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D.C., Maryland and Virginia institutions try various tactics to hire and retain nurse informaticists

Wednesday September 18, 2013
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Nursing informatics — a fast-growing specialty in nursing — has some D.C. area hospitals struggling to keep pace in learning the best ways to hire and retain these in-demand nurses who combine clinical skills with IT skills to improve patient care.

Technological advances, approval of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act and funding for electronic health records technology have contributed to increased job growth.

The Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology anticipates 50,000 new health information technology jobs, including nurse informaticists, will be created within the next few years.

However, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area hospital recruiters and leaders have expressed concern that their nurse informaticists and clinical/system analysts might be short-timers.

“It’s very common once an implementation is done for the staff to go and pursue consulting jobs for more money,” said Benjamin Laughton, CRNP, MSN, MBA, senior director of clinical informatics at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. “That’s something you hear pretty regularly.”

Implementation of electronic medical records for the larger center might not occur until 2015, but Laughton said they already are learning lessons from one of their community hospitals, which worked on its Epic EMR less than a year ago.

“They did not see the same sort of turnover for nurse informatics” in part, because “they used a maybe slightly different hiring strategy that we are trying to emulate,” he said. “And that is to bring people aboard who are seasoned clinicians in their departments, well respected and have a long history and commitment to the hospital.”

As for the job market in general, “it is very difficult for us to find people who come to us certified in EMR,” he said. “It’s next to impossible because most of those people end up working for consulting firms. Most hospitals hire nurses and send them to specialty training.”

When a few employees left for other opportunities with tempting salaries, Michelle Lardner, RN-BC, MS, director of nursing informatics at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, “warned them the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”

Nurses do meaningful work at hospitals, said Lardner, who encourages her nurses to advance their career by earning a master’s degree in nursing informatics or certification and by attending conferences.

Virginia Hospital Center Director of Recruitment Laura Van Syckle, who recruited Lardner, said “people going for the money may just go for the money. But most nurse informaticists have a different driver. Certainly, they want to be compensated, but they also want to feel valued. We have been good about retaining our people here, but we are a top 100 hospital. People get in here and love the environment, the collaboration and the professional support.

Everyone who is striving to be their best has tremendous support. I think that makes a bit of a difference for us.”

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., went live with its first EMR in 2009. Of the four nurse informaticists involved, one remains, said Lorelei Stellwag, RN, MSN, director of technology transformation.

“The salaries that [nurse informaticists] have are really commensurate with what their peers are making at the bedside,” Stellwag said. “[But] when they stop working at the bedside, they lose the ability to have differential in overtime pay. The system people are in a salaried position.”

Dennis Hoban, senior director of recruitment services for MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said a migration to a full EMR was recently finalized. During the year they planned it, his office hired eight nurse informatics and about five medical informaticists. All eight nurses have master’s degrees in the field and many of them were internal candidates.

“Now that the project is over, it does remain to be seen whether or not we will experience any of that turnover associated with post project malaise,” he said. A new role, director of nursing quality and analytics, assures staff the hospital is serious about building a robust nursing analytic function in the organization, he said.

The employment outlook is good as many hospitals are going to EMR and or health information exchanges with their state or local governments, recruiters say.

“The great news for nurse [informaticists] is that they have so many career tracks they can take,” Hoban said. “The bad news for hospitals is they have so many good avenues to take in going away.”


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