9 executives share what their dream hospital IT employees have in common

For starters, passion for technology, eagerness to explore new ways of thinking and a commitment to patient-centered care are key.
By Mike Miliard
06:10 AM
Best Hospitals 2017

When asked to talk about their hiring strategies, and about the qualities they seek in a good hospital IT team member, leaders at some of this year's winning departments said some things that are unsurprising – expected, even.

"Attitude is everything," said Chad Brisendine, CIO at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based ‎St Luke's University Health Network. "I look for people who are hungry to learn and grow and invest in themselves."

David Abbott, vice president of IT operations at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, agrees. 

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"When we look at candidates, we want folks who are driven, passionate, collaborative, are really up for a challenge and are ready to jump in and work with an organization that has a really strong focus on its mission," Abbott said.  

But often they said things that offered intriguing insights into how technology executives think about what makes an effective employee, and how they go about attracting top talent to their hospitals and health systems.

For instance, Brisendine says St. Luke's has a dozen different partnerships with four area universities. The health system has its own full-time recruiter, and offered 24 college internships this past summer.

"We also have an internal career program that I run and manage," said Brisendine. "We basically take internal talent and work with them to increase their skills. Whoever wants to grow and learn can do that. If you don't have the skills we're looking for, we'll put the money in and educate you."

For his part, Abbott said CHLA looks to hire candidates who show a proclivity for ways of thinking that transcend mundane tasks such as troubleshooting a frozen computer or setting up a network firewall.

"We look for that type of person who exhibits a broad skillset," Abbott said. "They have a strong IT background, but they also have a multifaceted approach such that they have a contemplative mentality where they can sit in a room and solve problems. They can really look at it from end to end – not merely the technology, but the overarching solution – and come up with creative ways to solve the problem."

Here are some other pieces of hard-won wisdom from the C-suite leaders among our 2017 Healthcare  IT News Best Hospital IT Departments, who explain how they decide on their staffing needs, who they prefer to hire and why.

Gil Hoffman, Chief Information Officer
Mercy - St. Louis

Hiring is a challenge. Fortunately, our retention is very, very good. But the needs of different technologies and support are changing pretty dramatically. So we've had to venture out, not only into our colleges, but even into our high schools to get kids to really start thinking about these career paths. We work with a lot of universities who are changing a lot of their curricula to better prepare for jumping into the workforce pretty quickly.

We also spend a lot of time on different social media just talking about what we're doing – the value that we're bringing, the value they can bring to healthcare by joining our team.

That's been very successful, to help them learn about what Mercy is doing differently in healthcare than anywhere else. Especially on the technology side: It's not always that people in technology think about healthcare being inventive, and an opportunity for real growth in a technical career. Also, healthcare is not always associated with good salary opportunities.

But that's changing, and changing pretty dramatically, as we look to attract high-end talent, especially on the analytics side.

Eric Jimenez, Director of IT
Artesia General Hospital - Artesia, New Mexico

It is hard to recruit in rural America, so we have to be creative. First, I look within the hospital to see if I can convert someone to an IT position. Once in the department, I will provide them with as much education as possible. If I can’t find someone within the hospital, I have to use a recruiter to help find the right person.

When I meet with a potential employee, I look for the following: someone who is not afraid to ask for help, dedication, enthusiasm, engaged with my vision, eager to learn, willing to take responsibility.

Finding employees to staff a rural IT department can be one of the biggest challenges we face. We must offer not just competitive pay, but also convince them this small town with little more than a Walmart is a great place to work, live and continue to do so over a period of time. Keeping the energy high in our department is one of the most influential aspects for candidates.
One of the newest members of our team said, "It was a no-brainer, your energy and dedication to innovation and implementation of healthcare IT sold me the minute I came for my interview, there was no question."

We do offer monetary relocation packages, but the big draw has to be the team they will work with and the idea that a small town in the middle of southern New Mexico is, and will continue to be, a leader in the healthcare IT industry.

Cynthia Davis, Chief Health Informatics Officer
Methodist Le Bonheur Health Care - Memphis, Tennessee

We use a multi-prong strategy as we recruit associates. We don't have a ton of turnover, but we do have an aging workforce. So we've been working really hard to develop those relationships with our local colleges. We have a number of interns, both in business and clinical, web technology and analytics, as well the infrastructure teams.

We go through a very collaborative process when we hire. It's very team-based. Our teams are always looking to answer questions, how to solve problems – how do you think critically? How do you go beyond just taking a ticket, and instead work to prevent problems from happening?

There's been a shift on the application side here. We've been in a big implementation mode for a long time, so it's a bit of a pivot for the staff. Recently we've been working to get our employees to think analytically – getting them to analyze trends and information and help them solve problems based on data.

Tina Baugh, Director of IT
The Menninger Clinic - Houston

We are careful about the team: We really want our customer experience to feel a certain way. For example, a customer told me two days ago, "I just love it when I call into the service desk because they are happy to help and anyone on the team is happy to come walk me through something and they don’t make me feel like an idiot."

Everyone at Menninger is brilliant in their field. Our job in IT is to be brilliant in IT. It’s not their job. So don’t treat them like an idiot! We’ve had a few people come through on a contract basis that don’t have that teacher mentality, but our customers really like it when we stop and teach them how to do things.

We do the interviewing as a team. We just extended an offer for an EHR employee, and there were 12 of us who interviewed them. We looked for that teacher mentality. We can teach technology.

Anne Lara, Chief Information Officer
Union Hospital of Cecil County - Elkton, Maryland

I look for someone who has lots of energy, someone who is able to take a customer’s view of a problem, someone who is tenacious, someone who is not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them, able to have exceptional communication skills and follow-up. I also like folks who have a willingness and the capacity to learn. Nothing is the same as it was yesterday. They are constantly learning how to do things better and differently.

Pam Ridley, IT Director
Henry County Medical Center - Paris, Tennessee

I look for an employee that puts customers first. IT is a service department, so we cannot focus on "me" – we have to put the focus on others. I also look not only at do they have the technical skills/knowledge but do they have the desire to come to work every day and live out HCMC’s standards of behavior: excellence, integrity, patient-centered care, professionalism, respect and trust.

Mike Gengozian, Director of IT Applications and Programming
Valley Children's Healthcare - Madera, California

We’re seeing a lot more qualified applicants, and that makes us struggle to find entry-level folks. We're looking for creative people – problem solvers who are willing to learn. They don’t necessarily need healthcare experience; we can teach them healthcare. We’re looking for people who can manage projects, can juggle a lot of balls, who are technical by nature, obviously, depending on the area they're in, but do more than just run reports. They understand the business and can provide the right data to whoever is asking for it.

Jonathan Goldberg
Chief Information Officer - ‎Arkansas Children's Hospital

There’s nothing better than to find that an employee who will take on any challenge you throw at them. They’re building a skillset and they know it. The employee that complains every time, it doesn’t go too far with us. We want people who step up and tell us that they want more. Organically, you may get the title. But you have to do the work and take on challenges. Don’t worry so much about titles and recognition. That should come with the more you step up. I think some people get it and some people don’t. The people who get it will be going places, and those who don’t, we’ll see.

Joseph Mannion, MD, Senior Vice President, Information Technology
Hackensack Meridian Health - Edison, New Jersey

One of the things I want to see in job applicants is why someone wants to work for Hackensack Meridian Health, as opposed to just the next hospital system down the road. It's one thing to be a certified builder in Epic. But having a part in the organization, being excited about what our goals are, that's what I look for – the enthusiasm.

Best hospital IT departments: 2017

Meet the winners and find out their winning formula.

Click here to learn more about how we chose this year's winners.

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

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