Addressing the Talent Shortage in Health IT

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When I was starting out in the IT field, I applied for an IT infrastructure position at a hospital and was called in for an interview. I was currently working as an infrastructure support engineer for a company that was being acquired, and there was a lot of uncertainty around whether they would retain the local staff or not. I vividly remember showing up for the interview and being called back to an office. I sat down, and the very first question the interviewer asked me was, “do you have any healthcare experience”? I answered honestly and told them I did not. They then responded, “well, we are looking for people with healthcare experience” and proceeded to end the interview right then and there. Nowhere in the job posting was it mentioned that one of the qualifications a candidate needed to have was healthcare experience. This entire experience left me thinking healthcare was some exclusive club that was very difficult to get into and created an unfavorable impression of healthcare IT.

Fast-forward to today, and it is clear that technology jobs are in demand across the country, regardless of the sector. 

Demand for technology jobs outweigh the number of people in the field, and this problem does not appear to be going away any time soon. 

The reality is technology talent is in demand everywhere, and we are all competing for the same talent. In many ways, healthcare still has the mindset that only individuals with healthcare experience can contribute to the success of the organization. That reputation and narrow thinking must be addressed if we are going to compete with other industries for the top talent. 

The largest competition for staffing is no longer the hospital or health system “down the street” but rather other organizations that are flourishing and in need of individuals with healthcare experience. Whether it is large companies such as Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon - or small startups - the healthcare industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country today. CMS predicts healthcare will be nearly 20% of the entire GDP for the United States within the next ten years.

Even apart from the booming healthcare industry, many of the jobs in IT can cross over to any industry. For example, a security, cloud, network, storage, or server engineer can work in any industry, and those skills continue to be in high demand across all sectors throughout most of the United States. Healthcare IT is no longer an exclusive club, nor can it continue to operate in a bubble and expect to recruit the best and brightest talent. We are all competing for the same skilled resources and must transform our thinking if we are going to attract and retain the best talent.

It is time to think differently about healthcare IT staffing and recruiting.

Flexibility and remote work

While many companies have embraced remote work and allowed employees to work from any location, healthcare has been slow to embrace this. I acknowledge that there are positions that must be onsite to support the critical operations of a hospital, health system, or clinic. That said, there are several positions that do not require staff to be located with the people, systems, or equipment they support. There are numerous studies that show employees are more engaged, productive, and happy when allowed to work remote. In a recent survey, 76% of millennials would consider taking a pay cut if they were allowed to work remote at least part of the time. Furthermore, 77% of employees listed remote work as the top perk they look for when considering a job. 

My experience has been that a good balance between engagement and productivity is allowing employees to work remotely 2-3 days per week. Some organizations allow employees to work remotely full-time, and many technology startups even encourage their staff to work from anywhere in the world. It will be interesting to follow this trend as time goes on. I do think this type of perk is here to stay, and employees will continue to desire (and even demand) remote work arrangements even more in the future. Organizations offering this perk will be in a better position to recruit and retain top talent versus those that do not. 

A look at our culture

If we are going to attract and retain top talent, we must take a hard look at the culture in Healthcare IT. For years, healthcare (and thus healthcare IT) has had a reputation of being very “traditional” in the areas of dress, office atmosphere, perks, etc. If we are going to be competitive and viewed as a desirable place to work, we need to understand what other companies are offering their IT employees. Simple things like allowing employees who are not directly interacting with patients/customers to wear casual clothing may boost employee morale and engagement. In an interesting survey by Randstad, 1 in 3 workers would rather have casual dress than a $5,000 raise. As millennials continue to enter the workforce and influence recruiting, casual dress will likely become an expectation.

As companies continue to struggle to hire top IT talent, they are increasing the number and type of perks and reconfiguring the overall work environment to help attract individuals. Many organizations are moving away from the rows and rows of “cubicle farms” in favor of collaboration spaces where comfortable furniture, games, televisions, etc. are now part of the office environment. Again, there are several studies that show this type of environment is desired by technology workers and even leads to better collaboration and a more engaged workforce.

Final thoughts

Having worked in multiple industries before joining healthcare, I fully recognize and appreciate the complexities of the healthcare industry. What we do impacts the health and wellness of thousands of people each day. In the midst of this important work, healthcare is changing rapidly - and technology is at the center of much of this change.

Now more than ever, organizations can benefit from the inclusion of ideas from others outside of healthcare. I believe a high performing team must consist of individuals who understand the complexities of healthcare, and individuals who have experience and knowledge from other industries. In order to attract the best employees, we must be willing to think differently and creatively find solutions to talent shortage we are facing.

I believe healthcare is an incredibly rewarding industry to work in and offers both professional and personal satisfaction that is not found in many other fields. I have had the privilege of working alongside some incredibly talented men and women in healthcare IT. To remain competitive and continue to drive innovation, we must attract and retain talented individuals who can help further the vision of improving healthcare - both now and into the future.