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Healthcare Recruitment 2020: The Good, the Bad and the Future

A graphic of three tiered images depicting the good, the bad and the future Shvets

To say 2020 was a difficult year is an understatement. For healthcare providers and professionals, the year saw unprecedented, sometimes overnight challenges that stretched resources and talent to their limits. Lessons will be learned as we examine the effect the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the industry and staffers in the coming years.

For recruitment professionals in healthcare, the pandemic brought challenges and immediate solutions to meet demand and need. Many of the problems faced resulted in innovation which will work well for hospital recruiters in the future. As the pandemic wanes, its challenges and solutions may serve healthcare recruitment professionals in the near and long term.




With COVID-19, healthcare institutions faced historically high turnover. While healthcare attrition has statistically been higher than national averages (about 15% pre-pandemic), 2020 saw nurse turnover vary from 8.8% to 37%, based on specialty and region. Overall the national average of nurse attrition was 17.1%, according to a 2020 National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report, before the outbreak of coronavirus. For hospital staffing overall, the report showed turnover rates at 17.8%. Once the pandemic took hold, many facilities saw turnover spike as professionals opted for retirement or looked to assist in high-risk areas as traveling nurses or doctors.


Lack of talent

Lack of available talent is another challenge that was amplified in 2020. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections 2016-2026 listed nurses among the top occupations for job growth, estimating almost 3.5 million vacancies in the next six years. The lack of incoming available talent has made past years challenging. For 2020, institutions scrambled to assure adequate coverage for patient care by moving staff around internally and outsourcing.


Industry competition

As the talent pool shrinks and demand rises, so does competition. For facilities in urban areas, where applicants have many employment options, attractive wage and benefits packages impelled movement. In rural areas, healthcare facilities saw poaching of existing staff by nearby and distant facilities to meet their own demand.



Technology and outsourcing

When staffing demand is urgent, there’s little time to take the slow road. Leveraging technology rose to meet need. Targeted advertising helped access talent pools quickly, and technology improved application, screening, and scheduling processes. With improved advertising and technology, institutions were able to hire quickly, with no lack of quality.

Outsourcing at any phase in the hiring process also helped free up recruitment professionals from repetitive work so they could focus on interviewing and placement. From initial screening to reference checks, outsourcing these rote tasks relieved the pressure on recruiters so they could focus on high-value tasks.



The ability to move staffers around on a moment’s notice was necessary for healthcare providers in the face of the pandemic. For recruitment professionals, agility to hire talent in specialty areas quickly was key, as was adapting need to available talent in their market. Fluency in industry disciplines looked for crossover and applicable skill sets to meet constant demand.



The pandemic illustrated how often recruitment professionals in all industries need to be flexible. Boilerplate ‘minimum 3 years experience’ gave way to more elasticity when it came to hiring. Applicants who had previously seen their resume eliminated from consideration early in the process found they were now on the road to hire. For healthcare providers, this new level of flexibility often resulted in excellent hires.


Into the future

The lessons learned from 2020’s challenges in healthcare recruitment can serve professionals into the future. It may begin with examining the obstacles the year brought. Recommendations may be considered to reduce turnover with more attractive compensation and benefits packages. A larger presence on campus to recruit potential talent could also be a plan for the coming years.

Proportionally higher use of technology during 2020 should set the standard for the future. Leveraging available resources and keeping an eye to innovations in the healthcare recruitment industry should become standard business practice. Healthcare recruiters saw the value of tech and outsourcing to allow them to focus on high-value duties, and that trend should continue.

Adjustments made to meet demand may prompt a review of hiring standards overall. Are minimum job requirements practical in today’s market, and that of the future? Internal and external training and professional development may also be key to retention of current staff and planning for the future.


As we close 2020, we hope it will have been a unique year. The challenges brought and needs met in large facilities and small illustrate a supple industry that is ready to shift quickly. When time allows, taking a step back to examine what worked during this high-pressure year will be critical; applying those lessons to the future will be key to growth and success.

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About Riia O'Donnell

Riia O’Donnell has over 20 year’s hands-on experience in all aspects of the Human Resource function. Beginning as a recruiter, she grew to lead in all areas of HR, including employee training and development, legal compliance, benefits administration, compensation evaluation, and staff management. She has been a contributing writer for a wealth of HR, training, and small business websites for the past 7 years. Connect with Riia on Twitter at @RiiaOD.

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