says Smith.

Hertz agrees. "If any, there will be modest increases," he says. "We're going to need to get a couple months into the year to see how the country reacts to the new Congress before making those kinds of predictions."

And recruiters should not expect the same raise in budget for their searches. Both Smith and Hertz agree that organizations will expect strong results for searches through technology tools, from LinkedIn to complex candidate management software. "The days of massive direct mail campaigns… are probably behind us," Hertz says.

Ultimately, 2015 is a year ripe with both opportunities and challenges for both recruiters and job seekers in healthcare—especially for organizations and candidates who are willing to think outside the box and try something new.

"I think the outlook is good," says Hertz. "Our success is limited only by our imagination in healthcare."

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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