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Student experiences help boost hospital's recruiting

WILLMAR -- Offer clinical experiences for students in the health professions and maybe you'll end up with a future employee.

This is part of the thinking behind Rice Memorial Hospital's student program, which hosted 431 participants last year.

Not only does it contribute to the education of future health care professionals but it also exposes them to what it might be like to work at Rice, said Joyce Elkjer, human resources director at the hospital.

These student experiences are key in helping shape career decisions, she said. "This is powerful."

Elkjer shared the data from the annual human resources report with the Rice Hospital board of directors on Wednesday.

It's a goal of the hospital to attract high-caliber job applicants and retain a quality work force, she said.

"We want to be the employer of choice from hire to retire," she said. "We want the best of the best. The key is this -- the word 'quality.' We want to retain the stars."

Learning experiences for students have been an important strategy that has paid off, Elkjer said. Six of the hospital's eight pharmacists, for instance, were once students who received part of their training at Rice.

By far, the most trainees are in nursing. Rice Hospital hosted 210 nursing students in 2009, the majority of them from Ridgewater College who were completing their clinical training. The Rice Regional Dental Clinic, a rural training site for dentistry and dental hygiene students at the University of Minnesota, also had 105 learners rotate through the program during 2009.

The variety of clinical training experiences offered at the hospital runs the gamut, though: master's level nurses, medical and premedical students, laboratory technologists, pharmacists, radiology technologists, paramedics, physical and occupational therapists, social workers and even students in the health information and information systems fields.

Job-shadowing is offered to high school students as well, and can help them make decisions about pursuing a health care career and course of study, Elkjer said. "We want to get them when they have interest in health care."

Employee turnover at Rice Hospital last year was just over 11 percent, the lowest it has been in at least four years.

The hospital's work force is aging. The average age of employees at the hospital was 43.9 in 2005 and has risen steadily, reaching 45.5 in 2009. The majority of the staff is clustered in the 31-to-60-year-old age group.

Among registered nurses, fewer than 20 percent are in their 20s. Close to half are 50 and older, and the hospital employs 20 nurses who are over the age of 60.

Tight staffing levels and the loss of positions through attrition has resulted in a work force that's shrinking as well. Rice had 878 employees in 2006. By 2009, this had fallen to 781.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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