“It’s so frustrating. What can we do?”
Several months ago, I had lunch with Linda Reed, CIO at Atlantic Health. After spending a few minutes catching up, our conversation turned to the health IT workforce shortage, and I can remember seeing the weariness on her face as she talked about how difficult it is to hold on to good people. Like many health systems located in metropolitan areas, Atlantic Health is forced to compete for top talent — not just with other hospitals, but with vendors that offer attractive salaries and, in many cases, better hours.
And the dilemma is by no means limited to those located near big cities. Barbara Riddell, CIO of Atlantic General Hospital, spoke to healthsystemCIO.com about the challenges of convincing top IT talent to move to the eastern shore of Maryland, an area that is somewhat desolate during the winter months. Oh yeah, and they’d be earning less money than they could command in other areas.
It’s a tough sell.
All over the country, CIOs and other leaders are experiencing the same thing. The pool of qualified candidates with health IT experience is simply too small, and it’s a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon.
“There is really not enough IT talent in the healthcare industry to continue to move at the pace we’ve been moving,” said Mike Rozmus, CIO at Rockingham Memorial Hospital, in an interview last year. “It’s concerning.”
What inevitably happens is the most qualified people are identified and lured away with promises of higher salaries, more vacation time, or a snazzier title. Whether it’s from another department, another health system, or another industry, poaching seems to be the go-to method for filling positions.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not knocking it. Most of us (including myself) have at one time poached or been poached. No employer can realistically expect a staff member who is being offered a better package to stay put.
The problem is that poaching is not a long-term solution; it’s a Band-Aid.
What needs to happen is simple. Rather than continue to poach each other’s best people, leaders need to find a way to expand the pool of health IT talent. And as I recently learned, the Tennessee HIMSS Chapter has developed a framework to do just that.
“It seems like we’re just stealing each other’s resources,” said Mark Gilliam, CIO at Ardent Health Services, in our interview. Through its workforce initiative, Tennessee HIMSS is looking to build the talent pool by identifying untapped resources (such as college graduates who don’t have an IT degree but may be interested in the field); educating people about the robust IT job market; and working with universities to create internships and improve the health IT curriculum.
“We’re doing education, we’re capturing the resources, and we’re figuring out how to take someone and retool them,” said Gilliam. “There are well over 1,000 open IT positions in Nashville and the surrounding areas. We’re all out there looking for them, and to think that we’re just going to fill them by the traditional recruiting methods just isn’t going to work anymore.”
It makes total sense. It’s like when a baseball team finally realizes that instead of going after high-priced free agents, a better strategy is to focus on building the farm system and growing their own star players.
Tennessee HIMSS’ leaders didn’t like what they were seeing, so they addressed the root of the problem and developed a practical solution. To me, that’s innovation. Too often, discussion around innovation focuses solely on technological solutions, when in fact, that definition is far too limiting.
I realize that the workforce initiative isn’t the answer to every organization’s staffing issues, but it presents another viable option to hospitals that can’t compete for talent with the giant health systems. Of course, there’s always going to be poaching, but at least with an expanded pool of talent, there will also be new players to draft.