It's Not Just About the Paycheck: An Interview with Ron Winkler, System Director of Recruitment and Retention, Valley Health System, Las Vegas, Nevada


            The name Las Vegas conjures immediate images of “the strip”, the famous epicenter of excess and bastion of neon.  But Ron Winkler, Director of Recruitment and Retention for the five medical centers which constitute Las Vegas’ Valley Health System, paints a different picture of the popular hotspot.  To prospective health care professionals, he highlights the other considerable draws of southern Nevada including: its enviable climate, natural beauty, affordable housing, and the family-friendly nature of its local communities.  Winkler believes that nurses who are ready for a change should seriously consider joining the over 5,000 people per month who are moving to a rapidly growing Las Vegas.

            The Valley Health System is the largest hospital system in Nevada.  Its 5 medical centers - Centennial Hills Hospital, Valley, Summerlin Hospital, Spring Valley Hospital, and Desert Springs Hospital – each have between 250 and 410 beds.  Among the Valley Health System’s distinctions are Nevada’s first accredited diabetes program and chest pain center, as well as the only osteopathic residency program in Nevada.  To staff these medical centers and to keep up with Las Vegas’ growth and subsequent health care demands is no small challenge.  In 2007 alone Winkler placed over 600 registered nurses in VHS facilities.  

            What entices nurses to come to Las Vegas to work for VHS?  Winkler was surprised to discover that pay scales are not prospective nurses’ primary concerns.  Instead, nurses talk about hospital culture, quality of life, and employment for spouses and other loved ones.  Often nurses worry that their partners may not be successful in locating employment after they have accepted nursing jobs.  In response to this concern, Winkler established the Trailing Spouse program.

Through collaborations with Recruiting Nevada, a local internet site and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, the Trailing Spouse program attempts to secure work for nurses’ loved ones.  Interested candidates complete an online application.  Within 48 hours these candidates are contacted by possible employers. 

There has been a tremendous response to this innovative program.  Winkler says, “I personally receive approximately 5 calls per day, and 85% ask about the Trailing Spouse program first.”

Winkler encourages nurses to form their own firsthand opinion of Las Vegas and VHS hospitals.  On-site visits allow for prospective nurses to converse directly with working VHS nurses, to get a feel for hospital culture, and to evaluate the day-to-day reality of employment at VHS medical centers.  Pre-employment visits also create an opportunity for partners or other relatives to follow up on leads obtained through the Trailing Spouse program.  Winkler’s states that, “The [Trailing Spouse] program is free with no commitment to working at our hospitals.  If [nurses] come to Las Vegas they are still assisting with the nursing needs for this growing community.  If we can get the nurse to work with one of our hospitals, it’s a bonus for us.”

In addition to the Trailing Spouse program and other more conventional incentives including sign-on bonuses, retention bonuses, and moving discounts, Winkler’s recruiting department also offers a free real estate concierge service.  Working for VHS may very well be a win-win situation - for nurses, their spouses, and Las Vegas communities in need of skilled caregivers.   

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