When Stephanie Conners became chief nursing officer at Hahnemann University Hospital in 2004, the downtown Philadelphia provider had too many vacant nursing jobs and was spending too much money on costly contract labor.
2009 Up & Comers: Stephanie Conners
It was hardly a unique situation at the time, as the urban hospital was emerging from bankruptcy through a financial recovery plan and was operating amid the country's rapidly growing nurse shortage. But one of the elements of her solution proved unorthodox.
“The first thing I did was take away the signing bonuses, because I didn't think they were fair,” Conners says. “I wanted to hire people who wanted to be here, not people who were here because of the signing bonus.” The money saved was redirected toward existing nurse salaries, which improved morale among longtime staff, who then helped spread the word about the work environment at Hahnemann.
At the same time, Conners formed a bond with the dean of Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions to ensure that partnerships between the two organizations led to the educations of nurses with the right skills who could find hospital jobs right out of school. “When there was a nursing shortage, we came to a point where we didn't have a vacancy rate, and we had no contract labor,” she says.
Hahnemann CEO Michael Halter says the decision to eliminate nurse signing bonuses was a difficult one at the time, but the results have vindicated it—the 483-bed hospital has 850 registered nurses today and five vacancies. Halter says the move reflected Conners' ability to think like a nurse, which is grounded in her years as a floor nurse and a nursing supervisor before she entered management.
Conners, now 37, became a candy striper at age 13, and passed the test to become an emergency medical technician at age 16. After high school, she opted for nursing college instead of medical school because it was more affordable and she could be out of school and caring for patients sooner. By age 24 she was a nursing shift supervisor at Virtua West Jersey Hospital-Marlton in New Jersey, and became one of Virtua's first Six Sigma black belts.
Whatever success Conners has had as a manager, she attributes to her ability to work with front-line staff to set the path for long-term positive change. “When you're looking to create change, it's definitely not the ones in the suits that create it. It's the ones on the front lines,” she says.
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