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ATD Blog

Meeting Talent Development Goals in Healthcare: Q&A With Niranjani Chidamber Papavaritis

Thursday, February 3, 2022
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The ATD Talent Development and Training in Healthcare Handbook (ATD Press, November 2021) addresses the many opportunities and challenges TD professionals face in the growing and rapidly changing healthcare space. Effective talent development is the thread that weaves through an entire healthcare organization to ensure it is up to standard with the latest practices in treating patients while providing a safe and engaging environment for staff. TD professionals have the unique role of tying together organizational and employee advancement in healthcare systems—and likewise, this handbook dives into areas for both business and professional evolution.

Niranjani Chidamber Papavaritis is the former head of content for ATD's healthcare and government industry verticals, and she was the editor for ATD Talent Development and Training in Healthcare Handbook. In this spotlight Q&A, learn more about Papavaritis and her contribution to the book.

What distinguishes or differentiates talent development in the healthcare field from talent development more broadly?

Healthcare is a nuanced field that is continuously evolving, innovating (then re-innovating), and one-upping itself with breakthroughs. Provider spaces, specifically, contain multidimensional factors, making talent development priorities one-of-a-kind.

Unlike other industries, healthcare deals with the most essential components of the human experience: birth, injury, functionality, physical and mental well-being, and mortality. Furthermore, every component of healthcare learning and development ends up impacting two distinct groups of people: the primary audience of employees and workforces within the industry and a deeper, embedded audience of patients who receive care from these healthcare professionals. That grants trainers direct and indirect influence that can be seen at every turn in a hospital hallway.

There’s a quote from the show Scrubs that summarizes how everything a health provider does is done with the intention of staving off injury and death. “You’re in medicine. You gotta accept the fact that everything we do here—everything—is a stall.” (For the record, I don’t refer to this show for medical advice … but it has some great one-liners that aptly describe working in a hospital.) Talent development professionals must train with that ultimate goal in mind—to equip every employee with the right skillset to keep the hospital thriving to provide high-quality patient care.

Trainers wear several caps simultaneously, approaching topics from a business perspective, a clinical perspective, an employee-development perspective, a broader organization-development/culture perspective, and a patient-care perspective. Though the multiple ongoing priorities, workforce demographics, job functionalities and concentrations are seemingly siloed, talent development is the glue that brings them all together to form an interconnected, symbiotic business. This handbook provides a comprehensive spectrum of the healthcare talent development landscape, categorized into six broad fields: L&D basics, organization development, employee development, business acumen for the health system, digital transformation and literacy, and patient-centric care.

What are some of the challenges or barriers to talent development in healthcare?

I recently started Dr. Rana Awdish’s book In Shock (which I highly recommend to anyone in healthcare leadership or TD), and she explains, “Healthcare is exceedingly complex. Errors will inevitably occur at even the best hospitals. What seems different … is the transparent willingness to acknowledge that we are a learning organization.” That resonated so deeply for me.

Efficient talent development has a high return on investment (ROI) for any organization or individual’s professional growth. Unfortunately, healthcare has limited resources for talent development priorities, which are typically underfunded and need more support from leaders. Training is an ongoing process—a necessary supplement to knowledge and preparedness gained from medical/business/law school—to allow for continuous growth and upskilling through one’s career and the organization’s lifespan.

Challenges arise in delivering more comprehensive training when the workforce does not always work a typical 9–5 day. Non-clinical staff are available at different times than clinicians and nurses, who work shifts spanning all hours of the day. Furthermore, training delivery needs to be easy, digestible, and time-sensitive not to overload practitioners, who already juggle numerous tasks mentally. Current mundane modules or mandatory in-person lessons are not always seen as relevant, but rather as distractions from daily tasks—and that method and perception of training needs to shift drastically.

Furthermore, the internal structure of health systems doesn’t lend itself to a cohesive organization; the onus falls on talent development professionals to bring moving parts together. Departments are siloed, functioning independently with its own set of norms and practices. This extends throughout the industry as well. The limited training resources and success stories that do exist are contained within their respective health systems, and they are shared only on a microscale through mediums among the broader provider space network.

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While there may be differing priorities within specialties, there needs to be uniformity in training practices for interdepartmental collaboration—so that all the moving parts can come together to run as one smooth entity of the health system. And for successful (and unsuccessful) practices to be shared within the industry at large.

Continuous education should be a part of healthcare careers and organization culture, and through robust talent development initiatives, practitioners and leaders can stay current with the latest trends such as digital literacy, management styles, and interpersonal skills. The ROI for training needs to be better recognized by those in leadership positions. They have the power of positive influence, the ability to guide decisions for an organization’s trajectory that will better serve employee development and performance improvement.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic changing talent development in healthcare? What talent development needs does the healthcare field have as a result of the pandemic?

Every aspect of healthcare performance has been impacted by the pandemic; areas of change management, leadership development, and patient care were especially put to the test and continue to be amended on-the-fly. The past two years have changed the entire landscape for talent development, making it evident that the industry needs 1) a more collaborative approach, strengthening teambuilding and interdepartmental collaboration, and 2) a more focused, concerted effort to improve training practices at every employee level and specialty area.

