So Where Did the Smokin’-Hot Healthcare Market Go? Part II

In my first article on this subject (TFL, 9/07), I outlined a historical convergence of four problems facing healthcare employers today. They are: declining revenues from reimbursement cuts (federal, state, and third-party payers); shortages of skilled professionals; inadequate services; and misconduct by recruiters. Hanging over it all is the political uncertainty created by the looming 2008 presidential elections – and complicating everything is the relative scope of these problems.

As I described these symptoms, I also promised to reveal an antidote, or at least the proper mixture of pharmacological agents required to bring a healthcare recruiting operation back to life. Don’t you love those puns?

All through September, I could hear the faint whispers of those readers who have always been bearish on the healthcare industry saying, “I knew it; the healthcare industry is flat while other industries thrive.” Well, I may have given the bears a month to gloat, but this bull isn’t about to miss a good fight. I am here to tell you that the healthcare industry is as strong, if not stronger, as it’s ever been. If you have been feeling the sting of missed placements or declining momentum in your health-care recruiting operation, maybe it’s because you’re part of the problem.

If that hurt your feelings, I’m not sorry. It’s time someone started shooting straight about what’s going on, and if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

While you were reading the last article, you may have thought I was overly hard on recruiters. Well, I’m not here to give slackers a bye, but to give the most committed healthcare recruiters a sense of reality.

For more than two decades I have watched healthcare cycle through declining revenues from reimbursement cuts (federal, state, and third-party payers) and shortages of skilled professionals, while getting all wrapped up in the uncertainty of the geo-political course as a result of a presidential election. It’s just the way the industry works. It’s the fuel the industry runs on. And anyone who’s been in this industry for any length of time at all knows this. I like to call it growing pains. The more pain coming from these areas, the more rapid the growth occurring in the industry. So the first lesson is: if you’re planning to make a living in this industry, get used to them because they’re not going away.

But why has this industry all of a sudden taken this opportunity to focus on recruiters as scapegoats? To better explain, let me paint a picture for you. Let’s say you’re driving down the road and notice your car is running low on gasoline. As you pull into a gas station, people start running up to your car trying to sell you diesel fuel. They chase you all the way up to the gas pumps, telling you that your car will run just fine on diesel fuel. You notice car after car leaving the gas pumps running just fine on their diesel fuel. On top of this, they are even willing to sell this diesel fuel to you for half the going rate of gasoline. You are skeptical at first, but decide to give it a try. As you drive off, the diesel pusher waves and smiles like nothing’s wrong. What do you suppose is going to happen to you and all those other gasoline-powered cars in about two or three miles? Your engines will start blowing smoke, then stall, leaving all of you stranded beside the highway. Unfortunately for all those people victimized by these diesel pushers, they have learned a valuable lesson not soon forgotten. Could this ever happen to you? No way, you say.

Well, this is what’s going on in recruiting these days in healthcare. Over the past few years, inexperienced recruiters have flooded the market, peddling whatever they could to make money. Without regard to what the market needed, they pushed these candidates onto the market at any price. Unfortunately, many employers fell victim to the wrong candidates, candidates fell victim to the wrong job orders, and recruiting (in general) fell victim to a loss in credibility.

What most newbie healthcare recruiters don’t know is that there’s a finite number of employers in healthcare. That number is very small compared to other industries. At last count, nationally we have fewer than 6,000 hospitals. And although there are many more specialty clinics and doctors’ practices, bad news spreads like wildfire in healthcare. Everything flows back and forth through the hospitals. You do something to hospitals and the entire industry will know about it in short order. So to go back to our story, the diesel pushers started selling the wrong fuel for gasoline-powered cars and pretty soon, even if you actually needed diesel fuel, you wouldn’t buy it from someone off the street.

This one point has changed healthcare recruiting forever. At the core of this problem isn’t price or value or competence, but rather the delivery of a conscientious product in the most professional way possible. I’m not saying that price, value, and competence have no role – they do. But if brain surgeons did their job the way recruiters in general are doing their job, you could get a lobotomy these days down at your local hardware store along with your choice of hand drills – cheap!

