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Healthcare Recruiting and the Impact of COVID-19

As healthcare workers worldwide continue to bravely tackle the very real dangers of providing essential care during the COVID-19 pandemic, executives and talent leaders are waging their own battle in an effort to address the challenges arising on another critical healthcare front:

Sourcing and acquisition activities.

While it’s rather obvious at this stage in 2020 that COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the way we source and manage talent, healthcare is unique as an industry in that, while it consistently ranks as one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global economy (including a whopping 12 percent of the U.S. workforce), it is has been historically, even notoriously, difficult to attract and retain talent. Given that the pandemic has only further exacerbated this unique duality – for reasons we will discuss below – right now is as good a moment as any to take stock of the changes we are witnessing among our dedicated customer base of leading clinical organizations.

This article will provide a brief overview of current trends in the acquisition of healthcare talent.

Let’s take a look.

Recruiting Activities Go Virtual

Traditional healthcare recruiting is infamous for being a multi-step, time-consuming and rather archaic process. Depending on the role, pre-qualification, competency testing, behavior-based scenarios and laboratory skill examinations are often just the tip of the application iceberg. Credential checks, various levels of candidate screenings (i.e., criminal, civil, drug, etc.) and multiple rounds of interviews often require candidates to travel long distances in order to comply with the requirement of physical presence. And yet, with the rise of social and professional distancing in the aftermath of COVID-19, healthcare organizations have been forced to radically adjust their acquisition processes.

From virtual career fairs to video interviewing, healthcare organizations (including many of our clients) are scrambling to provide recruiters with the tools they need to effectively source, recruit and onboard in the current environment, and to do so at scale. With many talent acquisition departments wary of the prospect of reliving April and May’s unprecedented pipeline bottlenecks for frontline clinicians and essential care workers, we expect the current uncertainty to continue to encourage, and in some cases, compel, an industry-wide pivot towards virtual hiring technology and processes (i.e., a win-win in our opinion for both candidates and recruiters).

New Legislation Streamlines Hiring

As mentioned above, traditional healthcare recruiting timelines tend to be rather long and arduous affairs. A major component of the “slow as molasses” nature of sourcing activities is the fact that healthcare licensing tends to be state-specific. Under normal circumstances, for example, a resident nurse licensed to practice in New Jersey cannot simply cross the Ben Franklin Bridge and head to Pennsylvania for a new job without first complying with the state’s certification and licensing mandate. While some states overlap or have shared licensing conventions, most maintain location-specific hiring rules that restrict the flow of labor across state lines.

It was this overall lack of uniformity between states in the early days of the pandemic that greatly contributed to the fragmented and, in some cases, inadequate response efforts we witnessed on a national scale. Recognizing the need to expedite the hiring of frontline clinicians, many states have put forth legislation aimed at reducing hiring barriers and streamlining – at least temporarily – the cross-border acquisition and onboarding of healthcare professionals. As the world braces for a potential second wave of COVID-19, we anticipate further legislative/lobbying efforts aimed at accelerating cross-border healthcare hiring.

Talent Gap Widens As Supply And Demand Fluctuate

Even before COVID-19, the healthcare talent gap presented talent acquisition practitioners with a riddle that was both perplexing and difficult to crack. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, healthcare’s historically high turnover (particularly among nursing positions) and persistent shortage of qualified primary care providers (particularly in rural areas) have only intensified. With 1.4 million healthcare jobs lost in April (again, mostly primary care providers), as well as a 19.4 percent downturn in hiring rates year-over-year, the industry as a whole has certainly seen better days.

And yet, in stark contrast to both the former and the latter, the demand for specialized personnel and frontline clinicians is booming. From respiratory specialists to intensive care nurses, recruiting departments are struggling to meet demand, particularly in COVID-19 hotspots such as Los Angeles and New York. This increase in demand for niche positions already burdened by the potential for burnout – not to mention an ageing baby boomer workforce – means healthcare organizations are looking to rethink how they incentivize and attract qualified candidates. Significant wage increases have already emerged in many parts of the country, and we expect a renewed focus on employee well-being as acquisition teams look to meet the increasing demand for specialized talent in these trying times.

A Renewed Focus on Employer Branding

For a number of years now, we have been highlighting the need for healthcare talent acquisition professionals to reassess and reimagine their approach to the candidate experience. From personalization, to omnichannel communications, to streamlined application processes, it’s time for healthcare to fully incorporate those acquisition elements that have become basic staples of recruiting activities across a wide range of dynamic industries. An important part of this necessary evolution in the candidate experience will be the messaging and key themes (i.e., branding) that organizations express as they continue to navigate 2020’s unique challenges.

We cannot take for granted the fact that we are living in a moment in time where medical professionals are bravely engaging in high-risk exposure work, and doing so with a truly remarkable sense of purpose. Healthcare stakeholders must reflect the values of their workforce with consistent and empathetic messaging. Our new reality demands that organizations preemptively address the questions that matter most to employees/candidates – everything from the quality of personal protection equipment (PPE), to the availability of mental health resources. We strongly expect those organizations that prioritize authentic and compassionate messaging to find improved acquisition success as the industry continues to adapt to the new norms of pandemic recruiting.

To Conclude…

While the coming months are likely to continue to present new and unexpected challenges to healthcare HR, our clients are rising to the occasion and meeting COVID-19 adversity head-on. As they do so, we expect our best-in-class talent management ecosystem to become increasingly important as organizations look to overcome talent shortages with robust internal mobility programs and contingent worker marketplaces. If you are interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to contact our experts today,