Chelsea Therrien, a Lead Talent Acquisition Partner at The University of Vermont Health Network, moves fast, but she rarely gets up from the desk in her home office in Hinesburg, Vt., where she works remotely. Her speed is mostly in her fingers. Phone calls, emails, instant messages and video meetings – everything has to be quick when you’re a health care recruiter in 2023.

“When we get good candidates, we cannot sit on them for any period of time,” says Therrien, whose recruitment efforts focus primarily on non-clinical positions like Patient Service Specialists, who provide administrative support across the organization, and Human Resources Business Partners, who act as liaisons between the Human Resources Department and department leaders.

There’s so much opportunity out there right now that if we wait, they’re going to be gone.

Chelsea Therrien, a Lead Talent Acquisition Partner

Intense competition nationwide

The fierce competition for candidates stems from the severe, nationwide workforce shortages that plague virtually every sector of the health care industry. There are just too few providers, nurses, technicians and support staffers to fill all the open positions across the country.

If hospitals and other health care organizations can’t hire enough staff, it’s harder for them to accommodate large numbers of patients and provide them with a wide range of services. To meet growing patient needs, temporary staff, including doctors and nurses – commonly known as travelers – can help ease the pressure for short periods of time. However, this is not a long-term solution, as the cost of employing travelers is financially unsustainable.

Leaders at the UVM Health Network realized early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the shortages started to grow and spread, that recruiting problems weren’t going to relent anytime soon. In response, the organization decided to transform the way it attracts and hires new employees.

A new, centralized approach

This effort culminated last year with the launch of a Networkwide, centralized Talent Acquisition team. Previously, each hospital or home health organization had its own recruitment team for all roles. Now, recruiters focus on particular roles that are needed at every location (radiology positions, say, or IT jobs), which has expanded their reach.

“When recruiters are able to become experts about a small number of positions, they’re more effective because they know exactly what we’re looking for down to the smallest details,” says Rebecca Kapsalis, the director of Talent Acquisition at The UVM Health Network. “This allows them to better support candidates and move it along much more efficiently.”

It will take some time for the full impact of the new structure to be felt, but the hiring numbers for the past two years have been strong. Since the beginning of 2021, more than 10,000 positions have been filled at the UVM Health Network through internal promotions and external hires, and upwards of 1,000 nurses were hired in both 2021 and 2022. Staff numbers for positions that support nurses, like tech and nursing assistants have been bolstered, too: In 2022, more than 600 nursing support positions were filled.

Network leaders also have been working to build a more contemporary workforce by identifying jobs that can be done either entirely remotely or in a hybrid remote-in office setup to increase the pool of potential applicants.

The volume of job openings remains high, but it has diminished from its peak in September 2022. Recruitment leaders are confident that the benefits of the new approach will continue to grow and spread.

Turning to sourcery and technology

As part of its new approach, the team has also added sourcers, a small group of recruiters who are solely dedicated to proactively finding potential employees before they even apply, rather than splitting time writing job listings, fielding applications, facilitating interviews or educating applicants about UVM Health Network offerings.

“I’m out there on social media, LinkedIn, professional association websites and mailing lists, doing everything I can to leverage my contacts and experience to get people interested in joining us,” says Donna Moore, a Talent Acquisition sourcer who joined the Network in October 2021.

UVM Health Network has also invested in an array of technological tools allowing many of the most time-consuming parts of the hiring process, like reference checks and interview scheduling, to be handled by automated services that potential employees can use at their convenience.

We’re still connecting with candidates by phone and email and making sure the human touch is there, but whenever we can save some time or make things more convenient for prospective hires by using technology, we’re doing that as well.

Jessica Stafford, RN, a Lead Talent Acquisition Partner

Recruitment strategies devised during the peak of the pandemic, like virtual interviews and allowing remote work, are helping too, Stafford says. Currently the Network employs more than 150 employees from more than 30 states; around 40 additional employees work remotely in New York for one the Network’s Vermont locations.

A continuing challenge

Despite these innovations, some obstacles remain stubbornly in place. The high real estate prices and a lack of available houses and apartments has stymied recruiters trying to entice potential employees to relocate. “The number one biggest challenge I’m seeing with my candidates is the housing market,” says Elinor Janeway, a recruiter who focuses on nurses who specialize in a patient’s circulatory system and clinical resource staff, who move between units and departments as needed.

There has been some progress on this front. In March 2022, The UVM Health Network announced that it had partnered with Snyder-Braverman Development to build 61 apartment units in South Burlington for its staff. A second housing complex, which will offer 120 apartments units and child care facilities, was announced in December 2022.

Ashley Bond, the Real Estate Services Manager at the Network, says there are also efforts underway to develop relationships with property management companies and local developers to try to uncover additional housing opportunities for employees.

When the Network committed its resources to the housing development project in South Burlington, I think that really opened the door for us as an organization to think more broadly. Hiring and employment are not just a Human Resources issue anymore.

Ashley Bond

If you’re interested, or know anyone who might be interested, in a career at the UVM Health Network, please visit our new Careers page to see a full list of open positions and get more information. In most cases, current employees who help us find and hire someone for a position could be eligible for an employee referral bonus.