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Block by Block: Building the Future Workforce
Some challenges are so big you have to think in terms of evolution, not solution, to tackle them. Director of Strategy and Workforce Planning (GME) Sri Koduri explains how academic health systems can weather strong and weak labor markets alike by building sustainable bridges between clinical and academic communities.

niversity of Utah Health’s leadership has embraced proactive workforce planning—having the right people, with the right skills, at the right time—as one of our priorities. This builds on work that has been conducted over the past three years by the Academic-Clinical Workforce Planning Alliance. This group has engaged system leaders, frontline clinicians, human resources teams, operational champions and educators—over 50 individuals across multiple areas of our organization—to develop our capacity as an organization to think ahead about our workforce.

The challenge: The ebb and flow of our labor market

Proactive workforce planning is an ambitious challenge. Changing demographics and socio-economic needs have resulted in a workplace where people enter and exit at various times in their careers. Health care employers must compete with other industries to offer jobs with lower barriers of entry, higher wages and faster career growth. 

The traditional academic model, built around obtaining a college degree after high school and then entering the workforce, struggles to keep pace. The traditional clinical model assumes people will fill and stay in entry level roles given the University's reputation and benefits also struggles, especially in our current labor market: Utah is facing the fifth worst workforce shortage in the country with seven qualified people for every 10 open jobs. 

Our differentiating strategy and the lessons we learned

Our system’s approach is proactive workforce planning that transforms our academic system into a strategic strength for our clinical system. It is different from typical recruit and retain or downsize reactions to changing labor markets. Our academic system can serve as the retention pathway from entry through the top level.

This transformation can be achieved through culture change, operational alignment, and sustainability. Our large system is not a single culture, but a bouquet of several microcultures. Understanding these cultures and partnering with them has been at the heart of the Workforce Planning Alliance.

Find the urgency—but don’t outpace your organizational culture

“Slow is fast in our system.” Ed Clark, MD, Associate Vice President for Clinical Affairs, President of the University of Utah Medical Group, University of Utah Health.

For every challenge, there is a window of opportunity. As a leader, you have to highlight the urgency to focus attention in the right place. That being said, solutions will not be effective if they are not tailored to our systemic culture and have the buy-in from all stakeholders. Keeping pace with culture is critical.

In 2017, our system’s workforce struggles came into sharp focus with medical assistants (MAs). We were experiencing strong growth resulting in a higher demand for MAsAccording to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these jobs are expected to grow at a rate of 23% over the next 10 years, more than other health care support occupations (17%). While our clinical partners were developing ways to address this issue using recruitment and retention strategies, the bottle neck seemed to be the fact that the public and private education systems (community and applied technology colleges) were not able to keep up with the market demand.. In addition, these critical members of the care team often experience inconsistent training and high turnover. 

We thought the solution would be easy and quick. After all, we already had University of Utah’s Professional Education program and a robust Clinical Skills Education department. We had executive sponsorship and funding to launch a pilot within the year. However, we didn’t agree on the specifics—whether we should launch a certificate training program, what it would look like, and the return on investment. 

Building consensus, even at the expense of delay, helped shape the program to meet the needs of all stakeholders. Workforce Planning Alliance members and sponsors created a department to support Allied Health Professions training. In addition, the program was submitted as the DreamUP proposal to a national competition (American Dream Ideas Challenge). DreamUP was selected for the top 5 from the region bringing visibility and interest from the University President’s office and the Lt. Governor’s office, and is working to pursue other sources to funding. 

Build a LEGO ® star ship—bring together different blocks as voices, encourage broad ownership, and ensure the connections are meaningful

“To make the success last, connection is more important than the outcome itself.” – Rory Hume, DDS, PhD, Dean of the University of Utah School of Dentistry, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Education for University of Utah Health Sciences.

Imagine building a star ship, with each of our partners from academics, clinical practice and administration areas as the building blocks. Everyone owns their piece and connects with each other at the right time. Some may not be able to see how it all fits until you bring some of the pieces together. Others might see how the pieces fit and yet it might not be a priority.

The foundation is made of meaningful communication, engagement, and trust built on shared successes and failures. The Workforce Planning Alliance provides a communication platform, collective guidance, methodology, technology, and cross-module collaboration to each unit as needed. 

The beauty of a LEGO® approach is that we can work on the pieces that fit and are ready to come together, leaving enough connectors in place. This gives the others an opportunity to connect in a meaningful way, with complete buy-in, when the time is right. More importantly, every building block (or partner) plays a significant role in staying connected with the others. This requires time and trust. As a result, the outcomes are strong and long lasting.


ACWPA Members


Wyatt R Hume, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, UUH
Edward B Clark, Associate Vice President for Clinical Affairs, UUH
Thomas Miller, Chief Medical Officer, UUHC
Dan Lundergan, Chief Operating Officer, UUHC

Executive Committee

Dale Spartz, Chief Hospital Human Resource Officer, UUHC
Jose E. Rodríguez, Interim Associate Vice President for Health Equity & Inclusion
Dayle Benson, Chief of Staff, Clinical Affairs, Executive Director, UUMG
Maia Hightower, Chief Medical Information Officer, UUH
Howard R Weeks, Associate Chief Medical Information Officer, UUMG
Rick Smith, Senior Director, Health Sciences Human Resources Management


Wyatt R Hume, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, UUH


Sri Koduri, Director, Strategy & Workforce Planning Graduate Medical Education


Christy Jarvis, Associate Librarian, Eccles Health Sciences Library
Brad Poss, Chief Medical Education Officer, Associate Dean, Graduate Medical Education
Jared Spackman, Program Director, U of U Physician Assistants Program
Julee Millard, Director, Behavioral Health & Social Work, UUH
Julia Beynon, Operations Director, Critical Care Air Med & Emergency Nursing
Juliana Briscoe, Business Operations Director, University Neuropsychiatric Institute
Kathy Pedersen, Associate Professor, Physician Assistant Studies
Linda Edelman, Director, Hartford Center of Geriatric Nursing Excellence, College of Nursing
Linda Tyler, Associate Dean, Pharmacy Practice Chief Pharmacy Officer
Lisa Dyson, Director, Talent Acquisition
Lori Larsen, Director, Nursing Informatics UUH
Martell Teasley, Dean, College Of Social Work
Michael K Magill, Director, Utah Area Health Education Centers
Nate Gladwell, Senior Director, Clinical Operations UUH Network Development & TeleHealth
Bob Pendleton, Chief Medical Quality Officer
Richard Orlandi, Chief Medical Officer, Ambulatory Care
Robin Marcus, Chief Wellness Officer, Office of Senior Vice President for Health Sciences
Virginia Valentin, Associate Division Chief, Physician Assistant Studies
Rylee Curtis, Director, Community Engagement
Timothy Farrell, Director, Interprofessional Education Program
Wendy Hobson-Rohrer, Associate Vice President for Health Sciences Education
Wayne Samuelson, Vice Dean for Education, School of Medicine
Medical Assistant Pipeline Sub-Committee: Charles Socci, Trell Inzunza, Benjamin Gawle, Jen Burgi, Lauren Anderson, Amy Boyack, Karen Newman, Sheila deLong, Maddie Lassche, Cynthia McComber, Carole Stipelman, Zeta Tsagaris

Support Staff

April Thacker, Information Coordinator
Brynn Harris, UUHC Administrative Fellow
Cameron Wright, UUMG Administrative Fellow


Sri Koduri

Director, Strategy and Workforce Planning (GME), University of Utah Health

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