Rajee Hari: Welcome to Protean Pulse, a healthcare podcast from Protean Med. I’m Rajee Hari, President and CEO of Protean Med, a healthcare staffing and recruiting solution provider based out of the Woodlands, Texas. My guest today is Christy Bray Ricks. She serves as the VP of provider talent for Ardent Health Services.

It’s located in Nashville, Tennessee. Everyone knows Ardent. It has a reputation as one of the most strongest and most innovative hospital operators with locations in six states. What’s interesting about Christy is she’s got extensive experience in healthcare industry and she has great relationships that she has with the providers. Very good at team building and process improvement and has a strong leadership potential.

She is very impressive Leader in the healthcare industry and I met her in Nalto. I was very impressed with her discussion during one of the panel discussions. And I really wanted to have her on my podcast. And I’m so excited to have you here, Christy. So let’s start a little bit about yourself.

Christy Ricks: Great. Thanks. Thanks for having me. I serve as the vice president of provider talent for ardent health services based in Nashville. As you said my team is mainly focused on permanent recruitment of physicians and advanced practice providers, but a large piece of my time is been spent on that contingent or temporary staffing workforce.

Across ardent with our 30 hospitals with, some unique markets in different states we have staffing challenges everywhere. Just finished one of my quarterly business reviews, and it isn’t surprising the shortage that you’re seeing across the country in certain specialties.

We see that and feel that in many of the communities that we serve. Just glad to be here. I think it’s important to talk about the partnerships between vendors and hospital or health care systems. I can’t do what I do and care for patients without that support.

And as. Locum tenens, or working temporary type gig work assignments becomes more popular with physicians. I have to adjust and be able to accept that. And, thankfully, the vendors we partner with we are aligned on our vision and our culture and what we’re trying to accomplish every day.

Just happy to spend some time with you today.

Rajee Hari: Fantastic. Just to, warm up a little bit, tell me a little bit about yourself, how you got interested in this particular profession.

Christy Ricks: Sure. Early on, I’ve always had an interest in medicine in college. I was a student athletic trainer at the University of Oklahoma.

So really focused in sports med. Probably thought I would be an orthopedic surgeon, but, plans change over time. And but I’ve been in health care in some fashion. Almost my whole life. So probably over 30 years. And just, found myself in the recruitment world as you’re almost a salesperson for your organization.

And when you believe in something as passionately as I do about healthcare and saving people’s lives just becomes who you are ingrained in what you do. And I think it’s just the challenging times now are. They’re exciting, despite being challenging for me because I’m a very solutions driven person.

So thinking, strategically out into the future, what it could look like, and then how we can best again, serve the needs of our communities. Interesting.

Rajee Hari: So can you elaborate a little bit on the value of leaning into vendor relationship? Vendor partnerships, especially with top performing temp firm staffing companies and how they benefit your health care organization.

Christy Ricks: Sure I started several years ago with when I was with another organization, really working through what the strategic partnerships could look like. And, which vendors were supplying the, or filling the majority of our needs and then how I could leverage really, they have large rolodexes of providers that I don’t have, so if I could leverage that In the states that we operated in and then equally on our side, if we could get those providers on boarded quicker.

Credentialing, privileging pair enrollment, just all the things that have to happen to even have a provider successfully start with us. Just, really leaned into that because I know again, I can’t do it alone. And if we can make some of those transitions smoother the physicians have a better hiring experience and hopefully want to return to our facilities.

Thankfully, I do work within a VMS and I am afforded. Huge chunks of data to make some of those decisions and I can use that data and share it with my vendor partners to show them, these are our hotspots in terms of, geography and location or or even by specialty and, where we see the fluctuations over time in that coverage.

But really using the data. To help inform and then thankfully, just having some accepting vendor partners that were ready to take my meeting every month or every week. As frequency is, as we need it. So it’s been great. I think it is a model that many of the large, as you said that locums companies are really leaning into.

I think they find it’s beneficial.

