Care For The Future: How to Attract the Next Generation of Nurses

The process for hiring nurses within the University of Pennsylvania Health System initially functioned much as it does in most other U.S. hospitals. Recruiters in human resources screen candidates and pass those most qualified onto the hiring manager.

However this process was not adequately supporting the organization’s goals for a best-in-class hiring process that would lead to hiring and retaining top talent nurses.


Hiring the right nurse for the right job is especially important in an acute care setting, when determining not only a skills match but also a cultural fit. The University of Pennsylvania Health System was faced with huge growth initiatives and needed to hire experienced nurses in an expedited time frame. The mission now was to move from "staffing" the hospital to providing strategic talent acquisition.

Penn has always been able to attract experienced nurses, but we needed to do it quickly and efficiently. A new high standard of hiring only Bachelor of Science Nurses (BSNs), and best talent that would fit in an environment of evidenced-based practice was established. However Nurse Recruiters now faced even a bigger challenge. This forced us to look at our recruiting structure process, leverage nurses as ambassadors—a new model of "culture of recruitment" and develop a way to achieve the goal with the highest quality BSN nurses, not just the "best available."

After initial due diligence, Courtney Brown, Director of Talent Acquisition, realized our recruiting structure was focused on filling the requisition with the best candidate we could. Our recruiters are strong in their particular functional area. Once the recruiters identified potential candidates, they sent the candidates to the hiring managers for further review and interviews. Because of high requisition volumes, our recruiters could not stay as connected to the hiring managers, and the hiring managers were heavily focused on filling their jobs to meet the demands of the unit.

We knew we needed to be much more strategic in our hiring and selection practices. Rhonda Zaleski, Corporate Director of Nurse Recruitment, recognized we needed a strategy to help us build partnerships with nursing, our own clinical nurses—engaging them to attract talent. We needed to move to a talent acquisition function that was focused on proactive "pipeline building," utilizing best-in-class tools to help us identity the best talent all while creating a partnership with our hiring managers and clinical nurses …not just a process.

A new strategy known as the "Culture of Recruitment" was designed with goals that would enhance our nurse recruitment campaign with the right nursing image, showcase our Magnet environment and World Class nurses for what we wanted to attract by integrating Clinical Nurses into the Nurse Recruitment process—producing even higher quality hire outcomes. This also required a higher level of sophisticated tools supported by Talent Acquisition to augment the strategy. We accomplished this by leveraging the following:

  • Utilization of assessment tools
  • Behavioral based interviewing that included clinical nurses
  • Implementing an online reference tool for quick turn-around
  • Consistent candidate shadows with clinical nurses at the bedside
  • Utilization of applicant tracking system
  • Pipeline development tools

Additionally, we created appealing media campaigns that gave a new ad look, morphed open houses into Continuing Education Events, focused on our own nurses in ads, which showcased the "sharp edge of care," interprofessional collaboration, workforce and clinical diversity, and state-of-the-art technology.

We empowered the clinical nurse to engage in attracting talent-selected nurse ambassadors to recruit at events and schools and implemented a nurse referral program, called "the great nurse search."

We instilled Nurse Recruitment "at the table" where Zaleski, has a seat at Chief Nursing Officer councils, Clinical Director operational meetings and Shared Governance reports. Recruiter individual goals were set and recruiters were self-motivated to attend unit/dept councils all working towards the development of a collaborative, proactive, strategic recruitment plan.

Our efforts resulted in a decrease in advertising dollars by 35 percent from FY05 to FY09, yielding 17 percent more recruits. Our Registered Nurse (RN) vacancy rates dropped from 10.4 percent FY05 to 3.8 percent FY09. Our ability to attract experienced nurses over graduate nurses improved between FY06 to FY08 from 209 to 274.

In summary, our "recruiting function" became a "talent acquisition function" that focused proactively, on identifying top talented BSNs that not only meet the skills required for the future, but engaged in attracting and retaining new nurses to the organization in an integrated partnership model with Nurse Recruitment and the Talent Acquisition function.