How to Recruit Nurses

With an increasingly aging population, healthcare is one industry that’s poised to grow exponentially in the coming years. Already, the demand for talent seems to outweigh the supply — as of July 2019, the Glassdoor Job Market Report found there were a whopping 853,687 open positions in healthcare!

One of the more difficult-to-fill positions in healthcare? Nurses. Today’s nurses are highly specialized and practice their profession in a variety of settings, whether it’s a hospital, skilled nursing facility, long-term care clinic, urgent care facility or even in drug stores, making the competition all the more fierce for recruiting skilled nurses.

Wondering what your organization should do to attract, hire and retain top-tier nursing candidates? Read on to find out!

1. Crafting a Great Nurse Job Description

2. How to Source High-Quality Nurse Candidates

3. Interview Questions to Ask Nurses

4. Highlighting Your Unique Value Proposition

5. Building Culture

1. Craft a Great Nurse Job Description

First things first — before you can convince a candidate to join your company, you need to let them know what the role will involve so they (and you!) know whether or not they’re the right fit.

A good job description will provide a thorough and accurate description of the title, role, responsibilities and qualifications, with an emphasis on the position’s specialty.

“Recruiting needs to be focused on the specialty needed,” says Patricia Sweeney, human resource manager at Old Colony Hospice and Palliative Care. “The employer must know exactly what skills they need and be able to advertise those skills.”

Need some help getting started? Try using these sample nurse job descriptions as a template:

Beyond describing the ‘what’ of the job, make sure to touch on the ‘why’ as well. Job descriptions should sell candidates on the role, so make sure to highlight what makes your organization different from others (more on that below). Once you’ve crafted the perfect description, it’s time to post your job online!

RELATED: The Ultimate Job Description Checklist

2. How to Source High-Quality Nurse Candidates

Finding great candidates for a nursing role can be challenging given the specialized skill set required and the high demand. Because of this, your recruiting tactics should be uniquely tailored to attract top nursing talent. Here are a few strategies to bring in the best to your organization:

Use Employee Referral Programs

  • Proactive Employee Referrals: Ask your top nurses to provide you with a number of referrals. Ask them to refer qualified former colleagues, friends… anyone!
  • Skills-based Referrals: Ask your staff to refer the best nurses they’ve worked with by specific skills and areas of expertise. Have them reach out or provide contact information.
  • Referrals from Referrals: If someone passes you an amazing referral, try asking them if they know anyone else. You might just hire your next best nurse from the same source.
  • Ask for First-Day Referrals: During the first-day orientation for your new hires, ask them to write a list of the top five nurses from their previous facility. Ask them to help you recruit them and include incentives.

RELATED: Reference Check Questions that Work!

Attend Events

  • Seminars & Conferences: Host or sponsor a seminar, workshop or conference that enables attendees to mingle with your staff. This is a great way to get your team in front of some great candidates. Take note of the most engaged attendees and gauge whether they’re interested in your organization (or know someone who might be).
  • Certification Classes: Many nurses take advanced classes and certification programs, so if someone from your facility or hospital teaches one of those classes, they will have access to a number of high-quality candidates.

Welcome Former Applicants and Employees

  • Boomerang Hires: Make sure to contact all of the great nurses that have left and see if they’re interested in your open position. If they’re not, then ask them if they can refer anyone that they think would be a great fit.
  • Second-Place Candidates: Ever have candidates that were close to being hired, but didn’t end up making the final cut? Reach back out to them to see if they are qualified and interested.
  • Too-Good-for-You’s: Reach out to finalists that turned down your offers in the past. Try to resell them on your new position, and if they still reject your offer, ask them for a referral.

3. Interview Questions to Ask Nurses

Few things are more frustrating than hiring an employee only to find out that they’re not a great fit for your organization after all. Fortunately, this can largely be avoided with a thorough interview process. In addition to the standard interview questions (Can you tell me about yourself? Why do you want to work here? What are your strengths and weaknesses?), there are a few questions that are especially helpful in assessing potential nurses. Here are a few ideas:

Why did you enter the healthcare field?

The best nurses are the ones who truly care about helping others. Asking a candidate this question will help you assess whether or not they’ve entered healthcare for the right reasons, and whether they have the passion needed to succeed in the job.

What is your ideal work environment?

Nurses can work in a wide variety of settings. Learning which environment and work style best suits your candidate will help you evaluate whether or not they would be a good fit for your organization, and vice-versa.

What are your long-term goals?

Replacing employees is a serious drain on your organization’s time, resources and finances, so when you make a hire, you want to feel confident that they’re in it for the long haul. Understanding the bigger picture idea of what a candidate is looking for will help you understand whether you can help them meet those goals, or if they might need to find another organization that will better support their high-level career aspirations.