Secondly, the people managing our healthcare system today are the best of all people. They are the few remaining people who would still give the shirt off their back to help a total stranger. For a better explanation, see my article “What You MUST Know to Work with Healthcare Candidates” (TFL, 4/06). Yet these are the same people being victimized. For recruiters to victimize the people of this industry equates to not just stealing a baby’s lollipop, but also slapping it in the face as you leave just because you can. I had one recruiter tell me that he likes to work with healthcare professionals because they are (by and large) still naive. Although he had no plan to take negative advantage of this point, there are many who have taken advantage of it. Ask yourself how you are looking at your position within healthcare recruiting. Are you saying to yourself, “With much power comes much responsibility?” Instead, I would ask you to think of it this way: “With much responsibility comes much power.”

What you bring to the table represents their (employers and candidates) greatest needs. Treat it that way. Treat your profession as a profession. I can’t ever remember a “snake oil salesman” being described as a professional. If you are serious about becoming part of the solution, let me offer some suggestions.

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First, as a recruiter, learn as much as you can about why this industry goes through the three legitimate issues I have described.

Second, slow down. Take more time to interview your candidates. Take a personal interest in their needs, and in return you will learn about the industry from the inside out. Metaphorically, be willing to get in the car with them as they drive away with the diesel fuel you sold them. Be confident enough in what you’re peddling to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Make a commitment to these candidates and they will give you the power to represent them.

Third, own the car. If you were the employer needing refueling, what would you be looking for? If you are saying, I can’t get an employer to talk to me, then learn by speaking to the employers as candidates. As I said, connecting to candidates will help you learn about the industry from the inside out – so if you want to know what employers need, call them up and interview them as candidates. In the beginning you will talk about what they need, but could you also ask them their opinion on what the industry needs today? After they have learned they can trust you, would they not talk with you about what they need as an employer? Sure they would.

And finally, be willing to make a car payment or two to win a customer. “Delivering a conscientious product in the most professional way possible” means you’re willing to fall on the sword if something goes wrong. You’re so confident in your scrupulous, honest, painstaking precision that you’ll hold their hand until things are certain. An example of this is our retention and attrition programs. For employers that require more, we offer fee and guarantee options that include increased retention and reduce attrition. You ask how we can do that? Because of the confidence we have in the scrupulous, honest, painstakingly made product we deliver. Without giving away proprietary information, these programs include higher fees and much longer guarantees. We have come to know and understand the needs of our industry and the professionalism with which we deliver our product.

I hear people talking about their candidate-to-send-out ratios, or send-out-to-placement ratios, but you never hear about a recruiter’s length of stay after a placement ratio. What I’m telling you is that this is the only ratio that matters to your healthcare employers and candidates.

In healthcare, you not only have to provide the highest degree of service, but you also must know the proper fuel needed for the vehicle, and the efficiency at which that fuel will burn. The better you are at those three things, the more business you will come to have.

So where did the smokin’-hot healthcare market go? Well, it’s about two or three miles down the road, waiting for a ride. But before you race out to save the world, do your homework. Decide to change the way you approach the industry. Become a professional by understanding what it means to be a true professional healthcare recruiter.

John “Clay” Abbott is a true “Healthcare World Changer.” He believes recruiters should learn from caregivers by giving more of themselves to others. As president and founder of the Academy of HealthCare Recruiters, Inc., Clay is one of the healthcare recruiting industry’s leading recruiters, trainers, and consultants. With more than 21 years of direct healthcare experience and 10 years of experience in healthcare recruiting, he has successfully developed the only guaranteed HealthCare Recruiter Training programs in the industry. Many solo recruiters and recruiting managers are finding the crossover into healthcare possible with Clay’s leadership and knowledge. Clay is a widely known public speaker on issues pertinent to audiences ranging from independent recruiters to hospital management groups. He guides recruiters on how to find qualified healthcare candidates, how to utilize a systematic approach to keep a full pipeline of candidates, and how to stay ahead of the trends. Clay continues to operate his own healthcare recruiting firm while training others to do the same. He remains an expert in the market and an activist for positive change in healthcare recruiting and management. To learn more about his training products and services, visit his website at www.academyofhealthcarerecruiters.com. Clay can be reached at (812) 522-2992, or email him at clay@academyofhealthcarerecruiters.com.

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