13 Jul Recruiting for Health Care on the Olympic Peninsula
Health care in rural communities has historically been a challenge, but the Olympic Peninsula has found a way to rise to the need—while still looking to fill gaps that expanded care requires.
Olympic Medical Center has been the largest employer on the North Olympic Peninsula for years, but it continues to be the fastest growing as well.
While local providers such as OMC, North Olympic Healthcare Network and Jamestown Family Health Clinic have stepped up to fill community health care needs and recruit the right staff and providers to offer needed services, shortages of skilled and unskilled workers occurring nationally have also affected regional providers, according to Jennifer Burkhardt, chief human resources officer and general counsel at Olympic Medical Center.
“The shortages we face are reflected nationally so we are not alone,” said Burkhardt. “In order to recruit and retain valuable staff, which is the heart of OMC, our human resources department works hard to ensure that wages and benefits are market competitive, that there are internal advancement opportunities, and that employee and provider engagement is a high priority.”
Successfully Recruiting Health Care Providers on the Olympic Peninsula
OMC has relatively good success at filling positions with high-quality candidates, regardless of the shortages. According to Burkhardt, in addition to strong wages and benefits and growth opportunities, the reasons people choose to join OMC include the desirable living conditions on the Olympic Peninsula, numerous outdoor activities and excellent activities, work and family balance, education support, the organization’s positive reputation and excellent patient outcomes.
“OMC’s strengths include our stable history of providing excellent health care to community residents, our professional and dedicated employees, responsiveness to patients and our commitment to quality health care,” says Burkhardt. She adds that these are values many people seek in a career.
Burkhardt, who also sits on the Clallam County Economic Development Council and participates in a number of OMC as well as community advocacy efforts to support local employment, does not gloss over external factors that create recruiting challenges. “The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously been very difficult, but also the lack of available housing, a shortage of affordable child care resources and the related social-economic issues,” said Burkhardt. “Other opportunities to sway the decision of potential candidates are trailing spouses and the conditions of our schools.”
“OMC actively works to mitigate these challenges by collaborating with community, civic and legislative stakeholders who partner extensively and continue to problem-solve together.”
“OMC is in the process of hiring 25 new graduate registered nurses from Peninsula College, the highest number ever of new graduate RN’s to be hired from the nursing program locally!” said Burkhardt. OMC is able to hire a record number of local nursing graduates because of the extensive and comprehensive one-year RN Residency program it provides as internal support and training for nurses new to the profession. “This is a powerful example of local workforce development and economic success that community collaboration can achieve,” said Burkhardt.
According to Burkhardt, the organization currently has its largest number of employees in its 70-year history—over 1,600 personnel. And OMC continues to add more positions.
OMC and North Olympic Peninsula an Attractive Place to Work
Physicians and advanced practice clinicians looking for a certain type of lifestyle – the outdoors, a love of the arts, interesting activities and a strong sense of community – find OMC a very attractive place to work.
Shenna Younger, human resource business partner, focuses on recruiting providers for OMC, and she’s noticed an uptick in qualified providers seeking quieter, community-focused clinics to practice—like those found on the Olympic Peninsula. “There’s been a few things that have resonated with providers looking for a new place to practice,” said Younger.
During their research, potential candidates see the stability OMC has demonstrated for decades. Health care organizations across the nation did struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many hospitals – particularly in urban areas – had to make difficult choices. OMC faced similar challenges, but unlike some hospitals that decreased the number of staff members, OMC grew by 37 providers and approximately 100 employees.
In addition to OMC’s financial stability, the draw of a true work-life balance is bringing health care professionals to the area. “Being able to live where you vacation is attractive. Whereas most people have to take a long weekend to hikes trails in the Olympic National Forest, for locals it’s something you can simply do after work,” said Younger.
Opportunities for the Community
While the health care organizations on the Olympic Peninsula have gone above and beyond to bring expanded care to the area, there are still roadblocks making it difficult to fill all the needed positions.
“Affordable housing and access to child care continue to be hurdles for many people,” said Tammy Hueter, talent acquisition supervisor at OMC.
According to Hueter, while more providers are accepting positions on the Peninsula, the support staff positions needed to make that care happen have been more difficult to fill.
“It has been harder to recruit entry-level positions because there’s nowhere for them to live,” said Hueter.
Positions like medical assistants, certified nursing assistants and front office staff are ready and willing to work, but finding housing is another story. Even if they’re able to move to the area for a job, the lack of affordable housing is a turn-off for potential recruits. Add to this a childcare shortage, when the majority of those filling these positions are women, and recruitment becomes that that much more difficult.
“The community can step up to help,” says Burkhardt. “There has never been a better time to become a licensed child care provider, thanks to local efforts and new legislation at the state level funding child care initiatives.”
Choices community members make in regard to rental properties can also impact the narrative. “Homeowners who offer affordable rentals for families, or perhaps rent to visiting health care workers instead of as vacation rentals, can really make a difference,” adds Burkhardt.
Pursuing a Career in Health Care on the Peninsula
Health care doesn’t run on providers alone. For someone looking for work or a career change, health care has more options than many realize.
“People who were in other vocations never thought they could work in health care,” said Younger. “But if you’re a good human being with a good work ethic, we have a spot for you here at OMC.”
From entry-level positions to non-clinical positions in administration, the opportunity to grow a career at OMC is available for interested applicants. And with competitive wages, great benefits that include retirement savings and paid time off, plus ample opportunity for upward mobility, local job seekers can find stable work in a variety of positions, according to Burkhardt.
For those with their sight set on becoming a certified nursing assistant, OMC offers 100% tuition reimbursement for employees who would like to work while attending Peninsula College’s CNA program. This tuition support is offered to employees in a variety of support roles, including dietary, housekeeping and patient transport.
Additionally, OMC innovated to develop an internal OMC Medical Assistant Apprenticeship program to train Medical Assistants on the job. This has offered paid training opportunities to many local residents, and continues to be a paid on-the-job training opportunity for those interested in a career in medical assisting. Medical Assistant Apprenticeship positions are limited, but slots become available every year.
“I’ve watched a lot of my school mates get careers and support their families by joining OMC, so when a friend sent me the link to apply, I jumped on it,” said Alison West, a Medical Assistant Apprentice who started at OMC in January 2020.
West was already enrolled in Peninsula College’s Medical Assistant program, but she needed income for her family while in school. When OMC offered her a position in the apprenticeship course, she quickly accepted it. “I got an education while being paid.” said West. “It was exactly what this single mom needed. I am now approaching the time where I take my certification test, and I hope to be certified by the end of the year.”
Opportunities to grow in a career in health care, like West, are not only possible on the Peninsula, but readily available.
OMC’s expansion in outpatient services in recent years has resulted in an immense need for Medical Assistants and other members of the care team such as registration and office staff. “It’s a delicate balance,” said Hueter, referencing the need to have staff to support the new providers coming to the area. “These support positions need to be filled, and they’re all great positions that we hope locals can fill.”
OMC has nearly 200 open positions currently, and the organization is looking to fill vital support positions with the help of a local job fair.
OMC’s job fair for entry-level and non-clinical positions is scheduled for Wednesday, July 14 in Port Angeles and Thursday, July 15 in Sequim. Interested applicants can attend the OMC job fair in Port Angeles on July 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the previous Wells Fargo building at 901 E. Front Street, and in Sequim on July 15 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at OMC’s Medical Services Building at 840 N. 5th Avenue.
Learn more about career opportunities and open positions at OMC by visiting olympicmedical.org/careers