Rajee Hari: Interesting, because I really love this weekly calls with my clients because that helps me understand where they are and also plan my recruiting plans for the week or the month ahead. So that’s a great point that you mentioned.

So what steps do you recommend for healthcare organizations to establish this kind of a successful and productive relationship with the vendor staffing vendors. So there must be a process or a couple of steps or even things that you do that is beneficial, and create a win-win situation for both.

Christy Ricks: Sure. So I think a lot of health care organizations your standard contact at one of the agencies is your sales rep which is great but I think once you, you go beyond that and say, do you have other support teams? Who else could we chat with? Is it your CBO? Many, several of the large companies have, CBOs built in.

Is it your travel team? Maybe we’re having some increased expense on the travel side where things not being booked, especially if you’re in a difficult location to get to. So I think just asking additional questions, typically again, it’s your sales rep that you’re starting with and then building upon that because they do have large teams that are helping to move their whole organization.

And again, if you have the data that is, that’s key to be able to share and show because they also need to make a business case for if I’m investing this much time with Christie, what does that give me on the other side? And and I think a lot of it is you just get to a better relationship and, you’re, it’s not that you’re enemies, but you get to a better understanding of each other. And I think you’re able to accomplish goals, in a much quicker fashion.

Rajee Hari: True. And do you have anything that is in place for you to build those relationships? Like you said, a weekly call, or do you have, do you expect them to send you a weekly Excel sheet or something like that?

Christy Ricks: Sure, with my VMS partner, absolutely. We have a weekly call and I do get a data dump every week and look at new assignments or, any issues. Sometimes it ends up being daily and I spend half my day on, on locum tenens, but my VMS partner does a great job with that weekly. And then my large vendor partners that I use, we meet monthly so standard monthly meetings.

And then we also have a cadence of a quarterly business review. I think the monthly calls really uncover any issues and you can get to more specific or timely. Issues that need to be resolved if it’s invoice rejection for whatever reason, or, something on the assignment, maybe we had to remove a provider, so you can have some of those in that monthly cadence.

But I think quarterly is a great time to align on what you’re seeing. Maybe the past quarter or two quarters or, over the last year, but also to project out forward. At this time, we have shifts scheduled out into the end of 2024 to make sure that we’ve secured those providers.

Again, making sure we’re not missing on credentialing and privileging, and they’re able to start on time. A few of our states have very long waits for state licensing and so we don’t want that to I don’t want that to be a barrier. For them to place a provider for me.

Rajee Hari: Absolutely. How do you identify your top performing vendor? How do you select them? And how do you identify them?

Christy Ricks: For, it’s easy for me with a VMS being able to pull that data. You could use your invoices, whatever it is. I think most people know who the big names are in the country. And that’s all I did. Really. I looked at who, who was at a, who was at a spend threshold of X and then that’s who I really, leveraged their time to work through that partnership.

You could use you could also use the bids, how many bids you’re getting, from certain agencies but for me, it’s easy to use the dollars because that’s usually what people look at.

Rajee Hari: So in terms of healthcare organizations from the HCO side, right?

How do you ensure that you’re getting the maximum value out of your vendors in terms of filling your staffing needs? How do you leverage that?

Christy Ricks: Yeah, so there’s a couple ways you can do that. Within my contract language, I do have caps on travel or a set overtime rate a set Orientation rate holiday rate, and just very prescriptive and detailed within the contract.

So it’s clear to the vendors, if you’re working this assignment, this is what you can, you can expect and you could tell your provider because sometimes the providers, are driving some of that conversation as well. Additionally, I’m able to look across the fair market value from historic shifts because we are so large.

I can trend over time where OB is falling within that, or urology or whatever to see if those rates are, too inflated and I need to negotiate or if they’re right in line, we just go. So any exceptions? I do look at those and I use my VMS partner to do that as well.

But, exceptions on the travel policy or other things like that. Those just come to me and we just look at them case by case. But for the assignments I really, I love being able to see that fair market value over time. And I know if it is where the shifts are you don’t have to hire the cheapest.

