Grow Our Own: Achieving Success and Advancing Our Team

Amber Davis in LabSmith County Memorial Hospital has a long-standing tradition of “growing our own” employees. This strength has developed out of a need to attract and recruit healthcare’s specific skill sets. Instead of spending big dollars with recruiting firms who will, in turn, steal employees away for the next facility with a need, SCMH often looks in its backyard.

“Throughout the years, we’ve found that while our population isn’t large, we have lots of people who are driven to care for others,” said Allen Van Driel, CEO of the hospital. “That’s a special quality and one that we’d like to help hone into a specific career path.”

The hospital has regularly supported current staff with financial support to pay for education and training to help them grow or develop a new career.

“We have helped physicians complete school and sponsored nurses to become nurse practitioners,” Van Driel said. “We have had success sponsoring CNAs to become nurses and imaging technicians to complete certifications for ultrasound and other specialties. We have grown registration staff into lab technicians and trained medical records employees in medical coding.

When we find an employee with interest in career growth, we encourage them to create an education and training plan that SCMH will fund in return for a service commitment to the facility.”

This recruiting style has worked well for SCMH and has been especially beneficial in areas where academic programs do not produce enough workers.

One example of this is laboratory technicians.

“In Kansas, we have one school that trains lab techs,” Van Driel said. “Because of this, hospitals across the state are competing for employees from a small pool of graduates.”

Instead, SCMH is producing its own lab techs. The lab manager, Kate Garman, looks for individuals with an education and interest in biology or chemistry. Garman has recruited individuals with a background in dental science, vet science and general biology or chemistry.

“We work so closely together that our top priority has to be fit, and we aren’t often able to find fit and education or experience in the same person,” Garman said.

But, Garman is not scared off by the idea of training.

“Working in a lab is all about learning,” Garman said. “Just look at the changes we’ve seen in 2020. We’ve had to learn about a completely new virus and because of that, adapt to new testing protocols. We’re learning all the time.”

Amber Davis and Amanda Wagoner are both employees who have found a home at SCMH through the possibility of career advancement.

Davis was working at the hospital in registration when a position in the lab opened. She asked Garman about joining the team but didn’t have all the education needed. Davis spent a few days shadowing to be sure this was a position she was going to enjoy.

Davis is now a lab assistant-in-training attending Barton Community College to earn a degree in medical laboratory technology.

Part of Davis’ decision to make this career move was Garman’s interest in investing personally in Davis, both through providing mentorship and training as well as financial support to complete her degree.

“These kinds of programs are used by many companies and organizations,” Van Driel said, “But what is new for us is that we’re including an opportunity for our community supporters to donate to a fund specifically for this program. It is one more way people in the communities we serve feel included in their healthcare and invested in the staff they see when they come to the clinic or hospital for their own needs.”

Since formalizing the fundraising program, donations have come from local contributors as well as those not necessarily directly connected to SCMH or Smith County.

Cathy and Stu Barnes of Longmont, Colo., have no personal ties to SCMH but saw a need for rural hospitals throughout western Kansas and eastern Colorado. When they found themselves with money to invest, they researched and chose SCMH as a recipient of their generosity.

As former educators, they were thrilled to learn their gift would be used for a staff education fund for individuals like Davis and Wagoner.

When asked about balancing school and work and family, Davis credits the people in her life for supporting her career advancement.

“Kate has been an incredible asset to push me harder, especially in my education,” Davis said. “My parents and children have been phenomenal when it comes to support and motivation. Korie [my daughter] has enjoyed going to school ‘together.’ My lab work seems to be her favorite.”

Wagoner worked first as an aide and then an LPN for another facility. She always wanted to be a nurse, and when her children began going to school all day, Wagoner decided the time was right to take another step in her career path.

“I have three boys at home and a husband, and I want to be able to take care of us all comfortably,” Wagoner said. “My family and friends encouraged me to go back to school. I started as a CNA in 2005 and went back in 2018. They have been beside me the whole way, cheering me on.”

She is on track to complete her final semester in May and will need to pass the board exams to become a registered nurse.

“SCMH supports me in so many ways,” Wagoner said. “I have received a Kansas Board of Regents scholarship through work that has enabled me to pay for my college tuition. My COO [Sarah Ragsdale] has been very helpful with my schedule. I am very excited to work here as an RN after school.”

Ragsdale, who was been the hospital’s chief nursing officer for more than 10 years and recently transitioned to the chief operating officer, is impressed with the effort many of the nurses on staff make to advance their education.

“We’re happy to help nurses earn a degree or receive more training,” Ragsdale says. “Most nurses work at least part-time while they are in school. I appreciate their willingness to balance work, family and school. We want a workforce that has that kind of passion for healthcare and enjoys patient care enough to keep learning.”

Garman agrees.

“Showing an interest and curiosity in the world around us makes us all better,” she said. “A healthcare career is often about striving to find an answer or looking differently at a treatment plan. It’s natural to encourage our employees to be life-long learners.”