Behind the scenes of a nurse recruitment event

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Myra Aldana is the HR director for Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Ca. Visions of recruitment dance in her head when she goes home at night. Okay, maybe not, but Aldana has been in her position at Huntington for more than four years and is always thinking of fresh ways to bring new, qualified nurses to her facility. How and why does her organization do it? Aldana takes us behind the scenes after a successful event that drew 440 nurses last week.

"I think hospitals will have to continue finding creative ways to recruit and retain staff," Aldana says. "This shortage is not going to end anytime soon."

And so Aldana lays out the hard truth facing staffing directors, recruitment specialists, retention coordinators, and everyone else under the HR sun. The highly-publicized nursing shortage continues to be a sense of worry, frustration, and danger for hospitals across the country, but it may hit home the hardest in California. Last year, according to a report released by the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Albany's School of Public Health, California ranked dead last in RNs per capita.

To lure new nurses, Aldana says she has seen:

  • Very aggressive sign-on bonuses
  • Weekend cruises
  • Down payments on homes

In her view, though, it's not always about the biggest idea. "It's about executing your ideas well," she says. "Many, many hospitals have events, but they all may not have the same success that we do."

But hospitals try. And try. And try. New, competent nurses are a hot commodity in the industry. "Everyone is in the same boat, especially in California," Aldana says. "We have mandated staffing ratios, so we're all competing for nurses. We're always looking for ways to develop the talent pipeline."

That was part of the reason Huntington, a 525-bed, non-profit hospital, sent out 13,000 direct mail pieces to nurses touting an exclusive tour of the new west tower. "That was our biggest hook, to come and see the building and get a private tour," Aldana says.

It wasn't their only hook, though. Other perks of the two-day event included:

  • A gift bag with a drug handbook and recruitment materials (video, brochure, pen)
  • A free, one-hour CE class
  • A grand prize raffle for a weekend of Pasadena elegance that included two nights at the Ritz Carlton, dinner, and tickets to the Pasadena Playhouse
  • Refreshments and hors d'ouevres

But perks are not always the answer, says Aldana. "It's not just about the recruitment hook. It's not just about having a creative way to bring people in," she says. "We haven't increased our signing bonuses in four years. We'd rather invest the money into our Employee Referral Program, rewarding our current employees for helping us recruit,  hosting events that will draw quality candidates to our campus, or enhancing benefits offered to employees."

The 440 people that set foot in the new 128-room facility--set to open on December 10--were even more of a draw than Aldana expected. Of the 440, 150 were new graduates, a great showing for an organization that hires about 200 new nurses each year. "It was hugely successful," she says.

In a culture of can-you-top-this, perks and bonuses for new nurses may be here to stay. Some organizations, though, may not be just tossing large sums of money around to get the masses interested. "You can't spend all your time worrying about what other people are doing," Aldana says. "We're not worried about the competition down the street. It's about finding the best job candidates and investing in them."

Editor's note: What's your view on the bonuses and perks being offered to new nurses? Are they necessary? Have they gone over the top? How much do they affect a nurse's decision on which job to take? Sound off on our discussion board.