David Flees, a corporal in the U.S. Army Reserve, spends his days working as a security officer at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax, Va., but his goal is to work in a medical capacity with the hospital someday.
Calling up the reserves
Hospitals, systems join up with the Army to help keep skilled staff in their ranks
Trained as a respiratory therapist with the Army, Flees didn't have all of the the qualifications to serve as a therapist in a civilian hospital. However, through Inova Health System's Military to Medicine program, a nearly 2½-year-old training and placement service that works in conjunction with the Reserve and other military sectors to help military personnel and their spouses secure careers in healthcare, Flees was able to get a job working as a security officer at 196-bed Fair Oaks, and $3,000 a year to help complete his education.
Flees, 23, who served four years in active duty, is now just weeks away from earning his degree as a respiratory therapist at Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, N.J. Even after that degree is completed, “There's a couple more certifications I have to get in order to become a respiratory therapist at Fair Oaks,” he says.
Despite the challenging job market in healthcare careers brought on by the economic recession, Flees is pretty confident he'll be able to get a job at the hospital.
Helping military personnel like Flees get over the barriers to finding medical careers is what the Military to Medicine program is all about, says Daniel Nichols, the program's executive director. The not-for-profit program has placed nearly 300 people in healthcare jobs since its inception in April 2008.
Even as it benefits the people it trains, the program also has paid dividends for Inova as well.
“From the time we started the program we increased our retention rates for military personnel and new hires at Inova from 64% to 82%, and that's a one-year retention rate,” Nichols says. “We've also reduced our registered nurse vacancy rates from 15% to 3% over the three years of the operation.”
Nichols credits the Employer Partnership Initiative, sponsored by the Army Reserve and National Guard, as “starting it all for us as a recruitment program.” The initiative is a public-private venture that allows the Army and civilian employers to recruit, train and employ soldiers and veterans interested in pursuing civilian careers. Inova says it was the first partner to join forces with the Army Reserve, although it isn't the only hospital system that participates in the program.
Approximately 850 organizations nationwide partner with the Army Reserve, with at least 10% representing healthcare—physicians, hospitals, physical therapy and other professions. To date, at least 100 other hospitals have partnered with the Army Reserve to place military personnel in healthcare jobs.
In working with the Army Reserve, “we began to see the value of hiring military,” Nichols says. Of the 275 jobs Inova has filled with people having military experience, about 25 have been through the Reserve.
In turn, Inova, through its program Military to Medicine, works with all branches of the military and other healthcare employer partners, to place transitioning military personnel and members of their families in healthcare careers across the country, not just in Virginia, where Falls Church-based Inova Health System is headquartered.
These interweaving partnerships appear to be part of a larger trend for hospitals and the military to work together in an effort to replenish the healthcare workforce and strengthen the current system. As an example of this trend, a new batch of federal funds—about $1.5 million—was recently awarded to 258-bed Englewood (N.J.) Hospital and Medical Center to finance instruction and training for military and civilian physicians and other healthcare providers seeking to improve patient blood-management strategies. To date, the hospital has received nearly $4.7 million for this program.
What Military to Medicine is doing is different, however, Nichols says. Inova's focus is training people for jobs and placing them in jobs, as opposed to supplementing the work of medical personnel who already have established careers, he says.
In Inova's case, the program works to help train entry-level healthcare workers and people like Flees, who've already had some training.
“Military to Medicine works with each individual to understand their career goals and to develop a training plan that will help them achieve their goals,” Nichols says.
In the case of Flees and “other participants from the Reserve, National Guard or a transitioning service member, their military career has provided that core healthcare training,” he says. “Military to Medicine then helps close the training gap for these military healthcare professionals to get the certifications they need to be employed in the private healthcare sector.”
The goal is to “prepare a healthcare workforce at the ready, targeting military families to help recruit them into jobs on a nationwide basis,” Nichols adds. Allied health, nursing, radiation technology, respiratory therapy, and surgical services are some of the careers for which Inova prepares these trainees.
Now that Inova's Military to Medicine program has been launched, Inova has fronted it more than $3 million to support the healthcare training and placement opportunities of the extended military family. The program has been further supported by philanthropic organizations and businesses that all support the mission of Military to Medicine.
To date, “We've provided free scholarships to more than 1,200 people,” including Flees, Nichols says.
Job training and placement becomes crucial for military personnel who have been stationed overseas or in different parts of the country, then settle in an area that demands qualifications for a specific healthcare position they might not already possess.
