How to Hire C-Suite Executives in Healthcare

A Conversation with Cindy Bagwell of Geisinger Health system

I had the honor of speaking with Cindy Bagwell, VP of Talent Acquisition for Geisinger Health System, and she shared three qualities and three pieces of advice that will help healthcare recruitment leaders more effectively make their next executive hire.

Chad Harrington
15 February 2016

As one of the nation’s largest rural health systems, Geisinger’s physician-led system is comprised of approximately 30,000 employees, including nearly 1,600 employed physicians, 12 hospital campuses, two research centers and a 510,000-member health plan.

That’s quite a talent force to manage and hire for, especially on the C-Suite level.

How does one acquire talent for such a large operation?  

Image credit: Geisinger

Image credit: Geisinger


That’s exactly what I asked Cynthia Bagwell, Geisinger’s VP of Talent Acquisition, during a recent Relode exclusive interview. Her top advice is insightful for all levels of hiring, especially when hiring for an entire health system.

Cynthia Bagwell’s Profile

Cynthia Bagwell, VP of TA; Image credit: Geisinger

Cynthia Bagwell, VP of TA; Image credit: Geisinger

  • 20 years of progressive responsibility in complex, multi-site healthcare environments
  • Executive and Physician recruitment expert
  • Oversees 3 recruitment departments for Geisinger Health System:
    • Professional Staffing
    • Clinical Recruitment
    • Corporate Recruitment
  • Leads 40 recruitment employees
  • Average number of hires 1,500–2,000 per fiscal year (140 are physicians and executives)

Bagwell’s main goal as VP of Talent Acquisition for Geisinger is “to always get the best person and place them in the right position that fits with their skill set, their interest, at the same time meeting the needs of the organization,” she says.

How do you identify top level executives?

A. They meet the skill set threshold

“They have to meet a threshold of the skill set you’re looking for. That’s pretty straight forward for most jobs. If it’s a clinical job, they either have the training or they don’t—that’s the baseline.”

B. They’ve already worked in a health system

“Beyond that, then, we start looking at the types of organizations they’ve worked for previously. Geisinger is what’s called ‘an integrated healthcare system.’ We’re a clinic model, physician led—those are some of the buzz words. So we look to see if these candidates have had any type of experience or interaction with those types of structures, and if they have, then we’re a little ways along the fit test. 

“It doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t hire them if they hadn’t. It’s good to know that they will have an easier time relating to our structure and how we’re organized. We look for that.” 


C. They’re people persons

“Beyond that, we look for: 

  • Are they a nice person? 
  • Do they interact well with people when you’re talking to them? 
  • Are they relatable? 
  • Do they pay attention to the admin assistant when they’re walking through the department for an interview?

“We look at those tell-tale signs for whether they fit. It doesn’t mean you will always agree with everybody, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be decisive, but you need to be respectful of your colleagues and others—that’s a key thing for us.” 

Cynthia Bagwell’s Top 3 Pieces of Advice for Talent Acquisition

1. Don’t settle. 
2. Build a strong team and support them.
3. Celebrate individual’s successes. 

1. Don’t settle.

“That’s the hardest thing. There’s such a shortage of qualified healthcare professionals in a variety of different specialties—not just physicians but nursing, advanced practice, allied health. The tendency is to fill the spot, because everybody’s clamoring for that position to be filled. 

“But if you really know that this is not a good fit or you see behavioral issues that are concerning, you need to pass and move on, because you’ll end up parting from that person later and you’ll end up starting all over again.”

“It’s very hard, because there’s pressure to fill the positions, but if you can, don’t settle. Wait for the person who’s the best fit for your organization and has the values that are important to your organization.” 

2. Build a strong team and support them.

“If they’re doing the right thing and the managers aren’t happy that they haven’t moved fast enough, get your facts first, be confident in the skills of your team, and then be supportive of them. Be willing to go to bat for them, because there’s a lot of pressure to quickly fill jobs. So your team needs to feel like you support them. That’s assuming that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing!”

3. Celebrate individual’s successes.

“Recruiters don’t tend to get a lot of pats on the back. It’s pretty much, You’re as good as the last job you filled, so you as a manager and a leader need to celebrate your team. Encourage them and let them know that they’re valued.”

Geisinger Health System Profile

  • HQ: Danville, PA
  • Two research centers
  • 12 hospital campuses
  • 45 counties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey served
  • 1,600 employed physicians
  • 30,000 employees
  • 510,000-member health plan, all of which leverage an estimated 
  • $8.9 billion positive impact on the Pennsylvania economy


Chad Harrington is the Content Director at Relode, the human-powered job posting. He writes on all things hiring. Contact him through email. Follow Relode on Twitter for all blogs and company updates.