Why International Nurses Became a ‘Lifesaver’ for Staffing

An interview with Manuel Acuna, Melody Chapman, and Corrian Nwankwo of CHRISTUS Health

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Well before the pandemic, the team at CHRISTUS health was experiencing a different kind of staffing crisis when there was a mass exit of ICU nurses in their Corpus Christi spawn region.

They had to think quickly, and with the help of Health Carousel and Passport — they discovered that international nurses would become their lifeline.

Manuel Acuna, Senior Recruiter at CHRISTUS, and Corrian Nwankwo, Talent Acquisition Executive, have now incorporated international nurses as a pillar of their recruitment strategy.

They talked to us recently about why the executive team was open to this idea and the innovative way CHRISTUS helped the international nurses become part of the team.

They spoke in an interview with Health Carousel, which provides world-class healthcare staffing and workforce solutions designed to improve lives and make healthcare work better.


We had a heavy need in our specialty area for critical care nurses, and we were looking to add one more tool to our recruiting toolbox, and the thought of bringing in some international nurses and the benefits that they bring to add some immediate relief to our units. And then also that flexibility.

So we can create some long term strategic recruiting plans that allowed us to really fluctuate with the needs of the business. So we could forecast when individuals were coming in, and different from our agency nurses that are 13 week contracts, these agreements are long term. So we know they're gonna stay with the organization and provide that relief.

And also these nurses bring a different lens that they look through. They've seen other hospitals, other health care systems, and other ways of providing care, but fundamentally, they align with our culture and our values. And so you bring that mix together, and you get this unique way of delivering care in our local ministries,


International nurses, I would say, lifesaver. They're a lifesaver. lifesavers in that, you know, there's a difference between, I would say, US nurses and international nurses in their passion for wanting to come in and work, any shift, do what it takes in order to help us. And so I would say that's what I think of the flexibility, I think, the passion and the just being happy to be here.

The international nurses that we've received, have been a great cultural fit for us. They come in and they fit right into our culture. So I would say, just, they've saved our lives, in many ways, in many situations.


We really needed to add something new. And, you know, you think back, there's no way we could have known what today holds. But in that fostering those relationships, and starting that partnership has really supported us today. And when we think back to the changing partnerships, so international nursing wasn't new, but the partnership and expectations of what is available. That was a new path for us, which really allowed our our executive leadership team to be open to this idea. And it just fostered a whole new relationship and avenue for us to provide support.

What it does is it creates a buffer. So we have this safety net that we know we can go back to the healthcare realm, you know it all together is just so fast, in the way that evolves, we need to be able to shift and move with the needs of our populations, with the communities that we serve. And what this does, it truly allows us to have that buffer, that safety net, we can fall back on and know, within the next 12 to 36 months, this is what we have. And this is how we can provide support. And so it really gives us that flexibility to be able to shift and move with the needs of our organization.


Their passion for international nurses doesn’t stop with simply filling a need. The team at CHRISTUS health goes above and beyond to ensure that these nurses assimilate not only into their own communities, but into the country as well.

Melody Chapman, Senior Recruiter at CHRISTUS, is particularly excited about what they call affinity groups.


Our affinity group will take them garage saleing if they need new furniture, they'll have a welcome party for them with all of their own foods.

Just everybody gets together and do karaoke night or what have you, just to make them feel more comfortable and to assimilate them into not only the community that they happen to be in because we have so many different facilities, but really assimilate them into the United States.

The International nurses really have that same set of values. As far as when they come over here, they have that same vision there, they're already bought into the Christus health mission in the way alive. So to assimilate them with their affinity group. It's like old home week.


Though the international nurses truly helping to bolster CHRISTUS Health, they’re still not without challenges — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.


It's a changing healthcare environment in so many different aspects. So not only the patients that we're taking care of, but how we take care of our own associates, those frontline nurses, and so really focus on on retaining individuals, and also engaging them to make sure that they're not burnt out.

Nurse burnout, and the effects of, you know, the COVID environment, on their mental health on their physical health, it's going to be a huge focus for us to make sure that we take care of those who are taking care of our patients.

The true challenge is creating a culture where we're fostering the environment for our nurses and truly taking care of them all the way through their process of holistically taking care of them, and making sure that we put them first above everything else.


As you know, agency rates have gone skyrocketing right now. I mean, nurses in the US are in order to get our nurses to get help. We're losing some nurses going to do travel assignments.

But also another component is that we don't have to compete with the agency rates that we're seeing here in the US.

So we are heavily relying on international nurses right now to help be a part of our strategy. Even they're part of our recovery strategy.


For the team at CHRISTUS Health, Passport and Health Carousel couldn’t be a better partner. Manuel, Corrian and Melody all expressed that they all feel a kinship in a shared vision to both serve patients and those that care for them.

Here’s Corrian speaking to the success of the partnership.


When I met passport and was able to see what They could, how they could partner with us and provide not only service to our leaders to help them, but also to make sure that the nurses that were coming on board, were going to assimilate properly, and that they were going to be able to get in and do their work, they wouldn't have all of these other things that they'd have to worry about, like housing and, you know, the community passport.

When I'm looking for an agency or a partner, I call it a partnership with someone that's going to really, really meet the meet the needs of our business, and meet the needs of our associates that are coming on board. So taking that off of our plate, where we're not having to worry about when they when, when they arrive, who's going to be at the airport, who's going to take them to the Social Security office, we have housing, do they need to go to Walmart, or whatever it is, those things are taken off of our plates, so that we can focus on the onboarding experience, and making sure that those candidates are able to come in and look and start, you know, assimilating with our business and our culture. So I would say I look for someone that has the empathy and understanding of what our organization stands for.

And just empathy for the candidates and understanding coming to a new country is, it's tough. So taking all of those things off of their plate to ensure that they have a smooth transition when arriving to a new facility. And you know, new culture is amazing. And so we found that having that kind of partnership, and that type of service from Passport has helped our nurses stay longer. So we see a higher level of conversion rates because of that. And so that's what I'm looking for. I hold everyone to that standard, not just a transaction, but you really understand the needs of our business.

This episode of The Workforce Solution has been an interview with Manuel Acuna, Melody Chapman and Corrian Nwankwo from CHRISTUS.

The Workforce Solution is a storytelling series brought to you by Health Carousel,  a world-class healthcare staffing and workforce solutions company designed to improve lives and make healthcare work better.