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By Christina Whalen, Vice President of Clinical Operations at Intuitive Health
Patient and consumer needs and desires have led to the development of retail health care and value-based care. In this new environment, consumers can choose providers and make choices about what the best medical option is for their family from an increasing field of options for acute and ongoing care. The new health care landscape has also resulted in a realization for health care employees who no longer feel entirely beholden to employers. Now, more than ever, medical personnel have many alternative options from which to seek employment and can choose to work for a provider or health care system that best aligns with their unique values, beliefs and ideal work culture or environment.
Because of this pronounced workforce shift, companies that wish to retain health care workers are finding it difficult to do so and are often forced to bring in new hires to fill in areas where staff is desperately needed. Increasingly, employers are pivoting to make employee retention a top priority. A company that highlights and prioritizes its culture of care has a decisive advantage, especially within the health care field where motivation is waning and many are opting for other career choices.
Strategies such as expanded employee benefits packages and workplace culture enhancements have become necessary for employers that wish to grow their teams and retain existing staff. Leadership training and growth opportunities for employees along with staff appreciation are among the components that must be examined, evaluated and carefully considered by health care employers who want to increase company value and differentiate themselves as an employer of choice.
Despite the significant challenges today’s health care employers face, there are clear ways to set themselves apart. These include the creation of a positive work environment, attractive benefits packages and employee appreciation, a focus on work-life balance, the provision of a path to leadership and a commitment to becoming an employer of choice.
Because of health care’s task-oriented and servant leadership capacity, the team built within health care environments truly matters to health care workers. This is especially true with regard to the day-to-day interactions required to achieve the greater good of serving patients at the highest level of care. When health care workers function effectively as a cohesive unit, the workplace environment becomes more positive. A teamwork mindset then becomes evident and can influence higher employee retention.
Cultivating a setting where health care personnel want to work is essential in today’s changing health care landscape. A positive, cooperative environment makes the job more enjoyable and makes it possible for health care systems to retain the best workers. When employers are respectful and responsive to staff concerns and complaints, health care workers are more inclined to stay. An effective staff can go a long way in fostering a positive atmosphere in the organization, but it first must be encouraged by leadership. Health care providers who make the extra effort and uplift their teams truly stand out in a crowded field of employers.
Providing ongoing skills training is another way to keep health care workers satisfied and create a positive, thriving workplace environment. Such opportunities for professional growth and career advancement removes barriers for employees and provides a path for their career growth and development.
Appreciation and Benefits
A culture that emphasizes the importance of employee contributions to the organization’s vision and mission provides staff with a sense of belonging. This culture of appreciation inspires innovation and creativity, which leads to successful outcomes. Taking care of employees who make these outcomes possible means instituting key differentiators that provide value to staff and potential new hires. Health care is one of the most challenging and often underappreciated jobs. It can be mentally and physically exhausting, leading some workers to question whether the work is worth the effort. We have seen this play out dramatically during the Great Resignation and with high burnout rates among medical employees.
But it’s not always about grandiose promises of appreciation. Even simple gestures go a long way to show employees they’re valued. Simple “thank yous” and award recognitions encourage employees and give them a reason to continue working in an environment that can otherwise feel daunting, uncertain, tiring and thankless.
While monetary employee benefits serve their purpose, so do experiences. What creates an even more powerful and affirmative environment is when the team and personal rewards are layered to create a more enjoyable, collaborative and productive workplace. Internal award ceremonies, volunteering, extra leave, opportunities for idea generation and implementation, fringe benefits and one-on-one meetings go a long way to cultivate and boost staff morale.
One of the difficulties of health care is the around-the-clock care required. People have medical needs and emergencies no matter the time of day or night, which means staff may be subjected to long hours and extended shift schedules. As we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is not a sustainable way to work. It can lead to burnout and, even more so, to mental exhaustion from dealing with all types of medical situations. It can be even more difficult for medical staff to deal with extreme medical cases in the emergency department environment. Research suggests that emergency room teams are exposed to consistent health care stress.
