Nursing Shortage Creates a Crisis Within a Crisis — What Can Be Done

3 Ways Referral Programs Can Help Hospitals Fill Crisis Nursing Jobs

Nurses

We were already in the midst of a healthcare crisis. The U.S. nursing deficit is decades old. But the global Coronavirus pandemic has turned crisis into catastrophe.

In New York alone, 2,000 nursing jobs are waiting to be filled. Governor Andrew Cuomo has even asked nurses to “enlist” in the response effort. States like Pennsylvania and Texas are relaxing licensing requirements, which could get as many as 100,000 nursing students, retired nurses and nurses with lapsed licenses into the field faster.

As states moves toward reopening and prepare for a possible second wave, hospitals are also dealing with the fallout from ceasing elective procedures, budget shortfalls, layoffs, furloughs and returning to business in a new norm.

Hospitals and states will need to work together and even get creative to find more healthcare workers — through ongoing engagement, calls to duty, accelerated training, requirement revisions and monetary incentives — to respond to the pandemic and get back to work once it’s safe. But there’s something nurses can do to help too.

Time to activate passive nursing candidates

Even outside crisis scenarios, nurses share intense experiences that often result in friendships and networks bustling with other nurses and healthcare workers. That’s why referral programs have been the bread-and-butter for getting qualified nurse resumes in the door for healthcare systems and staffing agencies.

Competition is fierce among referral programs themselves. A nurse can earn up to $1,000 for each successful referral placed. But not all programs require that the referral source is a current employee or consultant of the company.

That means I can work for Hospital A and refer all of my qualified nurse friends to Staffing Agency B. Especially if that agency gives me better bonuses for those referrals.

Rest assured: dollar amount isn’t the only way to compete. Candidate and employee experience matters here. Supply shortages, underpreparedness, poor policies and ample frustration make delivering an enviable day-to-day experience feel impossible right now. But hospitals need to listen to their nurses — because they are talking about the experience.

Making nurses know they’re appreciated, respected and heard can help them through one of the toughest experiences of their lives. And helping them remember why they started and embrace their sense of duty can open them to recruiting friends to this noble cause.

The experience you deliver to your nurses on the job, when they refer friends and when they’re job candidates not only sets your organization apart, but can make it inevitable for workers to refer you — particularly if you ask.

Your organization won’t be able to manifest more nurses or confront the deficit by yourself. But you can optimize your engagement strategy and communications to attract and retain healthcare talent.

To that end, we’ve outlined three key ways candidate engagement and referral management can help you create the experiences and efficiencies you need to reach and activate healthcare workers.

3 Keys For Optimizing Your Nursing Referral Program

1. Full-cycle engagement. And then some.

How are you keeping in touch with your nursing talent? Particularly amid crisis hiring, it’s essential to maintain regular contact across recruiting, screening and placement, and throughout placement duration itself.

Whether you’re an in-house recruiter, hiring manager or healthcare staffing firm, regular contact keeps your nurses engaged and assured they have an advocate for whatever comes up. Working consistent (read: not annoying or overbearing) referral requests into these touchpoints can increase your qualified candidates and awareness of the referral program itself.

In crisis mode: inspire creativity with those requests. Ask your nurses to dig deep and refer retired nurses, nursing students, friends whose credentials might be lapsed. Make sure they’re aware of relaxed requirements and the need passive candidates can fill.

Continual engagement shouldn’t be underestimated or undervalued. It keeps you in the loop on nurses’ next steps and gets you in the door, first, for redeployment possibilities. Retention and redeployment (i.e., keeping the talent you find) will be the hallmarks of healthcare employers who can keep up.

Further: keeping in touch with nurses who’ve been laid off or furloughed can help you maintain (and in some cases, heal) the relationship. Getting laid off or furloughed isn’t easy. But regularly checking in and providing updates about possible returns to work can help you re-hire talent you’ve been forced to give up.

2. Make it easy. Make everything easy.

Make it easy to refer their friends. Create a clear, concise policy that states what qualified candidates are (including current relaxed requirements), exactly how to refer them and what to expect next.

Using a referral management app, make it easy as a swipe or a tap to share jobs on social or refer a friend directly for a post.

Don’t forget: keep all parties in the loop. Make it easy for your referral sources to follow progress on how a friend’s application is going and when they’ll see that bonus money.

3. Automate. Optimize. Update. Repeat.

As we noted, regular contact across the nursing candidate experience — even into placement, referral requests and redeployment — is essential. But who has time for that right now? With automation and smart workflows, you do.

Use automation to offload low-level, regular recruiting tasks, like regular engagement touchpoints, and free your time for responding to your nurses’ needs and connecting the dots for those redeployment opportunities.

You should also automate updates to your referral sources on application progress, incentive payouts and when it’s time (note: it’s always time!) to refer their next friend to your organization. Keep tabs, using referral management software, on whom your best sources are, acknowledge them and gradually grow them into brand advocates.

With these keys in your pocket: keep learning

Glean insights, trends and feedback from your engagement and referral activities. A/B test your communications and experiment with referral campaigns.

Get to know what works and just keep getting better at engaging your network. Once we emerge from this crisis, the nursing shortage will still be there. But by nurturing your pipeline now, you’ll be able to grow your network with referrals and continue serving patients with care.