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By Andonna Lowe, Stephanie Gaworski and Ann Henry May 1, 2004
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HR Magazine, May 2004 A vitual tour and quick contact with managers improves online recruitment efforts.

Today’s hospitals face an increasing challenge of recruiting nurses for patient care. Filling vacant nursing positions can take months while hiring supervisors wait for qualified applications, sift through resumes and interview interested applicants. Hospitals must also discover what makes a nursing applicant choose one hospital facility over another, what encourages the nurse to make contact with the recruiting department and what a hospital organization must do to entice nurse applicants.

JPS Health Network in Fort Worth, Texas, a 429-bed trauma center with an extensive primary health center network throughout Tarrant County, was facing this problem. The organization incorporates a large teaching program with more than 125 physician residents training in five programs. Additionally, more than five schools of nursing use the center’s facilities as a clinical site. The need for nurses is critical.

During the winter of 2002, the nurse vacancy rate at JPS Health Network peaked as high as 17 percent. It took the nursing staff as long as 45 to 60 days to make an employment offer after receiving posting approval, placing the posting in newspaper classifieds, interviewing candidates and receiving hiring authorization from the manager.

Nursing executives decided to change the recruitment process, with these goals in mind:

  • To reduce the vacancy rate to less than the metropolitan area average of 12 percent.

  • To shorten the time from posting to hiring.

  • To increase the quality of applicants for nursing positions.

Their efforts paid off. By expanding the JPS web page to include information that nursing applicants were looking for, by giving applicants easy access to hiring managers, and by streamlining and promoting the online application process, JPS realized an increase of 63 percent in online nursing applicants. The changes in the JPS process reduced hiring time to 14-17 days. The nurse vacancy rate has subsequently dropped to 7.6 percent, which is 3 percent below the local market rate for nurses. JPS also saw a 31 percent reduction in recruitment advertising costs for the organization.

Assessment and Transformation

In a tight labor market, hospitals must bid against each other for a limited nursing workforce. However, successful online recruitment can expand the applicant base to wherever there is a diverse, qualified pool of nurses. JPS decided to reach out to nurses anywhere, any time of the day or night.

JPS Health Network launched its web site in early 2000. Additional information was added to the physician education components in early 2001, stressing the resident training and education programs. Later that year, online job applications and current job postings were added to the site. But JPS was not actively recruiting nursing applicants online; only 3 percent of nursing applicants made initial contact via the web.

In an attempt to identify recruiting efforts that worked and those that didn’t, executives polled all new JPS nursing staff regarding the hiring process. The survey showed that, even though most applicants were reviewing online information about the network, the application process was being completed in the traditional pen-and-paper method.

Late in 2002, a workgroup was formed to explore the feasibility of improving the nursing section of the JPS web site. The group reviewed various hospital web sites for ease of use, information sharing and timeliness of response.

The online system needed to pique the applicant’s interest, be accessible from anywhere and at any time, and provide the nurse applicant timely answers to questions regarding the hiring process. JPS compiled a list of items that reflected information and approaches most appealing to staff nurses:

  • Easy access and navigation.

  • Descriptions of each patient care area.

  • Pictures reflecting each area.

  • Opportunities for interaction between the applicant and manager.

  • Online application process.

Positive Transformation

A basic template for each web page was designed to connect with the nurse applicant using both pictures and words. Public relations staff collaborated with the work group to identify department pictures that captured the spirit of nursing at JPS. Each web page had a similar look and promoted the feel of a virtual tour of each patient care area.

The JPS group believed that the benefits of the applicant being able to e-mail a manager directly outweighed any possible risk, such as an influx of junk e-mail. A direct link was added to each manager’s e-mail address and to the online application included on each department page. This enabled the applicant to remain anonymous yet at the same time contact managers with questions about a particular patient care area.

The redesign of the web site showcased excellence in nursing at JPS. In February 2003, JPS launched the online virtual tour of the nursing division. The goal was to synergistically reach out to visitors of the web site, win them over as applicants and recruit them as JPS nurses.

Promoting and Streamlining

With the enhanced online capabilities, the recruitment strategy at JPS shifted. The newspaper classified advertising highlighted only three to four positions every other week in the newspaper. Each classified ad included the message “apply online anytime” with a reference to the JPS web site. Business cards with the web address were printed with the message “apply online anytime.” The business cards were given to candidates at career fairs and colleges instead of the standard hard copy application. The JPS job line’s phone message was changed to promote the opportunity for the applicant to apply online.

While the online recruitment process facilitates hiring by allowing applicants to communicate with the nursing manager and nurse recruiter with a simple click of a mouse, JPS discovered that the new online system created a need to re-evaluate the overall hiring process.

For example, JPS programmed the site to send a completed employment application electronically to both the nurse recruiter and the hiring manager. E-mailing the application eliminated the possibility for the “paperwork” to get lost in the shuffle. In keeping with the goal of improved speed and responsiveness, the nurse recruiter conducted initial interviews via telephone instead of the standard face-to-face interview. The background check was started earlier, after obtaining an electronic approval from the applicant. The manager conducts the actual face-to-face interview with the applicant, thereby reducing the need for multiple interviews. Once the interview is complete, the hiring manager sends an electronic “authorization to hire” directly to the nurse recruiter.

Expanding the Reach

The Internet enables JPS to reach out to nurses in other states as well as those within the local geographic area. Since implementing the improved web page, JPS has hired nurses from Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Utah. Expanding the scope of recruitment not only helped JPS, but it also expanded the pool of new nursing talent in the local area.

JPS has found that nurses do not hesitate to use the Internet to obtain information and to complete the hiring process. The nursing profession faces constant expansion of the use of technology in the provision of patient care, for example, with electronic charting. Initial assumptions that the Generation X population would be the primary source of online nursing applicants proved to be false. The results show little difference in the ages of applicants who use the online process (39.3) vs. those who prefer to complete a hard copy application (38.5).

The online system, accessible any time of the day from anywhere, has eliminated a layer of costly and time-consuming recruitment processes. It has expedited the hiring of applicants in half the time, while attracting more than double the number of applicants.

The virtual nurse recruitment process is a valuable tool in reducing nursing vacancies.

Adonna Lowe, RN, is vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer at JPS Health Network in Fort Worth. Stephanie Gaworski, RN, is project coordinator, nursing informatics, and Ann Henry, RN, is HR director, recruiting, at JPS.

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