Provider, you want to make sure that they tick other boxes in terms of quality availability, right? They can cover the shifts you need. And then and then everything else for me, cost is secondary. I’m sure my CFOs wouldn’t like to hear that, but I need to know I have a provider in place, a quality provider in place.

And so for me, that cost becomes secondary, but I do have a technology that helps me. Compare rates across the agencies.

Rajee Hari: That’s true. Coming to communication, that’s key in any partnership, right? So what are the strategies and practices should healthcare organizations adopt to maintain effective communication and collaboration with staffing vendors?

Is there any prescriptive do you have any set of rules or any set of prescriptive standards?

Christy Ricks: Sure. I think, establishing a single point of contact with an agency is helpful. I think all of us have support teams behind us. I don’t work in HR, so I’m not running the background checks on the locum that’s coming in.

But I do partner with that person internally. So having a single point of contact for all locum tenants, that’s me on my side. And then within my vendor partners, many of them have identified and said, this is your person, Christy, if you have something, reach out. And so it, it’s being able to text them because locums, locums emergencies happen at night.

They do not happen during the day. It’s being able to text them, email them, call them and I think with any relationship, it just builds over time. And then you get to know each other and then obviously the trust factor that they’re, they are accountable and they, to you and your organization and those needs and they’re helping you to resolve that efficiently.

Rajee Hari: How do you think and head CEO and a staffing vendor can work seamlessly? What do you think is this marriage success for this marriage? And for this relationship?

Christy Ricks: I Would love to see, because especially many healthcare organizations have needed temporary staff for a long time.

So I would love to see some type of marriage from a scheduling standpoint, or even. If it was, one or two preferred vendors that were embedded, within the scheduling a scheduling algorithm or something that you could see where there’s gaps and be more proactive about filling that.

I think for our operators in the clinics and the hospitals, we’re stuck in a ton of day to day operational things that have to get done. And. If we have a gap in coverage, I would love to see just a more proactive approach by our agencies to see where that is. The trends over time I think is something that, either AI or technology could take us there.

But, that now a lot in the nurse staffing and the travel nurse staffing where you’ve got some pretty strong vendor partners who either they’re in your scheduling technology or something like that, but they are just more proactive in providing you the staff you need. I, it’s just it is more difficult with providers, and physicians, and APPs that need credentialing and privileging and, that, that stuff just gets.

But I think if we could get past that that would be the optimum relationship is to share that transparency of a schedule and we know where they are and we plug and play we’ve, I’ve worked with my VMS partner to build some provider pools. In advance. I know I need X specialty in a location for probably till the end of time, honestly, for a long time.

And so we have to build those pools to know, and those physicians now act just like our employee, because they’re there so much, you would never know they weren’t, that they weren’t employed by us. And in some cases, you could take them and market them as your own. So you’re not losing patient volume.

You’re growing them. They’re just plugged into your clinic. We just pay them. We pay them differently. That’s it.

Rajee Hari: That’s true. So I’m sure there are challenges that you face with the vendors as well, right? Even though you say that you do have a VMS and you have your preferred vendors and you have a relationship that you have built over the time.

I’m sure there are challenges that you’re faced with these temp or staff firm staffing vendors. What are the challenges common challenges that you face and how can these be mitigated?

Christy Ricks: A lot of our challenges I feel like are the same where if the state is slow to license, or if there are certain requirements, Placed on us outside of what the each organization is able to do.

I don’t find too many challenges working with the agencies, usually as independent businesses were able to figure it out. But sometimes either, policy or whatever structure is there. It can take a while, the big things you have to plan for. Are the delays in licensing, credentialing, privileging, payer enrollment, those things again out of our control, we can try to, to push and get the information as quick as we can, but sometimes.

A lot of our challenges are the same and it’s stuff that’s out of our control. We just have to plan for it in a better, in a better cadence well in advance because anything, when you say it takes 90 to 120 days, it may be 180 and you’re like, wait, that’s 6 months time. So you have to really be proactive in your planning on that.

