Like the rest of Australia, Tasmania is challenged by healthcare workforce shortages and needs significant healthcare workforce growth. To address this, the Tasmanian Department of Health developed Health Workforce 2040, a long-term strategy that includes a focus on attracting and recruiting allied health clinicians.
Scott Gibbings, an acute care physiotherapist and Allied Health Workforce Recruitment & Development Consultant for the Tasmanian Health Service (THS), spent a good deal of 2023 doing the rounds of job expos in the UK and Australia with the goal of finding the right talent to bolster Tasmania’s health workforce.
Scott is a proponent of finding the ideal role for the person, rather than fitting talent to a vacancy. This relies on the thesis that care outcomes can be directly impacted by an AHP’s own personal wellbeing. Scott developed THS’ version of this framework: Healthcare workforce recruitment concierge.
Last August, Scott presented Finding the Right Job for the Person: Healthcare workforce recruitment concierge, a person-centred response to the growing supply crisis at the 15th National Allied Health Conference in Perth, discussing this recruitment framework, its challenges and positive indicators.
We spoke to Scott about the healthcare workforce recruitment concierge and its efficacy.
You were recently at the Healthcare Job Fair in London—how well-received was the Tasmanian Health Service?
Tasmania can be perceived as a small, isolated place. We have some limitations on the training opportunities available for health professionals. We’ve got the one university, which has been investing significantly in expanding their allied health offerings, but for experienced professionals, we are often reliant on people migrating Tasmania. The work that I do at the professional body conferences has been one aspect of our strategy to raise the profile of THS as a place to advance your career and make an impact.
But international recruitment is another strategy. The Healthcare Job Fair was a full day of talking non-stop with a few hundred healthcare people about the career and lifestyle opportunities in Tasmania. Our messages got really good traction. We have a lot to offer the people of London and surrounds who have become maybe a little disenfranchised with the speed and cost of life in such a large city.
So how do you pitch to AHPs outside of Tasmania and abroad?
Through this role, I’ve been able to work closely with Brand Tasmania, our state government funded place branding agency—they exist to identify and tell the unique story of Tasmania.
They approach their work in a way that makes a lot of sense to me as a healthcare professional, in that they engage with the people who have the lived experience, and draw on their stories to define what it is to be Tasmanian. Through my role, we’ve started to adopt a lot more of Brand Tasmania’s language and imagery into our recruitment work, so that it’s consistent and it’s recognisable with other Tasmanian promotional material.
They understand that Tasmania is not for everyone, but for the people that it is for, it’s the best place on earth. So when we meet people at events anywhere in the world, we share our stories, answer questions, and then make ourselves available to people while they consider if this is the place for them.
Interactive map detailing all AHPRA-registered AHPs per 100,000 population by State and Territory in 2021. Tasmania has the second-lowest ratio of AHPs per 100,000 population in Australia. Source: HealthWork Mapping
And in terms of competencies and skill sets, is THS recruiting through a kind of rural lens?
I think we face a lot of the same issues that are common in rural health workforce recruitment, in that we largely rely on people relocating to come and work with us. My role was created because up until August last year, of the Allied Health Professions, we only had social work, pharmacy and psychology degrees being offered at the University of Tasmania. So any other locals who wanted to become a physiotherapist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, podiatrist, etc., had to leave Tasmania to train. Ideally, they would return and work in the THS, but that wasn’t always the case.
My role was introduced around the same time that the Master of Physiotherapy and the Master of Speech Pathology degrees were started at University of Tasmania. This signified another step on the journey of “growing our own”, but we also know that these graduates alone won’t be sufficient, especially in the short-term, to ensure our health service has the levels of experience and diverse perspectives that we need to have a high functioning workplace.
How did your career evolve from practising physiotherapist to your capacity as a recruitment and development consultant?
I was an acute care physio in Perth for the first eight years of my career, and I was lucky to be identified by my manager as someone who had some ability and interest in developing my leadership skills. I was having a bit of a what-should-I-do-next kind of moment, about five to six years out, and I was thinking about studying medicine, or even going into law, and while I was making up my mind, I took on a Master of Health Management at UNSW.
It exposed me to new ways of thinking and helped me to see that a lot of my thought processes and practices as a junior leader were aligned with the evidence. I developed more passion for the art and science of leadership. During that time, I was also able to step into some more established leadership positions and apply some of this new knowledge.