RELATED: Hiring Informed Candidates On Glassdoor Boosts Retention & Can Save Thousands

How would you handle a patient with difficult behavior?

Let’s be honest: patients aren’t always thrilled to be in a healthcare facility, and they can sometimes be uncooperative or even hostile toward staff. Ask this question to get a sense of whether or not the candidate you’re interviewing has the bedside manner needed to do their job well even under challenging conditions.

Have you ever had a problem with another team member that you were working with? If so, how did you handle it?

Integrated health care is more popular than ever, with teams of nurses, doctors, medical assistants and orderlies all closely collaborating together to provide the best care for patients. As a result, the ability to work well with others is critical. While disagreements are bound to come up, you want to know that your candidate can handle them in a mature and professional manner.

Describe a time you went above and beyond for a patient.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the people you serve. Coming to healthcare facilities can often be frustrating or even scary for patients, but having empathetic staff members that go the extra mile for them can significantly boost their happiness, and maybe even their health!

4. Highlighting Your Unique Value Proposition

Remember, a good hire isn’t just someone who you’re excited to have on board. In fact, they should be just as excited to join you! So throughout the entire interview process — from job description to closing — make sure that you clearly state what’s so unique about working for your organization versus any other one they could work at. This will ensure fit and help you better market your employer brand to candidates. That doesn’t always mean that you have to offer the highest salary or most extravagant perks, though.

“If you look across all professions, people want a paycheck, but most nurses want to do the best work of their life,” says Dr. John Sullivan, an HR professor, corporate speaker and advisor. “It’s not ‘Will you pay me?’ It’s ‘Do you have the best equipment, do you have the best doctors, do the nurses get the opportunity to make decisions and try new things,’” etc.

Because nurses rank those things higher than a paycheck, a medical facility that cares for children and/or a brand name research hospital like Mayo Clinic will likely draw experienced nurses as well as. But it doesn’t mean the small institutions can’t recruit good nurses. They just have to make sure they highlight all the good attributes in the recruitment material. Similar to how employees of small businesses wear multiple hats, in a small hospital or facility the nurses will likely have a direct impact on the patient, get more responsibilities and deal with less bureaucracy, all of which should be conveyed during recruiting, says Sullivan.

5. Building Culture

While recruiting is important, you can’t ignore the importance of invest in your organizational culture. After all, a strong culture leads to happier, higher-performing employees and can be a selling point for recruiters to use in and of itself! So what can you do to ensure great culture and a phenomenal employee experience? Here’s what leading healthcare organizations had to say:

Emphasize Mission & Beliefs

Employees want to know that they’re working towards something greater than themselves. Fortunately, this is highly relevant to healthcare organizations.

We find that most people who come to work at Kaiser Permanente are motivated by our mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve,” said CEO & Chairman Bernard J. Tyson. “Our mission and our four core beliefs are powerful motivators.”

These beliefs include:

  • We believe that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness require total health — and that includes equal access to high-quality health care for all.
  • We believe that total health is more than freedom from physical affliction — it’s about mind, body and spirit.
  • We believe that health care must be affordable for all — because thriving individuals, families and communities require that.
  • We believe in a healthy and engaged life — with good beginnings and dignified endings.

The bottom line? Don’t just let employees assume what your mission and beliefs are — clearly define them, and share them with your employees often!

Provide Growth Opportunities

In his report Why Do Workers Quit? The Factors That Predict Employee Turnover, Glassdoor Chief Economist Dr. Andrew Chamberlain found that a lack of career opportunities was one of the three key factors that affected an employee’s decision to leave. So if your company isn’t providing employees with the career development they crave, it’s time to start investing in it.

One way St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital supports professional growth for employees is through Leadership Academy, a program that helps team and department leaders develop their management skills.

“We recently expanded its original programs and broadened its audience by reaching mid-level managers and supervisors. This allows more managers the space to strengthen their leadership skills while building relationships with, and gaining insights from, others leaders across our institution,” said Dana Bottenfield, VP of Human Resources at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

Empower Employees

Talented employees can’t make much of an impact if they don’t have the resources or autonomy they need to do their job well. At Memorial Sloan Kettering, clearing roadblocks and empowering employees is one of President and CEO Craig Thompson’s main priorities.

“What is really great is the ownership that everyone has for the individual part of our mission that they oversee. My job is to help solve the problems when people don’t have what they need to provide optimal care. It’s really making sure that we distribute the resources so that everybody can do [optimally] at their job,” Thompson said.

Recruiting talented nurses isn’t easy, but it’s far from impossible. By working hard to craft a great job description, proactively identify top-tier candidates, provide an excellent interview experience, emphasize what makes your company great and investing in a strong organizational culture, your job will be made much easier.

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