Rajee Hari: So your major challenges in planning and for the future needs of your organization and for the vendors to project the availability and see how they can give you a pipeline of candidates with the schedules and match it to your needs. So right. So that’s something that I hope all the vendors who are listening to it can catch from this discussion.

So you did talk about the metrics in place, right? Do you have any metric system that you have in place to evaluate your vendors and to say what the quality and the reliability of these vendors are?

Christy Ricks: I don’t have, any type of survey data or pieces like that.

And if I did, I would ask them to evaluate us as well. Are we good business partners? Yeah, I would, I’d love to see something like that. If there was a survey of that within our. Within our VMS, there is and many of the vendors have this where there’s a survey tool based on that specific provider.

So so the clinic manager could rate the physician, who was placed but and equally a survey for the provider to rate us as as a place of employment, but I think a lot of what we found is a lot of our survey data falls flat. We don’t get enough. Thank you. Responsible for, for it to be significant.

But I don’t have a tool that I rate my vendors. It’s really, did they answer my call when I answer my call or my text? And, did we solve the did we resolve the issue? That’s really it. It’s based on feeling and but no hard metrics on that.

Rajee Hari: That’s good to know.

Coming to diversity, equity and Inclusion, DEI, right? What are the expectations from the head Cs and how are the head Cos promoting this? DEI.

Christy Ricks: Yeah, I think, is even on the permanent recruitment side, you’re trying to find is providers who match the communities that they’re serving.

I think in many cases we do that organically because you’re usually you’re finding, new residents and fellows who are from the area or want to return back to the area. So some of it is happening on its own. I wouldn’t say that we have put in metrics that, you know, that we need to hit so I can’t really, I can’t really go too far into that except for just saying we do hire a lot of people.

That are returned, so they should be a mirror of the community where those hospitals and clinics are located.

Rajee Hari: That’s true, though. Most of the things do happen organically and I’m sure, this DEI is definitely a part of the organization’s What do you call the core value as well?

Coming to data security and compliance. Now it’s become a huge part of the health care organizations. Data security precautions are being taken everywhere and staffing vendors. They have to ensure the protection of the sensitive information as well. Have you had any challenges with that?

And what is your thought process on this?

Christy Ricks: I haven’t had any challenges with that at all. I think it is, it can be difficult because you’re onboarding and offboarding temporary staff, rather frequently we haven’t had any issues, but I know in, in many organizations we miss on probably closing, closing folks out.

So they don’t have access anymore. I think that’s something where. Okay. The off boarding gets forgotten. So I would just, I would just remind the hospital systems that you do have these people coming in and out of your facilities. And just making sure that off boarding is as as is done regularly, just as you onboard someone.

Lots of communication has to happen to know you. Who is coming and going. And that’s probably a gap that, that many places can improve on.

Rajee Hari: Very interesting to see your journey in the healthcare recruiting industry. So what has the evolution of the industry been? What is, what did you see in the past? What are you seeing currently? And where do you see it going in future?

Christy Ricks: Yeah, I think, some of the data we talked about this at Nalto and Park City, the S.

I. A. data showing 95 percent of health care systems are using temporary physician and provider staff that isn’t surprising to me at all. I think even places where you have a high concentration of providers, like a New York City or Chicago, those places you’re starting to see pop up more frequently meeting temporary labor staff.

I think as we get to within the next. Couple of years, the age of the workforce primarily in the physician space, many of them are aging out and they’re retiring. So we’re left with huge gaps on the hospital and the employment side where, I just, I do believe we have to figure out a way to either have some flexibility with the staff in the hours that they work or be okay with spending the money on locum tenens over time.

Because the, because I won’t be able to find the physicians I need in a traditional employment model. So the, the future, I think looks more gig and as soon as, organizations like mine can adapt and adjust and have some of that flexibility to our employed providers. The greater chance we have to retain them.

