Talking With … Rick Kennedy: Filling 600 jobs at new Nemours Hospital has its challenges

(Orlando Sentinel) Rick Kennedy, 60, heads recruitment for Nemours Children’s Hospital at Lake Nona, where he and his human-resources team are working to fill 600 positions despite a shortage of health-care workers. Employees are getting on board to staff the new hospital, which will open Oct. 22. Kennedy, who has 30 years of human-resources experience, spoke recently with Sentinel staff writer Marni Jameson.

With today’s unemployment numbers, one would think filling jobs would be easy, but what are the challenges?

For certain positions we have a good supply of candidates without doing any reaching out. However, candidates for other positions are in short supply everywhere. We are always looking for creative ways to attract the best candidates in those areas.

What are the easiest positions to fill?

Mostly those jobs that are tied to a short learning curve. For instance, administrative support, clerical positions and entry- level medical assistants are in ample supply.

And the toughest?

In general, the more education a position calls for, the harder it is to find qualified candidates. Skilled clinicians in nursing who have specialized training are in short supply across the United States. Some examples are nurses who have subspecialties in intensive care or post-anesthesia.

We also have a nationwide shortage of physical therapists. At Nemours, we narrow the kind of physical therapists we’re looking for and seek ones who have expertise in treating kids. Then we narrow that and look for one who is also an expert in hand therapy. That makes a tough search. The more specialized the professional, the more difficult that person is to find.

Given the shortage and the specialization you want, are you offering higher salaries than the industry average?

No. But these professionals can demand good salaries. For example, while the range of salaries for nurses is broad, depending on years of experience, our average salary for nurses is $60,000 a year.

What are the most in-demand health care jobs?

Besides physical therapists and nurses, we need nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, nurse anesthetists, pharmacy technicians and radiology technologists.

Why is there such a shortage?

Not everyone gets a kick out of helping people going through a stressful condition. The work is physically and intellectually demanding.

How do you find those elusive candidates?

For hard-to-fill positions, we seek out passive candidates. Those are professionals not actively out looking for jobs. To reach them, we use social media tools including Facebook and LinkedIn. For instance, a pediatric intensive-care nurse from Seattle could see a post on LinkedIn, then connect to a micro-site that leads her to us.

How does recruiting candidates for health-care jobs differ from recruiting those for other professions?

Recruiters need to know what motivates their candidates. Professionals who go into health care enjoy patient contact and helping patients get better. They get motivated and feel engaged by serving others. However, because of that, many health-care workers don’t gravitate to leadership roles. So we’re particularly interested in those who also get energized by leading others. At some point, we need leaders.

How many positions do you still have to fill?

We still have about 500 positions to fill in 16 job categories by this summer.

If you were providing career counseling to new graduates interested in health care, what would you suggest?

If they were inclined, I’d encourage them to go into physical therapy. You can practice in a variety of settings and will always find work, or you can open your own practice.

That said, anyone looking for a career needs to look beyond issues of supply and demand. If I could give graduates any advice, it would be to follow their hearts.