Then the opportunity arose to apply for a 12-month contract as the acting physio manager at another hospital in Perth. This role really embedded my love for health leadership, also working in the public health care setting. I was on an acting contract there for what ended up being 21 months. With some uncertainty about the return of the incumbent and another contract extension for me, I started looking for my next career opportunity.
On seeing this position with the THS advertised I thought, ‘That seems to really align with what I enjoy the most’, which is engaging with the workforce, helping them to find positions in workplaces that are going to allow them to thrive in their professions. I got the job and then moved over to Tassie a couple of months later. I took it on as a great opportunity, and a bit of an adventure. It’s been really good for me professionally to move beyond my professional silo, into work that is concerned with a much broader group of AH professions.
I’ve learned a lot about the different professions, and it’s also galvanised my appreciation of allied health as a collective, because we all approach our work in a very similar way, that being patient-centred problem solving. I think we’re very privileged to be able to spend the time that we do with our patients, in that nurses and doctors seem to perhaps be more transactional in the way they are able to engage with patients—certainly on the wards—whereas we get to engage in a patient-centred, goal-setting approach that is based on a quality subjective interview. We then use our skills to help people achieve these goals.
I think that’s the beauty of our work, and for that reason, the messages that people need to hear are largely the same when we’re looking to attract people. With my move to Tasmania, I knew that the lifestyle was going to be pretty amazing, a different pace. I was going to be able to afford to get a house where I could walk to work and into town, have easy access to the outdoors after work and on weekends. These things that are a little bit inaccessible in our big cities around Australia.
But I didn’t know what the career opportunities would be like in the THS. It’s been so much bigger, more progressive, and more established than I expected it to be. The teams over here are large and well structured, so there’s opportunities for growth and development. I’ve certainly benefited from my time here, with non-THS opportunities opening up as well, such as being elected onto the board of SARRAH.
Tell us about your contribution at the 2023 National Allied Health Conference
I work closely with my colleague who performs a similar role for our state-wide mental health service. She’s been a mentor since I arrived. Recruitment concierge is a unique role, and we wanted to share what we’ve learned—especially talking to the paradigm shift in healthcare recruitment, where we are no longer recruiting people to fill roles, we’re trying to find roles to suit people.
It’s taking a more humanistic approach to recruitment, which embraces Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and the transtheoretical model, from pre-contemplation right through to action and maintenance. We help people right through that process by providing them with information about the state and the health service and allowing them to consider this in relation to their personal and professional goals. Then to remove barriers that might be preventing them from making a commitment to move to join us.
And we work with them through the practicalities of a relocation, such as what school they have their kids attend, what suburbs might they like to live in, providing them a rental reference, finding out what opportunities there are for a partner who works in another industry—those sorts of things.
If we can help provide for their physiological needs, their safety needs, their belonging needs, then they can arrive at the workplace and start to function at a high level earlier on, and also not be carrying so much of the stress that comes from moving to a new place and getting established in a new environment.
Any partnership that you can build through that process makes people feel a lot more connected to their new home and workplace a lot more quickly. This aligns with what Cath Cosgrave is doing through the Attract, Connect, Stay work where it’s connecting people to place, so that they start to put down some roots and realise, ‘this is a place where I could stay and create a happy existence’.
In doing this, we’re recognising that our staff are 24-hour, seven days a week people, not just an eight-hour-shift, five-days-a-week AHP. We want to make sure that the whole person is being cared for, so that they can perform to a high level in their work.
All AHPRA-registered AHPs per 100,000 population by SA3 in Tasmania in 2021. Rural areas are under-served. Source: HealthWork Mapping
Do you think there’s a relationship between care outcomes and finding the right person, not just on a skills level, but in a whole-of-life, work-life balance sense?
Absolutely. I got along to a public lecture ten years ago and saw Dr. Richard Ryan, who was one of the founding authors of self-determination theory, which is psychological theory around human flourishing by the satisfaction of the three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
If we can create environments where people are having those needs met, then they’re more intrinsically motivated, they’re going to experience higher wellbeing and are thus going to perform better in their roles.
It’s trying to get people into roles where they can have autonomy over the work that they’re doing, making sure they’re having investment made in their growth and development as clinicians through training and education, and then also making sure that they are feeling connected and related to the people around them, so that they feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
If we remove the barriers, and get them in a good personal situation, they’re going to be able to invest more in the care that they provide.