Otherwise, they’re going to pick up. They can still live where they live and go take, locums assignments across the country. They can work when they want, where they want for how much they want, honestly. And, much less of the paperwork and bureaucracy and some of the stuff that we layer on as these employed providers.

The future to me is we have to get leaner and smarter about how we’re engaging that workforce because I cannot go get a doctor off of a shelf and plug and play. That’s never been the case. I think it’s funny. People thought we could do that back in the day, but.

Thank you. But we can’t, these are 12 and 14 year projects on top of them being grown people. So we just there we just have to be more strategic and how we’re thinking about that. And the utilization of and telemedicine, I think we’ll just continue to grow.

We have to be able to fill care gaps, honestly, with anybody that has the training and provide that quality.

Wherever it is through whatever means we have.

Rajee Hari: Interesting how you brought the history of the 1215 years of. Physicians and APPs already in your system, right? Coming to that, how has technology helped your organization and where do you see AI coming into this whole recruiting process?

Christy Ricks: Yeah, so we we do leverage a lot of different technology on the patient care side in terms of Telemedicine or using, we do have some nursing that, sits outside of four walls and they’re able to have these patient interactions and assist them. So we have partnered with some very good external vendors to provide that.

I think our focus at Ardent has, is, really providing patient care when and where the patient. Needs it. I think more and more people are not as comfortable driving to you trying to find parking and getting into the door and definitely, filling out reams of paperwork. This isn’t where we are today.

So we just continue to leverage technology across the system to make it an easier process. And again, you’ll meet them where they are. I think is a key that any business now Doesn’t matter the industry, but, meet the customer where they are and and then build it from there.

Rajee Hari: And do you see AI playing a huge role in the future with organizations like Ardent?

Christy Ricks: I do. I do. And I think I don’t know if it’s just AI or other technologies, from chat GPT or other things. I think we’re just seeing such a rapid increase. In any, anything that’s happened. If you think about the first iPhone to now or I think the first iPod that anniversary was this week, I think, and it is just fascinating how quickly we’re moving from everything within the healthcare space.

If it’s vaccinations or new treatments or whatever, we’re just moving at such an accelerated pace. There’s probably a million things you can do, but how do you strategically align to say, what should we do?

Rajee Hari: So is there any particular need that you think can be definitely replaced with AI or chat GPT in your recruiting space?

Christy Ricks: No, not that I can think of. I think still from, recruiting and a recruiter interaction with a candidate. That is still a personal one. It is still a relationship potentially within sourcing when you’re looking for candidates, being able to leverage some AI there, but not from the that true candidates recruiter experience, that’s a hands on one for me.

Rajee Hari: Interesting. Thank you so much. I want to know on a final thought, how organizations like mine, which is not a huge spend but we’re just entering into the space. How can we leverage our our interest and our passion for recruiting with organizations like yours?

Christy Ricks: Yeah, I think sometimes it’s just it’s getting out going to an event like NALTO. I’m also a member of a PPR. So the recruitment national recruitment organization but getting out there and meeting the health care systems as you grow your business, being able to provide quality providers who, who are ready and willing to work.

I think, again, we’re just starting to see physicians as they come out of training, make the career decision a lot sooner on, on being more of a gig based worker. And being able to provide that type of solution to healthcare systems is vital because the traditional old way of the employment is, is going away rather quickly.

So if we want to get the workforce, they’re working with a vendor partner who has that and and can be thoughtful in your process in how you need to staff and provide workforce in your locations.

Rajee Hari: Interesting. What is your advice for organizations or HCOs that you feel you’ve gained over all these years that, that would help them succeed in their vendor management?

Christy Ricks: I Think knowing that I work for a work with a VMS tool. I think as new companies come on, I think that’s a great way to get involved with some of the larger organizations, because I think most of a most larger organizations need the technology that a VMS provides to be able to manage their spend and utilization.

They need that, that data coming out of a single platform. As new companies come on board, I think getting, Getting on those and, be selective or whoever you want to work with, but that opens the doors. And then as you grow that with the health care system just being able to provide bids quickly and quality candidates and just growing the name that way.

