Employee Retention: Offering Careers Paths in Healthcare

Four Advanced Care Providers at work

Recently I participated in a panel about improving the healthcare workforce with several healthcare experts from a variety of backgrounds ranging from workforce development to operations.  While our proposed solutions differed on many fronts, we were unanimous in our agreement that the lack of career paths for professions like Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), Technicians, Medical Assistants (MAs), and Front Office Employees hurts the ability of healthcare organizations to retain high potential employees and manage labor shortages.

Why Career Paths?

 1. Compensation That Provides Security.

While average compensation for these positions is greater than the minimum wage, it still falls below what is necessary for many to provide security as a breadwinner or parent.  Research finds the majority of entry level healthcare workers are single parents who frequently supplement their income with additional jobs and are actively seeking paths to higher wage work.  Providing clear paths to jobs with greater responsibility and compensation can reduce job hopping while retaining high potential employees in healthcare.

2. Stable, Quality Teams.

Consistently delivering quality care and minimizing risks requires a stable team – and career paths improve stability.  Lack of career opportunities and challenge are among the top drivers of turnover and intentions to quit.  Top performers are even more likely to consider other employment opportunities – including those outside of healthcare.  These support roles not only directly serve patients, but also influence the ability of Physicians, Advanced Care Providers, and Nurses to perform.  Front Office Employees influence patient visit times, and the technical skill and emotional intelligence of Medical Assistants and CNAs influences profit and quality of care. Organizations with career paths are communicating their commitment to employee growth, leading to greater employee commitment to excellence and growth in their current role.  Further, by reducing turnover, career paths promote stability as teams are onboarding and training new employees less frequently.

3. Address Labor Shortages.

Career paths prepare your organization to address shortages across areas from nursing to healthcare information technology by nurturing employees from within these roles.  To provide just a few examples, CNAs can advance their certification to become Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and then Registered Nurses (RNs).  MAs can return for more schooling to broaden their scope of practice in clinical care, or take on advanced roles in medical coding or management.  Front Office employees can assume more practice management responsibilities or take on positions in insurance processing, or information technology.  As employers within and outside of healthcare compete for talent, and organizations in segments such as urgent care grow at a rapid pace, a “grow your own” approach can give you an advantage in a tight labor market.  Talent developed from within will be better prepared to live your culture, know policies and procedures, and consistently execute your model for care.

How Do You Build Career Paths That Support Your Success?

1. Understand Your Workforce’s Goals.

Career paths begin with understanding the aspirations and goals of your workforce and building frameworks to support their journey.  Some questions to answer include:

  • In which departments and roles will you most need skilled professionals in the future?
  • Have you completed a gap analysis and succession plan?
  • What are the professional interests and goals of current employees?
  • Are financial resources available to reimburse employees for formal training?
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Surveying current employees can baseline perceptions of the job and intentions to quit while providing detail about desired career growth.  If you’ve started to consider career path options, an employee experience survey  can gather feedback on elements of your plan.

 2. Include Horizontal and Vertical Components.

Each career path should have horizontal and vertical components.  Horizontal career paths allow employees to explore new opportunities and give employees deeper experience in core job functions – adding to their skill set and value to the organization. Horizontal career paths can use job rotation to ensure proficiency in each competency and explore directions for growth in the process.  For example, Medical Assistants can expand their role to monitoring the flow of patients, taking on advanced tasks with medical records, and completing more complex telephone follow-ups.  This would give them better insight to which career path they would like to pursue.  Vertical career paths give employees the opportunity to take on supervisory responsibility and gradually move towards their goal.  This could involve employees training new hires and providing input on operations and procedures where appropriate.

 3. Provide Feedback and Support.

These on-the-job opportunities are married with consistent coaching, and two-way feedback so employees can share what they found meaningful and challenging, while leaders provide constructive feedback on potential.  Job experience can feed into discussion and opportunities for formal education.  For example, an entry level Front Office Employee at an urgent care, from on the job exposure and coaching, might pursue coursework and certifications to become an Office or Practice Manager.  Organizations can provide the flexibility, and possibly tuition reimbursement incentives, for continued education to reach the next destination on the career path.  Communication is foundational throughout the process of developing, launching, and successfully nurturing employees through career paths.

What's Next?

Growing from within means you must have quality employees with the potential for growth.  This means hiring people with the ability, skills, and qualities needed for success.  We can work with you to understand what success means for each position and how you may envision people growing within roles in the future.  Our pre-employment assessments and hiring solutions will not only increase your accuracy in selecting high potential employees but also provide a time-saving and more efficient hiring process.

Then, with the right people in place, we can help you act on opportunities to nurture employees from within to support your organization’s success and address any gaps in competencies or labor shortages.  By taking an approach that addresses hiring and development, while using employee input and surveys along the way, we can help you thrive and exceed the competition by making the most of your team.


U.S. House of Representatives Declaration.  (July, 2009).

What’s Behind RN Turnover?  Nurse Management (October, 2003).

Tuition Reimbursement: A Benefit for Some Employees and Employers.  Forbes (July, 2012).

Developing Employee Career Paths and Ladders.  Society of Human Resource Management (July, 2015).

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