RNnetwork is celebrating 20 years this month! Let’s look back at how the company and the travel nursing industry have changed since 1998 — and how some things remain the same.
From Rolodexes to recruiter Facebook groups
Michele Kluger, a senior recruiter who’s been with RNnetwork 18 years, recalls that when she first started in the industry, nurses often filled out applications and references by hand. Once Michele got the paperwork, she would make a copy of it and have an administrative assistant fax it to the hospital.
“We could only talk to the hospital coordinators between 12 and 1 p.m. to get an update on what staffing might be saying about one of our candidates,” Michele says. “You didn’t have 24/7 access to people. You had to email them or call them. It was much more tactile that way.”
On Saturdays, Michele would bring her daughter into the office to help address “buzz cards,” postcards with bumblebees on the front that said, “Give us a buzz.” They sent out 200-300 buzz cards a week.
“I learned as I went along. I sat with the top recruiter, and in between her chain smoking — yes, she chain-smoked in her office — she would consult a couple Rolodexes she kept her nurse information on,” Michele recalls. “I went to her many times with questions.”
Today, senior RNnetwork recruiter Matt Marcus uses social media to his advantage. More than 2,000 nurses, CNAs and other healthcare professionals are part of his travel nursing group on Facebook.
“I’ll post a NICU or ER need in the group with the location and approximate pay and see if anybody is interested. My working nurses on Facebook can tell their friends about it. It’s a way for them to get referrals and a good way to build up business,” Matt says. “I post in the group to communicate with my nurses. It’s a good tool to establish rapport faster and just have a better relationship with them.”
Growing pains (and cultural gains)
Few companies would offer beer cart Fridays, but RNnetwork did when former president Bill Heller was in charge in 2008 (though he admits he got in trouble for that).
“We also spray-painted graffiti on the inside columns of the office, and I was in trouble for that. We really pushed the limits of what was possible, mostly with our fun,” Bill expresses. “We had pool parties that were fantastic and rented the pool at the W hotel one time — or maybe twice. It was fun and team-building and passionate, and we really made a dent in the business.”
As the company grew from under 50 employees in 2008 to more than 200 in 2018, the culture also grew and changed. Bill, now president of sister company Weatherby Healthcare, says this is a challenging feat but also rewarding to watch.
“RNnetwork is seeing that they can’t communicate as easily, know everyone as intimately as they used to, or do certain events that used to work with 100 people but won’t with 200,” Bill says. “When you’ve got 180-200 people who own the culture, it’s got a life of its own. You’ve just got to keep feeding it and breathing life into it and supporting it, and it will be fine.”
RNnetwork president Eric Darienzo, who’s led the company since 2015, says he’s impressed with how the culture is currently evolving.
“I think we’ve embraced the ‘free to be me’ methodology more than we ever have in the past. I see a mix of a freer work environment and a demographic shift. I see more casual dress. I see more tattoos, more accessories, more hair colors, more everything,” Eric says. “I think it shows that happier people can perform their job at a higher level.”
Since becoming part of CHG Healthcare’s family of companies, RNnetwork’s commitment to employee and community happiness has grown even more. Teams regularly volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, Boca Helping Hands, and The Volen Center (local food banks). Three RNnetwork employees have gone on a humanitarian trip to Kenya through CHG Healthcare’s Difference Maker award program. And last year, RNnetwork employees raised more than $35,000 for local charities during its annual week-long fundraiser, Making a Difference Week.
A changing travel nursing industry
When Bill Heller took the reins in 2008, the recession had hit travel nursing hard.
“We lost 90 percent of our demand basically overnight. It went from 3,000 orders to 300 orders,” Bill recalls. “It was tough. We learned from that, and fortunately this business can survive and thrive. Going through challenges makes you better as a company and as individuals.”
Ten years later, RNnetwork has bounced back from a struggling economy. In 2017, the company placed 2,584 travel nurses, who in turn impacted more than 6 million patients.
However, Michele notes that nurses have a lot more hoops to jump through when taking travel nursing jobs today.
RNnetwork.com website as it appeared in 2000:
“It used to be so easy. You could put a nurse on an assignment with a clean background, an ACLS, a BLS card and a driver’s license, and they went to work. Now there’s so much more testing the facilities are mandating,” Michele says. “They need seven years of your employment history, and it’s almost like you’re credentialing for two jobs at the same time: RNnetwork and then the facility.”
While licensing and credentialing may be harder today, the application and placement process is much easier, since many of the processes that were once manual are now automated.
“We use DocuSign, a very user-friendly system that works well on a cell phone, so a nurse doesn’t have to go somewhere to print stuff and fax it back,” Latisha Turner, director of credentialing and housing, says. “In the past, it would take days to send a welcome package after a nurse was placed because we had to go through all the different departments. Now, we are notified of a placement immediately and send the package the same day if we get notification before 3 p.m.”
Even with so many ways to make communication simpler, Michele still believes in the power of a phone call with her nurses.
“Texting is very two-dimensional, and you lose a lot of that human touch. Ultimately, that’s what we’re doing. We’re in touch with nurses, who in turn are going to touch 10 million patient lives over the course of the year,” Michele says. “At some point, we need to talk. I don’t accept an offer with a nurse unless they’ve gotten back on the phone with me. I think I’m doing a disservice otherwise.”
Heading into the future
Although RNnetwork’s nurse database, employees, and even the workspace has grown and changed a lot over the past 20 years, the company’s commitment to “starting at yes” (the moment a nurse has accepted an assignment) has not changed.
“Our informal motto, ‘We start at yes,’ was about making things work and having a can-do attitude, whether it was getting money to someone in Ohio last-minute, changing flights, or picking up a nurse,” Bill recalls. “RNnetwork has always been the shining star. They know nurse staffing as well as anyone, if not better, but the people are what really separate RNnetwork from anywhere else I’ve ever been.”
Lynne Gross, RNnetwork vice president, says travel nursing requires connecting with others, and the company continues to excel in a people industry.
“That relationship, the over-the-phone connection, has not changed. There are different ways to connect with a provider now, especially texting and social media, but the fundamentals of connecting haven’t changed,” Lynne says. “As long as there are needs across the country, we want to keep placing nurses. We just want to keep doing it the right way.”
What’s your favorite experience working with RNnetwork? Share your stories in the comments below.