When I was starting out, I applied for an IT infrastructure position at a hospital and was called in for an interview. I was currently working as an infrastructure support engineer for a company that was being acquired, and there was a lot of uncertainty around whether they would retain the local staff. I vividly remember showing up for the interview and being called back to an office. I sat down, and the very first question the interviewer asked me was, “Do you have any healthcare experience,” I answered honestly and told them I did not. They responded with, “Well, we’re looking for people with healthcare experience,” and proceeded to end the interview right then and there. Nowhere in the job posting did it mention this as a qualification. The entire experience left me thinking that healthcare was an exclusive club that was very difficult to get into, and created an unfavorable impression of healthcare IT.
Fast-forward to today, and it is clear that technology jobs are in demand across the country, regardless of sector.
The reality is technology talent is in demand everywhere, and we are all competing for it. In many ways, healthcare still has the mindset that only individuals with direct experience can contribute to the success of the organization. That narrow thinking must be addressed if we are going to compete with other industries for top talent.
The largest competition for staffing is no longer the hospital or health system “down the street,” but rather, other organizations that need individuals with healthcare experience. Whether it is large companies such as Facebook, Google, or Amazon, or small startups, healthcare is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country today. CMS predicts healthcare will be nearly 20 percent of the entire GDP for the U.S. within the next ten years.
Even apart from the booming healthcare industry, many IT jobs can cross over to other sectors. For example, a security, cloud, network, storage, or server engineer can work anywhere; those skills continue to be in high demand. Healthcare IT is no longer an exclusive club, nor can it continue to operate in a bubble and expect to recruit the best and brightest talent. We’re all competing for the same resources and must transform our thinking if we are going to attract and retain the best and brightest.
Flexibility and Remote Work
While many companies have embraced remote work arrangements, healthcare has been slow to adopt. Although there are positions that must be onsite to support the critical operations of a hospital, health system, or clinic, there are several positions that don’t require staff to be located among the people, systems, or equipment they support. Numerous studies show employees are more engaged, productive, and happy when allowed to work remotely. In a recent survey, 76 percent of millennials said they would consider taking a pay cut if they were allowed to work remotely at least part of the time. Furthermore, 77 percent of employees listed remote work as the top perk when considering a job.
In my experience, a good balance between engagement and productivity is allowing employees to work remotely 2-3 days per week. Some organizations allow it full-time, and many technology startups even encourage their staff to work from anywhere in the world. It will be interesting to follow this trend as time goes on. I believe this type of perk is here to stay, and employees will continue to desire (and even demand) remote work arrangements in the future.
A Look at Our Culture
If we are going to attract and retain top talent, we must take a hard look at the culture of healthcare IT. For years, healthcare (and thus healthcare IT) has had a reputation of being very “traditional” in the areas of dress code, office atmosphere, perks, etc. If we are going to be competitive and viewed as a desirable place to work, we need to know what other companies offer their IT employees. Simple steps like allowing employees who are not directly interacting with patients/customers to dress casually can boost employee morale and engagement. In an interesting survey by Randstad, one in three workers would prefer a lax dress code over a $5,000 raise. As millennials continue to enter the workforce and influence recruiting, this will likely become an expectation.
As companies continue to struggle to hire top IT talent, they are increasing the amount and variety of perks, and reconfiguring the overall work environment to help attract individuals. Many organizations are moving away from the rows “cubicle farms” in favor of collaboration spaces where comfortable furniture, games, televisions, etc. are now part of the office environment. We’re learning that this type of environment is desired by technology workers, and can even lead to increased collaboration and engagement.
Having worked in multiple industries, I fully recognize and appreciate the complexities of the healthcare industry. What we do impacts the health and wellness of thousands of people each day. In the midst of this important work, healthcare is changing rapidly, and technology is at the center of this transformation.
I believe a high-performing team must consist of individuals who understand the complexities of the healthcare, while also possessing experience and knowledge from other industries. In order to attract the best employees and solve the talent shortage, we must be willing to think differently. I also believe healthcare is an incredibly rewarding industry that offers both professional and personal satisfaction not found in many other fields. I’ve had the privilege of working alongside some incredibly talented men and women in healthcare IT. To remain competitive and continue to drive innovation, we must attract and retain talented individuals who can help further the vision of improving healthcare — both now and in the future.
This piece was originally posted on CIO Reflections, a blog created by Michael Saad, VP and CIO at University of Tennessee Medical Center. His diverse career path also includes leadership roles with TrustPoint Solutions and Henry Ford Health System. To follow him on Twitter, click here.