Strategies For Finding and Retaining Imaging Professionals Post-COVID

Tuesday, August 16, 2022 | Jaime Warren

As the newest member of the MedAxiom Consulting Team, Jaime Warren, EdD, MBA, BHS, CNMT, NCT, brings 20+ years of clinical and operational experience to our community. Beginning her journey in healthcare as a nuclear medicine technologist, Jaime went onto hold operational leadership positions which provided her a viewpoint from the clinician to the C-suite. With extensive experience in both inpatient and ambulatory imaging setting, Jaime’s expertise lies in improving organizational processes, workflows and human performance.

A little over two years ago, I was told that one of my cardiovascular imaging departments would be shut down for 10 days due to a vast COVID exposure, and…this included me. My first response was “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I was devastated, but my role required me to step up and figure out a plan.

As the director for non-invasive cardiovascular services, I provided oversight to the healthcare system which included four robust hospitals and multiple outpatient centers. This placed me squarely in the middle of figuring out how to find staffing for an entire hospital cardiovascular imaging department in less than 12 hours.

What COVID highlighted for me and many other leaders, is the importance of having the imaging department running efficiently, as this is pivotal in determining next steps in a patient’s care. It also highlighted the need to work as a team vs. focusing on individual facilities. In this instance, I was able to pull teammates from the other facilities to provide coverage. It was bumpy yet manageable and required many phone calls. This example leads to two very important questions:

  • How do we find these teammates?
  • How do we retain them?

For many, the cardiovascular imaging departments are staffed with small teams of highly specialized individuals. This includes technologists, sonographers, and nurses that have been provided specific educational pathways to perform diagnostic testing specific to the heart and veins. These teammates are board certified and licensed. Unfortunately, they do not come in large numbers.

Ask any imaging manager and they will immediately tell you how hard it is to find a qualified teammate to work in their echo, nuclear, stress and vascular labs. It’s almost like we are robbing Peter to pay Paul with staff moving from one location to another for best pay, bonus and schedules.

I started my healthcare career as a nuclear medicine technologist and through opportunities and continuation of my education, I was moved into a management role that included overseeing the daily challenges of staffing. With both hands-on knowledge and serving as the team leader, I was quick to find different ways of both finding the right person to join the team and retaining them.

Best practices include:

  • Get creative with teammate schedules. We can often get stuck in a “this is how we have always done it” mentality and stick with a traditional schedules of five 8-hour shifts. I challenge those preparing a schedule to review alternatives that include 10 and 12-hour shifts or even a weekend coverage person. When reviewing new schedule patterns, include your high performing teammates in the discussion as their suggestions/recommendations could highlight a new manner given they are the “boots on the ground.” Keep in mind the physical requirements of your teammates like being able to lift patients or moving equipment for the longer shifts.
  • Get students back into your departments. Clinical rotations are the pipeline for new teammates and can be viewed as “long job interviews“ during their clinical time at your lab. Don’t have a program close by? Many schools are researching how they can partner with healthcare organizations for clinical sites and provide online didactic options. This new pathway creates a mechanism to keep the student in your specific area, while also obtaining the required educational pathway and degree.
  • Beef up your recognition program. Many healthcare programs have a robust reward/recognition program that is associated with bedside nursing. Reach out to nursing leadership and ask for their best practices for recognizing their teams. One good example is having a Cardiovascular Week where your team is highlighted. This could include events throughout the week with meals, games, giveaways, and tours through the department for other areas of the hospital to learn about what non-invasive does for patient care. Add administration and leadership from the other areas to come give your team a high-five and recognize what they contribute to the patient care team.
  • Clearly define roles within your team. There is a misunderstanding of what to call a teammate working in the imaging departments and many times the default is “technician.” Using an established communications pathway at your organization (i.e., newsletter, Facebook, emails, etc.), provide information on what a teammate in your department is called and what their role involves. I have found that many do not know that a technologist has a similar educational pathway (including boards and licensure) as a nurse and that their education is very specialized to understanding the science behind the imaging modality.
  • Change descriptive terms to create a culture of inclusion. There are many times where a hospital-wide program will be rolled out for all teammates but written in a manner that only makes sense to one group of people. When this roll out occurs, the teams may feel it is not relevant to them as the examples and descriptive terms are not what is used in their areas. For example, on many employee engagement surveys, the word “unit” is used to describe their working area. This is not a common term outside of bedside nursing and can cause confusion with the other healthcare professionals.
  • Be the champion for your team. Advocate for your teammates when it comes to compensation with pay ranges and bonus programs. You are the eyes and ears of the market and sharing information to your HR/compensation teams highlights where there is a need to have an evaluation. The supply and demand for these smaller departments (and just a few minor changes in pay) can make all the difference when it comes to being the market leader for technologist employment.

Want more information? Tune into the upcoming webinar, Cardiovascular Staffing in a COVID/Post-COVID World: Part 2 – Recruitment and Retention Strategies,” where I will join other experts to discuss common sense approaches to creating a foundation of retention during the recruitment process. Learn more and register here.

Illustration: Lee Sauer

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