How to Recruit RNs for Rural Hospitals

A Conversation with Kathy Norris

By reading this blog you will:

  • Learn a visual paradigm for rural healthcare recruitment
  • Hear an inspiring perspective on rural recruitment for RNs

Chad Harrington
1 March 2016

Since her mother began recruiting RNs for rural hospitals in the 1970s, recruitment for RNs hasn't changed much. Kathy Norris's mother recruited nurses to a Sierra Nevada Mountain community in Northern California over forty years ago—and it was not easy then either. 

But she learned how to recruit for the rural hospital that her father—Kathy’s grandfather—had literally built with his hands.

When I interviewed her, Norris was working at Bear Valley Community Healthcare, which is in rural California. She now works for Dignity Health–St. Bernardine Medical Center.

Norris took this picture in rural northern California:


I interviewed Norris about recruiting for rural regions, and what she told me may change the way you recruit RNs forever.

The Problem

As I talk with HR Directors, hiring managers, and even nursing supervisors, they all say that recruiting for rural nurses sometimes feels impossible. That’s what Missy Watson of Covenant Healthcare told me as well as she recruits for West Texas

The Solution

Show pictures, says Norris.

Literally, metaphorically, whatever—but you need to sell the lifestyle by showing pictures to recruit RNs to your rural hospital. 

That’s what her mom did back in the 1970s, and that’s what she did for Bear Valley.


Origins of Recruiting With Pictures #HowToHire

She told me the story of how her mother used to recruit with pictures in her day, something that's just as applicable today.

1 min listen


Seriously, the key is to show a picture of the country, says Norris, because money won’t convince people.

So I took her idea and developed a paradigm of recruitment for rural areas. The paradigm is that there’s two ways to “show a picture”:

  • The Literal Approach
  • The Metaphorical Approach 

The Literal Approach: Show RNs actual pictures

Send a package that shows pictures of your area, says Norris. Back in the 1970s her mom would should pictures as she traveled to recruitment “job fairs” or visits to other facilities or healthcare gatherings. She even mailed brochures and real photos to RNs to draw them to the mountainous regions for which she recruited. 

Application: In Norris’s own words, “Today it would probably be sending them a full booklet on the area, looking at what the area has to offer.”

How to recruit RNs with pictures today

Here’s what her mom did back in the day for Portola, California:

32 second listen


So that gives you some ideas of how to apply her mother’s technique of sending pictures for today. You can still recruit with pictures; it just looks a little different today :)


The Metaphorical Approach: Rhetoric for RNs

Use your words to paint a picture of your region. In this way, you can sell your community to candidates.

She said that you have to grow your RN workforce from within or entice from without. Selling your community—for lack of a better term—is the way to get recruits from outside the area. Since there’s not usually the budget for rural facilities, “You have to sell the community; you have to sell the lifestyle.” It even works for doctors, not just RNs. Listen to her words:  

26 second listen 


So you can either show RN candidates a literal picture or paint one for them in their minds. 

It works. Give it a try, and watch your clinical workforce grow. 

The major takeaway

Use pictures—literally and metaphorically. Kathy Norris and her mom’s experience prove it. If it works in the mountains of Northern California and Southern California’s big bear country, it can work for you. It might not be the big slopes, but every region’s got a selling point, even if it’s just the lifestyle unique to your area.


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 blog and company updates.