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5 Ways to Improve Professional Development in a Post- COVID World

By Julie Strittmatter, MBA, SPHR, Vice President of Human Resources at St. Luke’s Health

November 14, 2022 Posted in: Leadership


Professional development is a crucial component to building a strong and resilient workforce. Providing access to additional skills, information, and training can help team members focus and respond to health care’s always-changing environment. 

Providing professional development opportunities for your employees also teaches them how to appropriately manage unforeseen challenges like COVID-19. While the pandemic certainly disrupted the health care industry in many stressful and upsetting ways, it also enabled St. Luke’s Health employees to tackle obstacles with new methods, based on the professional development skills they obtained. Reassessing and reframing our professional development programs during this time also allowed us to identify additional pathways that would support our team and help them continue to grow professionally.

1. Embrace Flexible Learning Options.

Prior to the pandemic, we offered professional development and training via traditional in-person, classroom-style settings. Once COVID-19 hit, we had to quickly change directions to meet employees’ needs while still navigating the unknown challenges ahead. 

It turned out that our virtual training had benefits beyond limiting their exposure to the virus. We were able to reach more people and provide more flexibility for our learners, which became an important motivating factor. Switching to online sessions has allowed us to offer more classes and different types of training. Some of our training allows employees to learn at their own pace, while other classes offer opportunities to share and learn from others virtually.

2. Develop Different Training Modules.

Since the pandemic, career development education has been the top request among our employees, and we have been working hard to meet these requests. In recent months we have launched some great programs, including:

  • Access to Skillsoft Percipio, an immersive learning platform with role-based and skill-based learning paths

  • Impactful Leader Program’s Leading Leaders, which addresses the challenges and opportunities inherent in leading, coaching, and helping other St. Luke’s Health leaders evolve

  • Quarterly Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT), classes on a wide variety of topics

  • Vision 2026 Flexible Career Pathways, a program that focuses on development for entry-level and core team members, as well as mid-level and senior leaders

Our goal is to have career development conversations with our employees, including new hires, and put them on the path to meeting their personal career goals. 

3. Pay Attention to Employee Wellness.

Well-being means different things to different people, so we decided to take a multipronged approach to supporting our employees. We hosted multiple focus groups to drill down on the issues they were facing and how we could address them. This effort resulted in the development of a new wellness platform that gives employees:

  • Access to quality mental health professionals, online or in person

  • Community peer mental health ambassadors

  • Financial wellness coaching 

  • A simplified triage system for employees or managers to access support services via a single local contact

As a hospital system, we know physical fitness can boost mental wellness, so we offer our employees access to the Virgin Pulse app. Through this app, employees can engage in team and individual fitness challenges and health coaching. The app also provides nutrition guidance and sleep tracking. Employees can earn wellness points and receive up to $450 for meeting certain goals.

4. Find and Address Barriers to Hiring and Retaining Employees.

You can’t offer career development opportunities to employees you don’t have. Every hospital system in the country is facing employee turnover, which has become increasingly difficult to manage over the past three years. At St. Luke’s Health, we heard from employees who said staffing deficits were a main cause of stress, so we took steps to onboard new employees more quickly.

Creating a sense of community for new hires with events and workshops that explained their benefits was a welcome and much-appreciated outcome. We also hold weekly, rather than twice monthly, orientations for new employees. Pre-certified and pre-licensed graduate school nurses are now invited to secure a position at St. Luke’s Health and start work sooner. 

Even the smallest details could be preventing would-be employees from joining your team, so we started paying closer attention to these details. For example, we noticed a number of people were failing their drug screens due to diluted test results. We asked our talent acquisition coordinator to tell prospective employees not to consume too much liquid before their drug screens. It worked. That small adjustment resulted in fewer failed drug tests and more onboarding.

5. Keep Trying New Things.

The peak of the pandemic has passed, but employees are still dealing with the stress and trauma they experienced—professionally and personally. This means we have seen a lot of movement in how people are feeling and what initiatives they are finding helpful. What worked last year might not be helping this month, and that’s OK. We are all still finding our footing and adjusting. Planning for the long term may include making changes to your development and training strategy in the short term, and then making changes again.

In human resources, it is up to us to be the ambassadors of our hospital culture. Our CEO sets the tone of the organization, but we are responsible for delivering on that goal, ensuring we hire and retain the right people who will consistently provide quality, patient-centered care.

 Learn more about how St. Luke’s Health is advancing career development and training for new and longtime employees.

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