$$ - Health IT recruiting

The shortage of qualified staff is endemic through all industry groups in Australia - we are not alone in Health IT. With the national unemployment rate registering at a 30 year low of just 4.3% in January 2008, it should come as no surprise that there is a high demand for workers in the business, legal, science, engineering, technology and health sectors.

The latest Australian Medical Workforce Advisory Committee report[1] into General Practice pointed to a shortage of between 800-1300 GPs nationally, recommending that as many as 1200 GP workforce entrants will be required annually between 2007 and 2013 to address the shortfall. Nurses are also in short supply, with pre-election promises from the Rudd Labor Government committing to bring an additional 9,250 nurses into the Hospital system to reduce the chronic shortage.

Over and above the general workforce gaps faced by the health sector, the Australian Health IT industry faces some of its own issues. As a discipline, Health IT is relatively new; many of the roles currently available did not exist 10 - 15 years ago. As the sector continues to evolve we anticipate that many new roles will be created into the future. Furthermore, recruitment in this space can be difficult for both the employer and employee, especially when the candidate is attempting to transition from a purely clinical role, or has experience in IT but little exposure to the health sector.

Experience tells us that there is not a simple solution to these workforce issues — effective strategies will include re-visiting Australia’s current capabilities and possibly looking abroad.

Indeed, the recently released review1 of NEHTA’s operations prepared by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) urged the organisation to engage in offshore recruiting activities to address its inability to hire sufficient numbers of suitably qualified Australian Health IT professionals.

“Where feasible, short-term international secondments of experts from the UK, Canada or the US could also be beneficial where there are suitable local staff to learn from them.”

We routinely discuss international recruitment with clients ranging from Health IT suppliers to public hospitals, and feel that while offshore recruitment may be part of the solution, it is an expensive and hazardous proposition. In the first instance therefore, we encourage all organisations to have a closer look at our own back yard and do a bit more digging.

DIG Deeper

The vast majority of the Health IT roles we recruit for are for consultants and implementors - very few are for IT developers. Often candidates for these roles are clinically trained individuals who are IT savvy with a desire to further their careers.

DIG-IT is a methodology we and our more successful clients utilise to find the right people for roles in Health IT:

D - Define your needs

The first question to ask is: Does Health come before IT or does IT come before Health? This seems like a crude question yet we find it particularly useful. A lot of our clients find it a lot easier to train people in IT skills than it is to teach IT specialist the workflows and intricacies of the HealthCare environment. Also, be very specific about the exact clinical requirements for a role and which attributes are necessary and which are desirable.

I - Identify your audience

If you are looking for IT savvy clinical staff then your efforts should be focused on talking with clinically trained people. In these instances we focus our efforts on clinically trained individuals who can demonstrate a competency with IT and a willingness and aptitude to learn.

G - Grow your base and communicate

Many candidates are unsure of Health IT and sometimes intimidated by the concept. Why? - Because they may associate IT with programmers, technicians and developers thereby overstating and misunderstanding the actual skills required to be successful. Also, they may be uncertain of the role IT now plays in improving patient management and care, and unaware of career development opportunities Health IT offers. Take time to educate potential candidates and grow your recruiting pool.

I - Interview creatively

The interview process can be difficult for all parties. During the course of a working day, an ICU Nurse thinks, speaks and behaves differently to a Radiographer, Accountant, Doctor, Pathologist and IT Professional. Recognise this and afford candidates the opportunity to speak freely about what is important to the role from their perspective. A focus on what a candidate can do will also identify areas for further training, lead to improved understanding of the roles and often uncover relevant information that the candidate might not otherwise express.

T - Tailor the transition

For a candidate to make the transition from a clinical position into a Health IT role there is often emotional and intellectual stress. The reason is that the candidate is effectively making a career change and will be moving away from what is known and comfortable. Assist them. Take time to explain the nature of the roles and their importance within the healthcare sector. Provide the necessary training and continuing mentorship and support.

In our experience, we have found that both age and sex are not good predictors of the suitability of candidates. We have assisted several candidates with a variety of backgrounds transition from pure clinical roles across to Health IT positions. These include a Pathologist with 4 years clinical experience, a Director of Nursing with over 18 years experience in emergency wards and intensive care units, a Radiographer, and a Psychiatric Nurse.

Look further afield

International recruitment may be advantageous. However, as our industry is part of a global shift in the provision of healthcare, our impression is that a focus on Canada, UK and the USA may not be beneficial. Sure, there are language advantages and the Canadian and British health systems demonstrate some similarities with Australia’s health system, however if we look at nursing as an example, we observe that the trafficking of staff between these countries is reciprocated and does not lead to net workforce gains.

Europe is a potential source; however we feel that there are many more opportunities within Asia. This is due to Australia’s changed demography, government and business initiatives into Asia and our increasing national interdependence with the broader Asian region.

Importantly there are a number of countries in our region that are doing excellent, and at times unseen work in this domain.Importantly, many of the people doing the work have studied overseas, speak English, have a wider cultural awareness and exhibit high levels of adaptability. Notable in their efforts of adopting IT in health include South Korea, Thailand, India, Singapore, China and Hong Kong.


  1. Australian Medical Workforce Advisory Committee. The General Practice Workforce In Australia: Supply and Requirements to 2013. Available at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/amwac/pdf/gp_summary.pdf [Accessed at 1/2/2008].
  2. The Boston Consulting Group. NEHTA Review. Available at http://www.nehta.gov.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=421&Itemid=139 [Accessed at 1/2/2008].

Posted in Australian eHealth

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