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Leadership

Big tech is outpacing health care for top talent. Here’s what CEOs can do about it

Gabriel Perna | November 4, 2019

Key Takeaway:
*More than 90 percent of health care executives believe they will have talent deficiency in the next 10 years in critical areas of the organization

*Providers, payers and life science companies are competing with big tech companies for talent

*CEOs and recruiting experts suggest focusing on marketing your unique mission, laying down a pipeline for the future workforce and more

With unemployment at historic lows, finding talent is an issue everywhere. But nowhere does it feel more pertinent right now than in health care.

Turnover in the industry, in fact, has accelerated from a rate of 15.6 percent in 2010 to 20.6 percent in 2017. And retaining talent is going to become more difficult.

According to J.P. Morgan’s Healthcare Industry Outlook survey, 58 percent of participants said they are extremely or very concerned about finding candidates with the right skill set. Another survey, from The Economist Intelligence Unit, paints an even bleaker picture. That research determined that more than 90 percent of health care executives believe they will have a talent deficiency in the next 10 years within critical areas of the organization.

The wave of competition for talent with big tech companies dipping their toes into health care is making things more difficult. A year ago, David Feinberg, MD, CEO of Geisinger Health System, left for Google. Now, former national coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD, joined Feinberg as Google’s chief health officer. It’s not only Google. Amazon’s not-for-profit health care company Haven, led by Atul Gawande, MD (formerly of Brigham & Women’s), recently hired Sandhya Rao, MD from Partners HealthCare. Amazon Web Services also hired Shez Partovi, MD, from Dignity Health. Apple, Microsoft and other leading technology vendors have all hired people from health care as well.

“We are now competing for talent,” said Janice Nevin, MD, CEO of ChristianaCare. “If you talk to any CEO, talent will be a top of mind issue.”

Add to that the well-known shortage of physicians and nurses, and it’s clear that this impacts the entire health care organization from the top down.

“It’s super competitive — it’s a buyer’s market. There are a lot of jobs open. People are out there competing in a small talent pool,” said Dan Bensimhon, MD, CEO of Moonlighting Solutions, a recruiting firm for physicians.

For many payer and provider CEOs, this is the reality they have to accept in an age with so many companies trying to find a foothold in health care. Big tech is here to stay and those companies come with a track record suggesting they will find successes in growing businesses within the health care industry where many have failed. Health care executives have to identify a way to attract and retain top talent, partner with outside organizations, or market what makes them special.

Hospital CEOs and professional recruiters share some of the ways they are doing just that.

Market your mission when recruiting

Working to improve people’s health and lives is an undeniably compelling mission. It’s also one of the main competitive advantages health care organizations can offer, according to Paul Cejka, Founder and President of Cejka Search, a recruiting firm for health care executives.

“In a lot of ways, health care does not have the upper hand. Many health systems are not able to compete with the compensation package or a lucrative bonus,” Cejka said. “But they can really tie the work to the mission and the overall care of the patient.”

ChrisitanaCare, for instance, calls all of its employees caregivers, said Nevin. “No matter where you work, you are no more than twice removed from a patient — that’s appealing to people. In health care we provide an opportunity for people to do something special, different from at a bank or tech company.”

Cedars-Sinai Health System CEO Tom Priselac added that he has found many employees with technology skills attracted to its mission.

“It’s not always about money for everybody,” Priselac said. “And it’s not always about disruption.”

Lay down a pipeline to build the future workforce

ChristianaCare is investing in workforce pipeline programs that foster student engagement in high school and higher education to help them better understand the opportunities that exist in health care. In just one example, ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute won a grant to start a first-of-its-kind curriculum to teach students at Delaware Technical Community College how to work in a CRISPR lab.

In addition, a 16-year old approached the lab’s director, Eric Kmiec, and inquired about an internship. Though the lab could not accept a high schooler, the boy ended up writing the code to solve a CRISPR problem.

“Many jobs that will be important 5 years from now don’t even exist today,” Nevin said. “To prepare for that future, we need to be proactive and creative in building a workforce pipeline and nurturing the talents and skills that will make people successful in tomorrow’s health care industry.”

In addition, ChristianaCare has forged partnerships with the University of Delaware and Philadelphia institutions as examples of opportunities to make it clear that health care is a great place to work and, likewise, that top talent is in high demand.

Partner with outside organizations

Other than finding partnerships with educational institutions, look to the so-called competition. That includes Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and others.

We view what they bring to the table as potential for partnership and, candidly, I believe that whether it’s an organization that’s in the disruptor space or those of us in the traditional delivery system, the people who will be successful in the future are the ones who figure out how to partner,” Cedars-Sinai’s Priselac said.

Most recently, Cleveland Clinic and Boston-based telehealth company, American Well, announced a joint venture to launch a new virtual specialty care company.

It doesn’t have to be in just tech though — partnerships can address clinical needs as well. Moonlighting’s Bensimhon recommended, for instance, that health systems work with a company that can provide doctors who work part-time hours. This not only helps understaffed clinical teams during busy seasons when the hospital is under staffed, but it also gives hospitals a chance to reduce the call burden for physicians, which can be both a morale booster and a potential recruiting advantage, he added.

Emphasize work-life balance and culture, if you can deliver

In general, millennials and Gen Z are looking for a greater work-life balance. Regardless of the age demographic, however, a potential carrot is to emphasize a focus on work-life balance and benefits, presuming of course your organization is positioned to actually enable such a balance.

“I think health care organizations are trying to be more responsive when it comes to being mindful of work-life balance, providing more progressive benefits to their executives and their entire workforce,” Cejka said. “Health care organizations are watching other industries, they are learning to be responsive. We are starting to see that more and more.”

As Bensimhon noted, this area is one of the few things that health systems and hospitals can control in terms of benefits for a potential employee.

“Salaries are set by the marketplace. Your location is your location. One thing you can control is making sure they have a work-life balance,” he said. “If you can create a great culture, where everyone gets along and there is a good work-life balance, people will feel those good vibes [when being recruited].”

Bear in mind the bigger picture — even when that’s daunting

Cedars-Sinai’s Priselac said the class of new entrants, while often viewed as disruptors, will play a role in making health care a better experience for everyone.

“I know that all of these companies get labeled as disruptors of health care and there is no doubt in my mind that what they bring to the table will be part of making health care a better experience for everybody,” Priselac said. “Whether it’s David [Feinberg], Karen [DeSalvo] or others, I’m thrilled to see these kinds of people joining that segment of the industry because, frankly, I think that’s been missing from the tech world, it needs that understanding of what health care is. That can only make things better for everybody.”

About the Author

Gabriel Perna, Senior Manager, Digital Content

Gabriel Perna is the Senior Manager of Digital Content at Health Evolution. He brings 10+ years of experience in covering the intersection of health care and business. Previously, he was at Chief Executive, Physicians Practice and Healthcare Informatics. You can reach him via email or on Twitter at @GabrielSPerna