Practical solutions on staff retention in healthcare

Date:  26 April 2023

Practical solutions on staff retention in healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of health and care workers and the need to retain a healthy, engaged workforce. The World Health Organization (WHO) organized the 5th Global Forum on Human Resources for Health from 3 to 5 April under the theme of ‘Protect. Invest. Together.’.

“The Forum represented an occasion to take stock of the lessons learned during the pandemic. We must protect health and care workers through occupational health and safety, providing decent working conditions and upholding labour rights. By investing in their education and jobs, we have an opportunity to get back on track toward the Sustainable Development Goals and to strengthen prevention, preparedness and response for future emergencies. And we need to do this together, with coordination across different sectors and collaboration across different constituencies.”

James Campbell, Director of the Health Workforce Department, WHO

On 4 April, the International Hospital Federation (IHF) organized a parallel session of the Fifth Global Forum, focused on practical solutions for staff retention in healthcare. The session which was chaired and facilitated by Prof. Dr Henriette Neumeyer, Vice-Chairwoman of the Board of the German Hospital Federation, invited speakers from different countries to share their experiences.

Perspective from a rural context in the Western Pacific region

Prof. Paul Burgess, Associate Professor, Northern Territory Department of Health, Australia, from Darwin in rural Australia, explained that rural areas with high vacancy rates of 50% and high turnover rates of 200% per year directly impact the care of patients. He noted that in remote areas, healthcare workers are reliant on flying, which can be expensive, unreliable, and may not be available in times of need. He further explained that nursing workforces in rural areas are aging, and there is a need to strengthen the workforce. Reliance on healthcare workers being trained and deployed from large cities is no longer a sustainable model. Training healthcare workers from local rural committees can help provide sustainable, long-term solutions. Additionally, telehealth can help address gaps in healthcare in rural areas.

Perspective from a national hospital in Europe

Matthieu Girier, HR Director at the University Hospital of Bordeaux (Bordeaux UH), France, shared that the pandemic has had a massive impact on the healthcare workforce in France. There was a significant staff turnover at the start of 2021, with many young professionals deciding not to continue a hospital career. High turnover is a challenge for Bordeaux UH, which is the most significant health organization in the northern part of France, employing 11,000 people. In 2022, the staff turnover reached 2000 people, highlighting the need to create proper processes for integrating new staff. Girier explained that the French healthcare system relies on an old model, and it is crucial to work towards being a more attractive employer. Improving the work–life balance for healthcare workers is also essential.

Perspective from a private hospital in the Americas region

Dr Juan Pablo Lleras, HR Director at Fundacion Santa Fe de Bogotá, Colombia, highlighted that staff retention under challenging times relies on leadership. He shared that checking in with teams and helping them address their problems is essential. Additionally, connecting staff’s work with a value proposition and making time for management to check in with teams is necessary. Ileras noted that before the pandemic, the challenge in Colombia was getting staff engaged, but after the pandemic, burnout became a significant challenge.

Perspective from a hospital group in the African region

Dr Zeenat Sulaiman Khan, Regional Chief Executive Officer Aga Khan Health Service, East Africa, Tanzania, shared that the triple threat of disease in East Africa meant there was no time to plan strategies. There was a need to ensure that healthcare workers understood how to reduce the fear associated with COVID-19, and the best way to achieve this was through training and knowledge. Sulaiman explained that providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers was essential to address fears related to the unknowns around COVID-19. Psychological strengthening for staff was necessary.


The speakers agreed that there is a need to take care of healthcare workers’ mental health and wellbeing. Including the need to make staff understand how to care for themselves before caring for patients, which should be reflected as a key pillar to hospital organizational culture.

New training modalities and ongoing education endorsed by local governments are a great incentive to motivate healthcare workers. There is a need for policies that promote retention, including recognizing family and community medicine and investing in new training modalities that can be hybrid. Furthermore, it is essential to address burnout, provide training and education, and improve work–life balance.

Addressing the needs and demand of a health workforce is a global challenge. The International Hospital Federation (IHF) will continue to provide a knowledge exchange platform for hospital organizations and health systems to address healthcare challenges, because well-managed hospitals improve health outcomes for everyone, everywhere.

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