Let’s talk about the THS Workforce Recruitment Concierge
It’s similar to the Recruit Connector roles that are part of Cath Cosgrave’s work. We are not a generic email inbox, we are people who can be contacted directly, who can provide information about our own journey to join the THS, and can help to answer your specific questions through conversations.
People who are considering a move inevitably have questions about the logistics of moving, housing, suburbs, and then when we’re in the international space it’s around, ‘Is it a multicultural environment that I’ll be moving into? Will I be able to get access to the foods that I’ve grown up eating? Is my particular religion catered for in your community?’
It’s addressing these lifestyle aspects that make people either do well, or in the absence of them feel more isolated and homesick.
So would it be fair to say the concierge framework is a way of innovating to address workforce shortages in Allied Health?
Yeah, now that we’re experiencing this skill shortage globally, we need to shift the paradigm and say, ‘Let’s be an employer of choice through our ability to care for the people that do the caring for our patients’.
It meets a need, because it’s around satisfying all of those external factors for people before they can then come in and perform at a higher level as a professional.
It’s a great innovation on Tasmania’s behalf, that they recognised there was a rather impersonal and compliance-heavy recruitment process, traditionally, and now potential applicants have a clinician, who speaks their language and perhaps understands their situation a little more, that they can contact and liaise with.
So allied health shortages are not something unique to Tasmania, however the challenges of getting skilled clinicians into Tasmania are?
People haven’t necessarily experienced Tasmania from a healthcare perspective, it’s not on their radar, they don’t know what we have to offer.
This is where all that funky corporate language comes into it around understanding and articulating your unique employee value proposition. So we’ve focused on communicating the fact that, yes we’ve got the amazing lifestyle on offer, and we’ve also got really great workplaces where you can grow and be supported to achieve your professional goals.
When I went to the first Healthcare Job Fair in Auckland, the materials of many of the exhibitors were borderline ubiquitous. Lots of photos of smiling people in scrubs. That’s not communicating anything unique and it’s not providing any insights into your organisation.
We’re using our imagery to communicate that Tassie has got such a unique offering by way of lifestyle and environment and opportunities for our professionals. And this is then supplemented with our conversations. A lot of other rural or regional-based employers could also look to offer this.
Do you think COVID has had any long-term effects on allied health service delivery?
I think COVID did a lot for AHPs as a group, just through a broader recognition of our adaptability, problem solving, and ability to act as systems-level thinkers. I think we’ve been able to step back from that clinical interface through COVID, and to apply those human-centred problem-solving practices to the system level.
We saw allied health professionals going into care coordinator roles and project roles through COVID. The entry requirements for any of the allied health degrees is pretty high, so you need to have a certain threshold of intelligence, and also obviously, a human-centred approach where you want to help people; our teaching is all around problem solving.
We saw lots of opportunities to use these skills through COVID, and this has caused more opportunities to open up in non-clinical roles for allied health professionals. I think it’s a good problem to have, because allied health professionals now have seats at tables when it comes to service planning and these sorts of things.
Do you think that broadening AHPs’ scopes of practice generally could help to resolve healthcare workforce shortages?
Yeah, I do. I think another of our big issues to address is attrition from our professions, because people feel dissatisfied and burnt out with the scope and scale of the work that they are able to do.
We all come into these professions because we want to help people to live healthier and better lives. There are a number of aspects of roles that weren’t geared directly towards that. From my own perspective in an acute setting, I wasn’t able to deploy my diagnostic or problem-solving training as frequently as I would have liked and was instead caught up in perhaps lower skilled aspects of the role.
The more we can expand into that upper scope of our professional roles—and that includes advancing the scope and lifting the ceiling of what we can do—the more that’s going to lead to satisfaction and enjoyment through work, we’re going to have more of that intrinsic drive to continue to give and to care and to offer our skills and knowledge to people, and ideally less burnout and loss of people from our organisations, or worse, our professions all together.
By divesting of some of these lower enjoyment and lower skill tasks to technology, but also alternate workforces like allied health assistants, we will allow allied health professionals to work to their total scope and to draw more satisfaction and enjoyment from their work and provide what they want to be providing, which is quality care to people who need it.
Follow Scott Gibbings on LinkedIn | Having ready access to indicators and indices of healthcare supply and demand is the first step in any healthcare recruitment strategy. HealthWork Mapping provides government, peak bodies and other organisations with mapping tools and workforce data to facilitate optimal healthcare delivery and planning. Find out more.