Why Hospitals’ Approach to Human Capital May Be Their Achilles Heel

Posted by on Jun 16, 2015 in The LFT Blog | 1 comment

Let me share a sampling of numbers that I have been following for a while now (and continue to blow me away).  The average vacancy in hospital physician staffing is 18%, for behavioral health physicians it’s 24%, for nurses it’s 17%, for pharmacy technicians it’s 13%, and so on. Wow. How can you run a competitive service organization with these kinds of numbers?

At LFT, the number one request for searches  is periop leadership. Why? Because the OR typically accounts for 40+% of a hospital’s revenue, and there is a real shortage of good periop leaders available today. It’s a demanding job that requires navigating the needs of the CNO, finance, quality, safety, unions, surgeons, and staff.  There is often little support or training, and many competing priorities. The good ones can feel underappreciated and too often burn out.

Ready for another shocking number? Roughly one-quarter of periop directors will retire within the next five years. The vast majority of hospitals do not have anyone on the bench for when the periop director leaves. In 5 years, this shortage, albeit painful now, will become a crisis.

So, what’s the current human capital strategy for hospitals? We wait for the periop director to give notice, and ask HR to find someone. After a few months with no success, HR hires a search firm (or maybe multiple firms) that will take 6 months to find a candidate. That candidate often requires relocation, and in two years jumps to a higher paying position, or maybe retires. The hospital is back to square one, and a few months later the search firm gets another call. What a world!

It seems clear that hospitals are going to need to focus more effort on developing leaders for their OR (as well as other departments). Sometimes, this means thinking about talent over experience. Does a department head — handling staffing, scheduling, HR policies, surgeon relationships, quality and lean — need to be a clinician? Or is it more important for this person to be a great general manager who can build a good team and develop people, while executing on daily responsibilities?

Don’t get me wrong. Experience is really important. But when good, experienced candidates are scarce, it can help organizations to have a few great “athletes.” People with high ceilings. Steve Jobs once commented that he would rather have 50 really smart people than 500 mediocre people. Steve Jobs never ran a hospital, but isn’t it worth thinking about?

The search industry has never been tabbed as being “enlightened” or “progressive”. Far from it. Staffing firms are probably even more risk averse than our risk averse hospital clients. As an industry, we play it safe and present the standard candidates over and over again. Even if it’s not really what our clients need.

Every day at LFT we are reminded of our motto, “when timing and talent mean everything.” Right now, in this evolving healthcare landscape, there are many areas within the hospital where it is time for some unique perspectives. We believe that talented candidates are textured, dynamic, and often come from varied backgrounds. Especially for the roles where strong leadership is key, the resume for the perfect fit may not match the qualifications drawn up exactly. But doesn’t it make sense to begin thinking about broadening the spectrum of candidates to include those best athletes?


Bill Haylon


One Comment

  1. My sentiments exactly!