The reality is that the constant need for care will always be required, but there are ways to reduce the physical, mental and emotional toll this need can have on staff. Employers who focus on identifying and implementing improved workflows designed to decrease stress and provide employees with opportunities to take breaks from stressful care environments are much more likely to attract and retain the best staff. One example is for providers to create a system where health care staff is not always responsible for clinical work, allowing for the opportunity to shift their focus to administrative tasks. This lessens the constant exposure to patient medical care while still maintaining the responsibilities required by the job.
Other alternatives include creating optimal scheduling systems for staff, such as allowing employees to indicate workday preferences. This simple measure can significantly improve the health and safety of the team who is responsible for the wellbeing of patients. A positive work-life balance supports workforce longevity, diminishes cases of burnout and decreases staff departures that put a strain on the entire system.
A Path to Leadership
The health care field is full of practical learning experiences. While medical school and health care education and training provides individuals with the technical knowledge needed to succeed, most industry wisdom comes from hands-on experience and directly responding to patient needs. As experience, education, learning and growth happen in the natural course of a career in health care, it is important for employers to provide established staff members with a path to leadership.
The ability to put staff on track for management and leadership positions shouldn’t be based only on longevity; rather, employers should consider talent, work ethic and an employee’s desire to establish themselves and to make a difference in the lives of others. By offering guidance and a clear path to excellence, employers set themselves apart. The encouragement provided gives employees the foundation to do what they love in a place where they feel they belong. Doing so puts them on a track that eventually equips them to impart wisdom to the next generation of medical personnel—a situation which benefits employers through the natural development of a strong, highly trained and effective team.
Employees want to feel valued. They want to know that their hard work and efforts matter and are noticed. Encouraging staff to share their ideas and experiences increases their self-confidence and motivates them to find the best solutions to problems that may arise. Building a culture that allows for growth but also fosters stability leads to positives for both employees and employers. Employers that provide training programs, seminars and mentorships to staff can increase their hiring appeal and use advancement opportunities to stay relevant in an ever-changing industry.
Be an Employer of Choice
In one of the most high-stress industries, employer attention to strategies like those discussed above is essential. There are many ways to create a healthy work environment and these are merely suggestions. The reality now is that health care employers face a situation where there are an increasing number of job options available to their employees. To retain talented staff and match the needs, wants and desires of those seeking employment, companies looking to hire must find ways to improve their work culture by examining and evaluating their processes and procedures.
Employees want to know that they’re being taken care of, that they are valued, and that their efforts are not being taken for granted. Creating a culture of care and an environment where employees thrive differentiates them in a field of employers, motivates staff to work harder, advocate on their employer’s behalf and leads to higher staff retention rates that the health care industry is struggling to maintain. As the shift to a patient-centric model continues, the time has come to focus on health care employees as a way to position health systems as the employer of choice and create stronger teams to meet patient needs.
About Christina Whalen, R.N., Vice President of Clinical Operations at Intuitive Health
Initially working at John Hopkins in Baltimore in the cardiac med surge unit, Christina transferred to MedStar Health, working at one of the busiest pediatric ERs. Deciding to move back to Texas, she worked at Children’s Health, where she eventually realized pediatric nursing wasn’t her true calling. That is when she met one of the founders of Intuitive Health, the leading provider of the dual ER and urgent care model. Christina works for the health care company as the VP of Clinical Operations to ensure Intuitive Health’s principles of improving ER utilization, transparency and cost-effective health care options are successful.
About Intuitive Health
Founded in 2008, Intuitive Health pioneered the combined emergency room and urgent care model. Intuitive Health partners with established health systems nationwide to build, operate and launch retail health care facilities that provide urgent care and emergency room services under one roof. Intuitive Health operates in partnership with leading health systems across the country, including in the states of Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Intuitive’s patient-centric approach to immediate care has saved payors and patients hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary emergency care spend. The Intuitive Health model increases market share for partnered health care systems by expanding their footprint with conveniently located centers. For more information, please visit IHERUC.com.