I’m always happy to meet with people and do enjoy, the going to now to a PPR, those types of sessions where. You’re helping to grow your business, but also provide, that, that high level of service to your clients.

Rajee Hari: Cool. I’m going to go for some rapid fires now.

Christy Ricks: Oh, no.

Rajee Hari: Coffee or tea?

Christy Ricks: Coffee. Oh coffee or sweet tea. It depends on the time of day.

Rajee Hari: All right. Favorite travel destination?

Christy Ricks: The beach.

Rajee Hari: Morning person or night owl?

Christy Ricks: Morning.

Rajee Hari: One book that has had significant impact on your life.

Christy Ricks: Oh, man. Oh, there’s been so many. My team earlier this year, we read “Think Again by Adam Grant” and we did some deep dive into each section of that really just causes you to pause.

And see if you can think again, think about a situation differently. Sometimes you would probably say, put yourself in someone else’s shoes or, it just just being able to rethink something that just because we did it one way, 5 years ago, we should still keep doing it that way. Not the case, right?

You’ve talked a lot about technology and we’re not where we were five years ago. So think again was really good. I really enjoyed my team was accepting to read a book together and do book club over the summer. And they get to do it again. So we, I really enjoy reading and trying to learn, learn new and different ways of thinking.

Rajee Hari: That’s interesting. I’ve not read that book. I’ll put it into my book list. If you weren’t a physician recruitment recruiter or VP in this area, what would your profession be?

Christy Ricks: I’m an avid sports fan, so it probably would be something related to sports.

Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know what that would be if it would be sports marketing or something, but I very much love and watch almost every sport. And my kids play baseball. So I spend a lot of time at the ball fields.

Rajee Hari: Nice. Favorite quote or mantra that inspires you?

Christy Ricks: I love, I give a lot of pineapples around.

So it’s probably to be sweet on the inside, stand tall and always wear your crown. So that was, that is something that I try to do every day.

Rajee Hari: That’s beautiful said. Any hidden talents or unusual skills?

Christy Ricks: Some people know this about me, but I am a classically trained pianist. So I do have a lot of musical talent, although I cannot sing and I won’t sing in Nashville in particularly where I live.

That, that’s probably the, probably one of my hidden talents.

Rajee Hari: Nice. Your go to comfort food. I know you’re vegan.

Christy Ricks: Yeah Yeah I don’t know, probably popcorn.

Rajee Hari: Wow, I never expected that. That’s interesting. If you could have dinner with one historical figure, who would it be?

Christy Ricks: Who would it be?

Oh man. Oh, that one’s kind of hard. I would probably say RBG. Nice.

Rajee Hari: What’s one thing on your bucket list that you haven’t crossed off yet?

Christy Ricks: Raising raising solid adults. My children are younger. So getting them to be. Productive and nice citizens.

Rajee Hari: Isn’t that the challenge for all of us as moms? It’s definitely something that all of us aspire to have.

Yeah. Thank you so much for your time. Any concluding remarks for our audience?

Christy Ricks: I just, I really think it is important. I feel like I owe it to my employer, my health system to invest the time with all of our vendor partners. If it’s sourcing on the permanent recruitment side, or our locum tenens vendors but it is worth the time.

I know many of us get caught up in our day to day, and it’s hard to give that energy external. But I would say that, It pays off 1000 percent dividends to do that and to build those partnerships. It’s key to your organization success. However, you can do it. I would it is worth the time.

And right and finding those vendor partners who can support you as you move forward. with providing patient care.

Rajee Hari: Thank you. How can people reach you? What is the best way to reach you?

Christy Ricks: Sure. Reach out on LinkedIn or that’s probably the easiest way. So Christy Bray Ricks but happy to connect with any of your listeners and feel free to share my information.

Rajee Hari: Thank you so much. Thanks everyone for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe to Protean Pulse. We are on Spotify as well. You can search for Protean Pulse and remember to leave us your feedback. I will see you in the next episode. Don’t miss the beat.