Registered nurse (RN) Navia Kumar, (L), was a grad student being trained by fellow RN Jason Hu when he directed her to UHN'​s Employee Referral Program. They are now colleagues on the Nursing Resource Unit at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. (UHN)

UHN's first Employee Referral Program (ERP) is proving to be a success.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a health care human resources crisis in Canada – and around the world – as stress and burnout have resulted in high staff turnover rates and a lack of retention.

In an effort to mitigate this, UHN early last year implemented a pilot ERP, which offers a cash incentive to TeamUHN members who refer people who get hired and stay in hard-to-fill roles in a number of areas, including nursing, labs, the Joint Department of Medical Imaging and certain positions in Allied Health and Finance.

Since the program's launch at the end of January 2022, UHN's People & Culture Department has hired 295 people to full-time positions – 206 of those nurses.

The retention rate of those hired under the EPR is 82.6 per cent.

"On behalf of Talent Acquisition and the People & Culture team, we are really proud as a department to have offered this pilot program that has proven to be a success so far," says Diana Elder, Vice President of UHN People & Culture. "The health care human resources crisis has affected everyone, and our hopes with this program is that it continues to support hiring and retention."

Jason Hu, a registered nurse (RN) on the Nursing Resource Unit at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, says it's been amazing to see a program like the ERP brought in to help retain people at in this health care crisis.

"With the health care human resource crisis, the implementation of this employee referral program really helps to bridge the gap," Jason says. "With a massive shortage because of the pandemic, people then start leaving because of stress and it only makes it worse.

"It's great to be able to refer someone that you know and trust is going to be a good hire and addition to the team, along with getting a bonus for that."

'It benefits both the employee and employer'

Jason referred RN Navia Kumar, who had been a grad student he was training, and is now his colleague on the Nursing Resource Unit at the Princess Margaret. He says the program is a great opportunity to refer his students looking for jobs as he knows their capabilities and eligibility for the role.

Navia, who learned about the ERP program through Jason, says it's very beneficial to UHN and she hopes to see it stay.

"After Jason referred me to the ERP program, I got hired full time at UHN," Navia says. "It's cool when we do get to work together as colleagues now after spending 300+ hours with him my last placement."

Alena McKenna, an RN in the Cath Lab at Toronto General Hospital (TGH), also came to UHN through the ERP program, referred by Anna Kerr, who is now her colleague.

Alena says the ERP is beneficial because the person making the reference is able to give a better idea of what to expect on the job, something you wouldn't necessarily get otherwise.

"It's been so nice joining the team and having Anna as a point of reference," Elena says. "As small as the world is, we actually went to the same elementary and high school, and now we get to work together on the same team as nurses which has been so nice."

June will mark one year since Alena began at TGH, and she has advice for any nurses who would also like to join the organization.

"Don't be afraid to try different things and put yourself out there," she says. "A lot of times I think it is easy to get comfortable, but I really believe it is so important to try new things and step out of your comfort zone."

For her part, Anna says she was delighted to hear about the EPR program through her manager.

"I think that this program is an amazing addition to UHN as it benefits both the employee and employer," Anna says. "It helps with onboarding, transition, as well as retention.

"I thought Alena would be a great choice to bring onto the Cath Lab team. Within a few months, she has already taken on so much responsibility and been a great asset to our team, so I think that just goes to show how smooth the transition has been for her."

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