Our Take

Supporting Imaging Hiring and Retention

15 Minute Read

Nearly every service line in the medical field is experiencing turbulence in their staffing as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. However, many of these issues are not new. Covid-19 has exacerbated pre-existing burdens on health care professionals and increased burnout.

Imaging leaders need to reflect on how they can holistically and systemically improve their management to attract and retain top talent. Read our take on the three mindset shifts that imaging leaders will have to make now to strengthen their technologist workforce.

 

The current challenge

Workforce challenges have been increasingly prevalent across the health care ecosystem in the peri-Covid-19 world. Even before the pandemic, health care professionals had been expressing their frustrations, citing issues with bureaucratic load, long hours, and burnout. As the job market rebounds, people are leaving organizations for different opportunities, often seeking jobs that have more favorable pay, better hours, or fewer safety concerns. In a recent Advisory Board survey of over 300 health care leaders, 47% of respondents reported considering leaving the health care profession during the last year.

Imaging has not been immune to this challenge. We heard from our interviews with health system imaging leaders that maintaining a capable workforce is a top concern. This is especially true with lower-paying roles such as imaging technologists, where CT and ultrasound technologists are particularly hard to retain.

Why imaging technologists are leaving their jobs amidst the pandemic

  • Switching industries
  • Moving to jobs with better hours, such as outpatient imaging centers
  • Burning out
  • Entering early retirement
  • Leaving their position due to vaccine mandates
  • Taking travelling positions
  • Moving to states with lower costs of living
 

Our take

Through our research on workforce challenges and conversations with imaging leaders, Advisory Board has uncovered the following three necessary mindset shifts to support imaging hiring and retention:

1. The main workforce challenge during the pandemic is burnout, and burnout can’t be fixed by financial levers alone.

Imaging leaders, and system leaders more broadly, have been deploying many initiatives to retain and hire staff during the pandemic. Common approaches include sign on bonuses, retention bonuses, referral bonuses, and extra bonuses for shifts that are open 24 hours before their start. While large sign-on bonuses may be useful in attracting new hires, they are not sustainable. Regional competitors may find themselves in a “bidding war,” raising bonuses until it is not financially viable for any institution. While appropriate compensation is an important of long-term workforce strategy, imaging leaders should be aware that the most pressing reason for workforce challenges is not a lack of financial incentive, but rather burnout from the unprecedented stress and workload of the years-long pandemic. Many staff members were furloughed and/or asked to take on bigger or different roles during the pandemic.

2. Younger generations have different workplace expectations; to attract and retain younger talent, organizations must adapt.

In our conversations, imaging leaders shared their frustrations that millennial and Gen Z staff seem to have different workplace goals and values than previous generations. For example, younger staff may move around rather than growing their career at one organization for decades. It is true that younger staff often do want different outcomes from their occupation, and they are more willing to move organizations in pursuit of better opportunities. However, while workplace loyalty may look different in younger generations, it is not impossible to foster. Organizations must accept that these staff are the future of health care and adapt accordingly to provide an engaging work environment.

3. Career development beyond a two-step ladder is crucial but doesn’t always mean a new role.

Many organizations don’t have a traditional career ladder for technologists who do not want to advance to a management role. Even among those that do offer a career advancement pathway, it may be considered more of a “stepping stool,” with only one or two rungs, than a full “ladder.” In a common scenario, the technologist will come in as a generalist and then train in and be promoted to a new modality.

A challenge for leadership is that technologists have a clearly defined role. While their position is important, there is often limited room for growth—an ultrasound tech of 10 plus years may be doing the same day-to-day work of a tech with less than two years’ experience. This staffing situation can be demoralizing for the technologist. Organizations will have to think creatively about how to develop and promote technologist’s skills, without creating an unsustainable system of constant role promotions.

 

Three strategies for imaging leaders struggling with hiring and retention

Read our three strategies that imaging leaders should take to strengthen their technologist workforce over the near- and long-term.

  • Strategy

    Invest in mental and emotional supports to mitigate burnout

    Read More Collapse
  • Strategy

    Adapt to the needs of the younger workforce

    Read More Collapse
  • Strategy

    Reward high-performing staff with growth opportunities

    Read More Collapse
 

Parting thoughts

Across the country, imaging technologists are more willing to leave their positions now than in the past and may leave the medical field altogether for careers with less perceived risk and stress. Imaging leaders must take decisive action to recruit and retain an engaged technologist workforce. While our research uncovered many potential strategies, the following three may be the most impactful as a starting place:

  • Imaging leaders should consider how they are supporting staff with days off, flexible hours, emotional support, and other strategies to address burnout instead of focusing on financial bonuses and incentives.
  • Imaging leaders need to find ways to bridge generational gaps in their workforce. A “buddy system” that partners a new tech with an experienced one, collaborative projects, and team-wide development training can encourage team-building for long-term retention.
  • Imaging leaders need to think beyond the managerial career ladder to retain skilled technologists. Some imaging leaders are thinking of the career ladder as a lattice, focusing on lateral growth and movement. This may mean supporting cross-training across modalities and greater involvement in staff training.

For additional support, please contact ask@advisory.com with questions.

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