How Covenant Health Faced 659 Open Positions in West Texas

A Conversation with Missy Watson

Chad Harrington
January 2016

When Missy Watson came onto the scene in 2015, Covenant Health had 659 open positions and only four recruiters to fill those positions. Since then, she’s focused on equipping the recruiting team to handle this volume of positions.

Image credit: Covenant Health

Image credit: Covenant Health

Company profile:

  • Location: West Texas
  • 100 years of service
  • Care network includes more than 5,000 employees
  • A medical staff of more than 600 physicians

We wanted to know more about how Covenant hires, so we took some time to dig deeper into their story. Here’s a few jewels we found in West Texas, where Covenant serves as the “largest, most comprehensive provider in the West Texas and eastern New Mexico region,” Watson says.

As I spoke with Missy, recruiting manager for Covenant, she said that what separates them from other providers is that they are faith-based, which means they focus on healing mind, body, and spirit. This differentiator is accentuated by the stories of their nurses.

For example, the Daisy Award winners have amazing stories of touching patients and families in their greatest time of need. The DAISY Award For Extraordinary Nurses exists to honor the super-human work nurses do for patients and families every day.


How Missy Hires for Covenant Health System

I asked Missy how she handled 659 open positions when she first came on with Covenant, 376 of which were for nurses (57 percent of the total). Once she realized that it was mostly nursing positions to fill, she asked herself three crucial questions:

  • How can Talent Acquisition partner with our CNO and executive leaders, our nursing directors and our nurse managers to try to move the needle on these positions?
  • What kind of resources are out there for sourcing?
  • How can we attack this with a SWAT team approach, where it’s all hands on deck?

Relode: What does that look like practically to partner with your CNO?

Missy Watson: “We had a lot of weekly meetings to talk about the ‘State of the Union,’ basically. We put together some short term and long term priorities based on what our CNO felt was needed.

“We also partnered with the Dean of the Covenant School of Nursing, and that relationship has really helped bring into the hospitals a lot of our current nursing students and provide relevant training for them so they can grow in their ranks. Then, when they graduate, move into a graduate nurse role.”


R: What are your top challenges in finding great employees

MW: “One of the toughest challenges is finding experienced professionals within healthcare. Being out in West Texas, one of the things that we try not to encourage is to steal from other area hospitals and make it all about a dollar. It sure does happen, but we don’t want to perpetuate that. We want to grow and develop our internal employees, student nurses and grow and develop our referrals.”

“Secondly, finding someone who is able and willing to work out in West Texas is a geographical challenge we face. The environment out here’s a little bit different. We are a very family-oriented small town community, which is a great place to live. Just getting people from the outside to give Lubbock and the community a chance is a challenge. There’s a lot more to do and see here than what you’d expect.”

“The other challenge is that we are a faith-based organization. Some people are turned off by that, which is their choice, but it is a strong part of our culture. If we are recruiting someone to Covenant, we want to make sure that they align with our vision, mission, and values and that they understand what those values are and that we are committed to delivering them.


On overcoming challenges to find nurses

We asked Watson, “What are the top three things you have done to overcome those challenges, especially for finding nurses?”

She gave three keys:

  1. Provide Education
  2. Increase Referrals
  3. Enhance Incentives
Image credit: Covenant Health

Image credit: Covenant Health


1. Provide Education

MW: “Right now my recruiting staff is made up of 100 percent recruiting professionals--they are not healthcare professionals. I think that’s a double-edged sword. They understand recruiting, they understand sourcing, processes and systems, but they never went to nursing school. They never had to worry about, If I start on this floor, is it going to give me the career ladder to be able to move into another role.

“They’ve had to gain knowledge by asking questions and doing  a lot of shadowing on the floor to get a good understanding. The number one thing we’ve done for our recruiters is educate.”

2. Increase Referrals

MW: “Number two is continuously assessing processes and what we can do better that will impact our hard to fill positions, which are experienced nurses. Mostly this happens through employee referrals. Covenant will soon roll out a new employee referral bonus program which have teeth on it that will actually motivate behavior.

“For a referral program to make an impact, it needs to encourage the behavior of seeking out recruiting friends and colleagues and people that were sitting next to them in school or were their study buddy and they know the quality and caliber of the individual and hopefully recruit them into our hospital.”

3. Enhance Incentives

MW: “We’re looking at increasing our tuition reimbursement and other incentive programs. Right now, our tuition reimbursement is for 24 months. We’re talking about increasing it from 24 to 30 months and increasing different incentives we offer of people we want to come to work for our hospital.”


R: Is a 24 month tuition reimbursement typical?

MW: “It’s basically like a two-year contract, which is typical in this geographical area. That’s what a lot of the other hospitals are doing. But one of the reasons we’re looking at it is we want to determine the correlation between turnover and retention trends we’re seeing tied to these incentives. When you look at the data, between 24 and 36 months, we’re seeing a lot of turnover, a lot of people looking for the next carrot, the next jump to enhance their career. If you can get those nurses to stay within the organization and provide that career ladder growth, you can keep that nurse throughout their career.”

SEE ALSO: "11 Years Recruiting in Nashville, Bush Learns How to Retain New Nurses"


R: If you could see one change in 2016 and implement it, what would it be?

MW: “The biggest thing for 2016 that we are going to be focusing on is strategic sourcing and how we can build pipelines and relationships that are going to produce results within 12, 18, 24 months so that we have those relationships, we have a pipeline, and we can move more from the reactive panic to a proactive model.

“If we can take a strategic, purposeful, thoughtful look at that from an organization and apply some of the business fundamentals, that will cause a huge pendulum swing within our organization.”

Chad Harrington is the Content Director at Relode, the modern way to find great candidates. He writes on all things hiring. Contact him through email. Follow Relode on Twitter for all blogs and company updates.