Pre-cruiting Nurses

I was talking recently with a staffing professional in the healthcare industry about his sourcing approach. He was lamenting all of the money he spent placing weekly ads in a regional trade publication that got him nothing but poor results. I asked him why he continued with this approach, and he responded simply, “All of our competitors are there.” Suddenly I heard my mother’s voice ringing in my ears: “If everyone else jumped off of a building, would you follow them?” After my initial shock, I continued to ask him some more questions. It turns out that these ads he is placing are more of a method of managing internal expectations than they are a means for obtaining viable candidates. This particular hospital, like many, is severely short of nurses. And the fact is, running these ads is a tangible way to demonstrate activity to the hospital’s nurses and nurse managers. I must admit I am not an expert in recruiting for nurses, but common sense tells me that no matter the focus, a source yielding few returns is a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. Contrast this to what one innovative health system, St. John Health, located in the metro area of Detroit, has recently implemented with great success. For each of the examples below, ads were placed that focused on the programs and the organization and that directed candidates to the career website.

  • Nurse refresher course. The organization offered a nurse refresher course for RNs that have been away from the industry for a while. The first session was filled within days and boasted more than 40 “graduates” ready to move into positions within the hospital immediately. This program has continued to be successful, evolving to include foreign RNs as well.
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  • Graduate nurse open house. While the concept of an open house is not new, the way St. John Health went about it was. Capitalizing on established relationships with graduate nurses doing rotations, they held an open house, offering a gift certificate to a local uniform store to all graduate nurses who attended. Taking this a step further, the attendees were encouraged to bring classmates, who also received the same gift certificate. Anyone brining four or more classmates received a stethoscope. This program provided St. John Health with numerous leads that they could begin getting to know prior to graduation. Three weeks before graduation, St. John then sent congratulations packages to those who attended the open house. Word of mouth among students accounted for 90% of the program’s participants. In the short term, there was an increase in the number of graduate nurses that turned into hires. In addition, a foundation was established for longer-term relationships with those who were not immediately hired.
  • RN articulation program. St. John Health has also had great success by establishing an RN Articulation Program. After some careful analysis, they discovered a high degree of burnout for LPNs (licensed practical nurses). Through this program, LPNs are able to advance their careers by earning an Associate’s degree, resulting in increased job satisfaction and loyalty to St. John Health.
  • Community involvement. It’s also worth mentioning that St. John Health is actively participating in the healthcare community. In particular, they sponsor a healthcare-focused charter high school. Students are provided opportunities to experience careers in healthcare, including clinical rotations.
  • Career website. Rather than following a reactive model focused only on finding one person to fill each opening, St. John Health has implemented both short- and long-term plans to build lasting relationships with current and future healthcare professionals. At the cornerstone of the strategy is an effective career website. Ads and marketing material drive candidates to a site that is informative and user friendly. The site encourages candidates to submit their information even if they don’t see an immediate opening. This way, as soon as an opening that fits the candidate’s specifications is posted, an email notification goes out.

Although there continues to be a shortage of nurses, the programs listed above, which focus on “pre-cruitment” activities, have created a steady flow of applicants at any given time for St. John Health. These programs have contributed to an average vacancy rate for nurses that is 50% below the rate for the rest of southeast Michigan. Identifying and communicating with top candidates regularly, before they are needed, is at the heart of this kind of proactive “pre-cruitment” model. A strong internal communication plan also helps manage the expectations of hospital staff and keeps morale high. In short, by developing programs that work to build and capitalize on established relationships, St. John Health increases the odds of attracting the best talent ó not just the available candidate.

Kimberly Bedore ( is a consultant and public speaker who develops and implements staffing solutions for clients, resulting in increased efficiencies and significant cost savings. She uses her wide range of recruiting experience to provide companies with a wealth of information related to sourcing and sourcing strategies, recruitment training, and the implementation of solutions and metrics that enable a higher degree of staffing effectiveness.


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