A very pressing issue, requiring immediate attention, is physician and nurse well-being. With the pandemic raging since early 2020, clinicians are exhausted in every way possible. I’ve read truly heartbreaking recounts from clinicians who are barely staying afloat emotionally, questioning their entire career paths due to how worn out they are. With increasing turnover rates, the acute care infrastructure is increasingly short-staffed, causing more stress and overload.

Addressing burnout and tactics to build resilience requires an all-encompassing re-evaluation of leadership development. Leaders who employ adaptive and effective management styles can bring together aspects of teambuilding, organizational safety and reliability, performance improvement, and value-based care to create a long-term, sustainable approach to addressing clinician well-being. To achieve success, focus needs to be brought back to the humanistic elements of the industry—care and empathy—not just for patients, but for the workforce as well, finding ways to better incorporate these qualities in a health system’s culture.

I explored some of these trends as shifts were occurring and found that digital transformation was reshaping the landscape entirely as health systems adjusted to remote workforces and provided care through telehealth platforms. New learning technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) are emerging to revolutionize training delivery, using simulations to create real-life, interactive experiences for departmental priorities.

Though the dust hasn’t settled, there has been more time to assess the damage and for talent development professionals to analyze areas for improvement or increased focus within learning and development. Now, more than ever, is the time for TD professionals and trainers to shine.

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How can talent development help meet the goals of interprofessional education?

Effective branding of talent development can provide great opportunities for interprofessional education goals. With broader L&D subject matter experts and healthcare professionals working in tandem, the talent development sphere can help individuals grow in their careers by expanding existing skillsets and/or preparing for new roles. The L&D field holds promise for the growth of the healthcare industry—especially in terms of understanding the neuroscience and behavior of learning to better customize lessons. L&D professionals with expertise in instructional design, training delivery, and continuing education across a spectrum of workforces have great insight and successes that can be customized to the healthcare space.

On the flip side, those in healthcare can provide innovative insight to the broader L&D world as well. Practitioners and healthcare trainers have firsthand experience working with tight schedules, juggling multiple priorities, moving on fast deadlines, and dealing with the most crucial kinds of change management and interpersonal relationships through both employee engagement and patient engagement.

As mentioned earlier, effective executive leadership is key to forming and sustaining such collaborations. Health systems have a lot to learn from both successes and setbacks of the past 22 months—takeaways that can influence future training for all employees. It’s up to leaders to ensure that talent development professionals receive support to provide interprofessional education opportunities and employees feel motivated to meet such goals for their own growth and performance development.


What are your goals for the ATD Talent Development and Training in Healthcare Handbook? What impact do you hope this book has on the field?

I can’t tell you how incredibly excited and proud I am that this handbook was created! Having an evergreen resource that can enhance the TD sphere within healthcare has been a long time coming! This handbook is truly groundbreaking and has the potential to positively impact everyone who steps into a provider space.

When the book first launched in November, I discussed how “an ongoing emphasis on learning and development is the key to success” for “the constant, multiple moving parts and various groups of workforces (clinical, nonclinical, multigenerational, interdepartmental, interpersonal, as examples) that are engaged daily…”.

There are case studies and take-aways from experts that can support trainers and leaders to create a collaborative environment; where systems and priorities don’t need to be siloed, and each part of a health system can come together to create a united organizational culture. Up until a few months ago, there has not been a resource pulling together expertise from multiple healthcare leaders, practitioners, consultants, and innovators. It’s somewhat poetic how the collaboration within this handbook is an example for the collaboration potential that exists within the industry.

I am passionate about the intersection of business acumen and interpersonal skillsets within leadership development, as it is the perfect combination for impactful patient care. Healthcare leaders who are reskilled and upskilled to use analytic business acumen, interwoven with empathy, EQ, and compassion, can shape provider spaces into well-rounded care facilities. Because it is the first-of-its-kind, I’m hoping for tangible results in teambuilding, so that existing gaps in interdepartmental priorities can be filled.

While the handbook is geared toward talent development professionals, my goal when forming it was to bring out possibilities for improved leadership within each chapter and topic area. I wanted every leader and manager to find tangible advice as they are often “accidental trainers” themselves. This handbook provides countless opportunities for improved training and leadership—for anyone who finds themselves in a training role, including talent development professionals and trainers, C-suite executives, clinicians, and managers or heads of departments, who often find themselves coaching others at various points during their careers.

This provides a promise for organizational, employee, and patient wellness not just during turbulence, but for long-term sustainable success within the industry. The wide array of topics covered by some of the best subject matter experts within this book can ideally contribute to increased innovation, collaboration, and organizational culture at micro and macro scales, bringing about interdepartmental successes.

As the field continues to evolve with medical breakthroughs, I hope this handbook will help reimagine talent development initiatives for all providers—health systems, the armed services, EMTs, private practices, local state and city departments of health, and more. And ultimately, I hope this handbook brings out the very best in every employee and function so we can better serve our communities with the highest quality of care.

About the Author

Eliza Blanchard, APTD, is ATD's Learning & Development content manager. Contact her at [email protected]

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