Experts offer tips to lure young graduates
Harold Jones. Stock shot of allied health employees or a graphic?
While shortages of doctors and nurses are well documented, the shortage of professionals in allied health is also causing recruiting headaches for hospitals, clinics and group practices.
“Absolutely there is a shortage, and those shortages are going to get significantly worse over the next decade,” predicted Harold Jones, PhD, dean of the School of Health Professions at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. In fact, projections on the U.S. shortage of allied-health professionals range from 1.6 million to 2.5 million by 2020.
The Allied-Health Professions
Allied-health professionals are generally defined as practitioners with formal education and clinical training who are credentialed through a certification, registration and/or licensing process. They aren’t doctors, nurses and dentists, yet they make up an estimated 60 percent of America’s healthcare workforce.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 200 allied-health professions, including laboratory technology, radiologic technology, physical and occupational therapy, dental hygiene and dietetics. Other less well-known allied-health professionals include art therapists, nuclear medicine technologists, cytopathology technologists, dosimetrists, cardiovascular technologists, health-information administrators and recreational therapists.
“If you’ve seen one allied-health school, you’ve seen one allied-health school,” quipped Jones, commenting on the variety of disciplines schools like his offer students. Employment in these professions has been growing drastically. From 2002 to 2012, growth in the medical assistant profession grew 59 percent, 48 percent for home health, 47 percent for medical records, and 35 percent for physical, occupational and respiratory therapy. In fact, Jones sees increased demand and job growth particularly when it comes to rehabilitation and clinical laboratory specialties and health-information management.
“You’re going to see a general growth in probably all these health professions because we have an aging population. The more we move toward a care system that’s providing more access, regardless of whether or not the current healthcare-reform legislation remains intact, we’re probably going to continue to see more lives covered, so you’re going to have a need for more services,” Jones said. He added that efforts to contain costs will tend to “push services to the lowest-paid provider who can provide that service with quality. Also, there’s going to be an attempt to figure out how to work in teams to keep costs down, and that’s going to push more work in the direction of allied-health professionals because they are lower-cost providers.”
The Recruiting Challenge
For hospitals, clinics and group practices, luring these newly minted professionals, many of whom boast multiple employment opportunities upon graduation, is an ongoing trial.
“How do we attract these people, how do we market to them, and how do we put together packages to appeal to them?” asked Kenneth T. Hertz, a principal consultant with the Medical Group Management Association Health Care Consulting Group. His answer? Employers simply must shift their tactics – because what they’re doing now isn’t working.
“Healthcare as an industry is in the midst of rapid, vigorous and almost tectonic change, and there are many of us within healthcare who can’t even say the word change much less work through it,” Hertz said. “This is a new world, and things are done differently. We cannot live by the acronym TITWWADI – this is the way we’ve always done it.”
Hertz first recommended that employers build relationships with the schools training tomorrow’s allied-health professionals, and Jones wholeheartedly agreed. For institutions like UAB’s School of Health Professions, finding clinical sites for students’ experiential learning is a critical problem. In fact, Jones said many schools have the capacity to churn out more graduates to meet healthcare’s growing demand – if not for the lack of clinical sites. “That tends to be what limits the size of most programs,” he said.
Yet, Jones added, investing the staff time necessary to have a student on site pays dividends. “If a student can feel comfortable at a particular facility or build relationships there, it’s much more likely that he or she will pick that as a first site for employment,” he said.
Hertz acknowledged that building relationships “is not something we do well” in healthcare, but he encouraged providers to nurture ties with local schools by offering tours of their facility, providing lunch once a quarter, suggesting their professionals as guest speakers and even buying jerseys for the school’s community softball team. “If we don’t build relationships when we don’t need something, then when we go back to somebody when we need something, there’s no relationship built up. How does that work?” he said. “It’s standard public relations.”
Hertz and Jones also agreed that employers must offer today’s young professionals some workplace flexibility, whether that means untraditional working hours, part-time employment or job sharing. “Maybe, just maybe, we have patients – or more importantly, potential patients – who don’t come to us because our hours don’t suit them,” Hertz suggested. Thus, extending hours into the early morning and the evening might improve employee and patient satisfaction, increase the patient count and expand the use of facilities and equipment. Locked doors and equipment turned off don’t make money.
The way employers spread the word about job opportunities has to change, too. Hertz suggested Facebook, Twitter and other social-media outlets as communication tools, as well as sites such as Craig’s List. Offering employees a “finder’s fee” to recruit others is working these days, too. “We’ll pay a recruiter $10,000 or $15,000 sometimes, so why not pay $5,000 to an employee?” Hertz said. “When I hear, ‘Well, we can’t do that,’ I ask, ‘Well, why not?’”
Hertz also encouraged employers to handle the recruiting and hiring process “meticulously,” thus making recruits feel special and leaving them with a sense that they are choosing a professional environment.
To that end, Jones also suggested that employers introduce potential recruits to existing employees. “If I were an HR person interviewing people, say, to work in my clinical laboratory, one of the things I would do is make sure that everybody who comes in and interviews actually has an opportunity to talk to some of my better people who work in that area, people who will speak well of the organization and explain why this is a great place to be,” he said.
Then Jones explained the situation his graduates are in today: “Generally, most of our students have multiple offers before they graduate. That’s one of the things that I can always say to our students when they come in as freshmen looking at careers in the health professions: ‘If you go into most every profession within our school, the odds are very strong that you are going to walk out of here with a job already in hand. Secondly, you not only will be able to get a job, you’ll be able to get a job almost anywhere in the country you want to get a job, and you’ll have flexibility in terms of hours, weekend and evening work. There’s a lot of flexibility because the shortages are such and healthcare is needed everywhere. There aren’t areas of the country that are glutted.’”