Lessons Learned from a Pandemic – Dramatically Improving Nursing Talent Acquisit…

Talent Acquisition

The first six months of the pandemic placed many healthcare systems in catch-up mode. It felt like we were all playing a very rough football game, trailing by three touchdowns after one quarter. That said – in business, just like in sports – being behind doesn’t mean all is wrong.

Capitalizing on what went well is the best way to orchestrate a recovery and, ultimately, not only win the game but make you a much better team. There are many examples at Atrium Health to illustrate this point, especially in talent acquisition – more precisely, in nurse recruitment, as the competition for nurses is fierce across the nation.


The year 2020 could be, in itself, an excuse strong enough to explain any performance lag due to the many obstacles thrown our way. However, the 2020 metrics for Atrium Health Nursing Talent Acquisition tell a different story:

  • Fill ratio of 1.36 (fill 36% more nursing positions than there are openings) which is an improvement of 16% compared to the prior year
  • Nursing turnover is down by 3.2%
  • Nursing first-year turnover is down by 5.2%
  • Nursing 90-day turnover is down by 1.8%
  • Days-to-fill down by seven days compared to the prior year
  • Days-to-starts down by 34 days compared to the prior year

These outcomes would be considered outstanding in any given year. In 2020, I will not shy away from saying that they are phenomenal. The impact on the organization is invaluable. Now, the real question is: “How was it done?” Like everything in human resources, it was a mix of multiple factors.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Even if vacancy rate and turnover are often perceived as “human resources” metrics, they are also a strong leadership indicator. When experiencing such a positive trend, it is imperative for talent acquisition to give the credit to the nursing and operations leaders who have been working hard at employee retention and to engage the workforce. In the end, low turnover is the best way to enhance your talent acquisition function. The easiest positions to fill are the ones that never become vacant in the first place!

Partnership with the Nursing Leadership is Key

Being credible and having the ability to align and partner with the nursing executive leadership team is the foundation to the success of any nursing talent acquisition function. The capacity to listen, execute on feedback and speak the same language is the main difference between a smooth ride and running a full marathon knee-deep in mud.

READ: Reshaping the Healthcare Industry – Now is the New Future of Work

Nurses not only have a critical role, but are the heart and soul of any health care system. Nurses feel the pulse of the organization in ways that others do not. Gathering their input and translating it in a HR and talent acquisition tactical plan is a game changer. Building credibility with the nursing executive leadership team will always be what I recommend accomplishing first.

Leadership Profile Matters

When building the Atrium Health Nursing Talent Acquisition leadership team, the desired profiles were very intentional. Common mistakes that I came across multiple times in my career is to have leaders with a strong talent acquisition or human resources background.

While experience and knowledge are important, Atrium Health focused on different aspects: 1) as described above, credibility with the nursing executive team; 2) strong business acumen; 3) able to embrace the experience economy; and 4) balance in strengths within the leadership team.

The Atrium Health Nursing Talent Acquisition executive is a nurse with a strong business acumen, nursing strategy and clinical education background (note: no previous HR or talent acquisition experience). Because balance matters, this executive is partnering with two nursing talent acquisition leaders. One has extensive talent acquisition and HR knowledge while the other one, a nurse, has a few years of recruiting experience – both balancing the strengths of the executive. The combination of their complimentary backgrounds is crucial to the success of the full team.

Embracing the Experience Economy Mindset

“Experience Economy, where businesses must form unique connections in order to secure their customers’ affections – and ensure their own economic vitality. The idea of staging experiences to leave a memorable —and lucrative — impression is now more relevant than ever. [1]– B. Joseph Pine II

Learning a lesson from the business world, one common denominator from highly successful and profitable organizations is embracing the experience economy. Companies like Disney, Apple, Amazon, and Tesla have truly mastered the art of creating an experience in ways that touch their prospects and new clients’ hearts and feelings to craft long-lasting memories.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou

Talent acquisition teams truly obtain a competitive advantage the day they move from a transactional function into a strategic and experiential one. Having the capacity to generate positive feelings for all new employees, before even day one, is a true differentiator.

Of course, technology plays an important part (for example, a strong career site, ease of applying and scheduling interviews, time between interactions, etc.), but modifying the profile of talent acquisition leaders and employees is the foundation. The ability of the team to make the potential new employee feel desired, be respectful of the applicant’s time by being responsive and painting an appealing, accurate picture of the organization (Employee Value Proposition or EVP) is the way to go.

Non-Nursing Talent Acquisition Team is the Unsung Hero

The talent acquisition function is a team sport. Even while segmented (in Atrium Health as nursing and non-nursing), it is extremely important to acknowledge that the success of Atrium Health Nursing Talent Acquisition team would not have been possible without the tremendous support for the Non-Nursing Talent Acquisition team. Shared national recruiting strategies and shared resources are just a few examples to illustrate this.


One of my mentors always said, “when things go badly, it is easy to forget what is going well; and when things go well, it is easy to forget what can be improved. When results are rough, you must highlight the bright spots, and when results are solid, you have to identify what to work on to make them even better.”

Even in the middle of a global pandemic, as we navigate unknown waters, it has been extremely important for me to intentionally look for bright spots – and Atrium Health Nursing Talent Acquisition truly shines bright.

Photo Courtesy of Atrium Health 

[1]     “The New Experience Economy” – B.Joseph.Pine II – https://hbr.org/webinar/2020/01/the-new-experience-economy

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