“What we do first is an assessment to get information about the person, see where they are and where their fit is,” through basic cognitive testing, Nichols says.
In the event they haven't already chosen a medical career, trainees are assigned to a case manager or counselor who helps the individual select a career pathway. Once the career choice is selected, the program often places the trainees in entry-level jobs such as a unit secretary or clinical assistant “so they can start earning a paycheck while they train to be a radiation technologist,” Nichols explains as one example.
The program also researches what these military personnel need to become qualified or licensed for their profession in a certain state, Nichols says. State and national requirements can vary, and what often happens is military members will move their families to another state, then find out they're not fully qualified to practice in their chosen jobs in that state, despite their military training.
For military families moving back to the U.S. from overseas or even from state to state, it's a challenge to keep licensing requirements current, or figure out what additional training they'll need.
“That's why our program was started, to help them navigate through that,” Nichols says.
He admits that the program hasn't been without its challenges. It takes about eight months to a year to train someone for some healthcare careers. And then there's the question of finding an available position in a weak economy that has tightened up the number of available jobs, including healthcare jobs.
“We built a placement program during a time of economic hardship to say the least. While there's not that many jobs open in general, healthcare is still hiring. We owe it to our military families to work our hardest for them both in the tough times and when the economy improves,” Nichols says.
In Ohio, another coalition of healthcare systems has just begun its partnership with the Army Reserve. Several years ago, northeast Ohio's major healthcare systems decided to form the Northeast Ohio Health, Science & Innovation Coalition to help boost the region's healthcare workforce.
“Shortages in healthcare are a big problem. Rather than wait for education or private sector foundations, we decided to take the initiative,” says August Napoli Jr., president of the coalition. He's also president and chief operating officer of the Summa Foundation, which does resource development for Summa Health System, a five-hospital system based in Akron, Ohio, that joined six other healthcare systems in the state to form the coalition.
The coalition's relationship with the Army Reserve began in January 2009 once officials realized how important returning service people would be in filling healthcare jobs, Napoli says.
While Inova has had some time to test the waters of this military/hospital workforce relationship, the Ohio coalition has yet to get its program under way.
Napoli says the challenge has been streamlining the processes of seven different healthcare systems “that all approach recruitment and employment differently.”
Outside of the systems themselves, there are the investment boards, military leaders and regional colleges the coalition has to work with to make this education and placement program a reality. Taking into account all of these factors, Napoli estimates the first placements will take place sometime this year.
As with Inova, funding has come from within the health systems: Each institution in the Ohio coalition has committed resources to the group. Summa Health alone “has invested approximately $150,000 so far; we're pursuing as a collective private-sector funding from companies in this area. So far, we don't know how much it's going to cost,” Napoli says.
The coalition says it may try to seek funding from the Army Reserve in the future, although a spokeswoman for the Reserve says the purpose of its partnership program is to partner with employers that have jobs that complement skills in military training, and that these partnerships aren't legally binding agreements.
Napoli concedes that there are “real costs associated with retraining these women and men, and we are prepared to continue to put our own individual and collective skin in the game. However, we also believe that the Army and other potential private and public funders will see the value in what we are doing and when our business plan is finalized, we will seek their additional assistance.”
Whatever the cost, the need for training these military personnel in the region is vital, Napoli says. “We recognize there's longer ramp-up to this than we preferred, but we have to get started. Our numbers are desperate and we need this help.”
Unlike other parts of the country, members of the Ohio coalition have a surplus of available healthcare jobs, about 2,700, and 600 of those are in the allied health fields. People don't stay and work in the Ohio region either because of the perception there are no jobs or they are not adequately trained for the jobs that are available, Napoli says.
“If you look at our part of the country, the population isn't growing,” although demand for healthcare continues to increase as the population ages, Napoli adds. “There's increasingly fewer people to draw from,” as young people aren't thinking about health careers until much later in their education, he says.
The Ohio systems may compete with each other on a retail basis, but “there's a value in building a pool in which we can all draw and gain from,” Napoli says.
He's hoping the coalition will begin training in the first six months of this year, in a wide range of professions, including respiratory therapy, radiation technology, imaging and nursing.
“There's a big nursing shortage, certainly in Ohio,” he says.
It's estimated that by the year 2020, the demand for full-time-equivalent registered nurses will exceed the supply by nearly 30%, according to statistics supplied by the Ohio Nurses Association.
Napoli says the Ohio coalition would entertain partnerships with other branches of the military but is waiting to see how things work out with the Army first. “We don't want to bite off more than we can chew,” he says.
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