IT staffing shortage calls for out-of-the-box recruiting

By Healthcare IT News
12:00 AM

I’VE BEEN A PROFESSIONAL search consultant for almost 17 years now and I specialize in the healthcare information systems field.  On a daily basis, I receive phone calls from hospital directors of information technology all across the country, asking me the same thing:  What can we do to attract highly qualified HCIS candidates to our facility?

Although still considered behind the times in terms of technology adoption, the healthcare industry has made great strides in the past five years toward proving the value of information systems in a clinical setting.  This is probably one of the biggest challenges faced by CIOs and IT directors today – justifying the costs associated with the purchase and implementation IT systems when the primary mission of healthcare organizations is to provide patient care.  Despite the sometimes exorbitant price, it’s difficult to go to any healthcare provider today and not find some information system being used.  This bodes well for vendors who continue to experience rapid growth.  But, while information systems sales may be better than ever, hospitals installing or currently using their IT systems are struggling to keep up with staffing demands.

So, how do hospitals cope with supporting their system users (physicians, nurses, allied health, and business office staff) as they struggle to attract the skilled professionals they critically need?

Many rely on consultants to provide support on a contractual basis, or to supplement their in-house staff during special projects. Other hospitals make the strategic decision to outsource their IT operations to national firms.  This takes the staffing responsibility off the hospital’s shoulders and places it onto the outsourcer who may have access to a larger pool of candidates.  When it’s absolutely critical to hire candidates experienced with a specific product or knowledge, then professional search firms can also be a good resource for qualified candidates.

However, I believe that the very best solutions come from within your own organization.  IT directors must think outside the box to find creative ways to attract, develop, and retain qualified personnel.  Below are some ideas that are sure to have a positive impact on your staffing efforts, both near- and long-term.

Create a custom-made position where IT and other departments can co-employ some candidates who might like to work 50 percent of their time as a clinical systems analyst and the other 50 percent as a clinician.  Allowing employees to split their schedule between two positions will not only improve employee retention, but will also develop a more insightful analyst and a more analytical clinician.

Offer retention bonuses that are paid out at a certain percentage upon completion of six months, a year, 18 months, and two years.  If you want to retain good employees long enough to achieve a return on your investment, you might consider periodic retention bonuses.  It’s much cheaper to retain a good employee than to hire a new one.

Create a trainee program that rotates clinical professionals through the IT department, and IT professionals through clinical departments for three or six months at a time.  The information shared can be invaluable and will result in an increased awareness of issues specific to other departments.

Partner with your nursing and/or human resource departments to co-sponsor some of the internships and educational programs offered by your hospital.  Try it with a twist: Offer a clinical student an internship in the IT department, or a computer science student an internship in a clinical department.  Over time, this will help grow the local talent pool as new graduates enter the job market with valuable cross-training.

I believe the most important point to remember is that there is no one solution to solving the healthcare IT professional shortage. Hospitals today, both small and large, should be staffing their IT departments through a combination of tried and true methods, outside assistance from consulting and professional search firms, and creative recruitment strategies. And, if you ask around, you’ll learn that some of the most successful hospital IT Directors remain well staffed despite the shortage because they never stop recruiting  – both for future as well as current employees.


Donna M. Carroll, CPC, VP of Business Development & Recruitment for Systems Personnel, has been in the professional search industry since 1990.   Systems Personnel performs the search and placement of healthcare IT and healthcare management professionals across the U.S., and publishes a monthly e-newsletter for the MEDITECH HCIS software community.  Carroll can be reached at or visit their Web site at


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