Headshot of Diane Psaras

Working in hospice care is one of the most rewarding careers in the field of nursing. It offers some of the most purposeful, personal and hands-on patient care opportunities in today’s world of modern medicine. For many clinicians, hospice work brings them back to the reasons they chose a career in healthcare in the first place.

As employers, however, we can’t rely only on the intrinsic rewards of this crucial job. Keeping talent passionate and committed requires a deliberate focus on the things that matter most to them to include two-way communication, recognition for their work and providing development and career growth opportunities. After all, best-in-class patient care can only spring from a people-first, gratifying workplace environment.

Inspiring enduring compassion and commitment in our employees starts at the top with our executive leaders instilling a strong sense of purpose that enables our teams to follow their passion as they carry out our incredible mission of making our patients comfortable in their most vulnerable state and supporting families through a very challenging time. This starts with the presence of leaders who are accessible and approachable with an authentic desire to listen to and learn from their staff. Efforts around culture can’t just happen once — or during a crisis. Culture must be intentional and focused upon regularly and proactively.

At VITAS Healthcare, we’ve learned a lot about the importance of employee engagement and the power of culture. To ensure we’re not only fostering, but truly living and breathing a people-first ethos, we developed the VITAS Difference — a program that demonstrates and celebrates how each and every team member makes a difference in the lives of our patients and their families. The program is built upon three pillars designed to uplift every employee, celebrate their everyday excellence, and drive everything we do:

  • Commitment: a vow to build trust and maintain a servant attitude to all, from showing up on time for shifts and patient appointments to communicating consistently with patients and family before, during, and after visits  
  • Compassion: a promise to provide heartfelt care by actively listening carefully to others’ needs, honoring the meaningful moments that our patients and their families invite us to share, treating everyone with empathy and respect, and making difficult situations better
  • Can-Do Attitude: a mindset of going above and beyond to provide excellent service, consistently showing up with a positive attitude and collaborative spirit, and inspiring others to do the same

The VITAS Difference is grounded in our values, which have formed the bedrock of our organization for more than four decades. While our organization’s foremost guiding value — patients and families come first — serves as our north star, we could hardly steer toward it without equally honoring our other values as well: we take care of each other; I’ll do my best today and even better tomorrow; and I am proud to make a difference.

As a way to further demonstrate our sincere appreciation for our employees, we launched an employee recognition program that spans across geographies and care center locations. We’ve been blown away by the response. In just three days after the initiative’s launch, we had 1,500 submissions recognizing employees for their extraordinary work and real-life examples of putting Commitment, Compassion and Can-do Attitude into action. It’s an ongoing opportunity to raise up our people while doubling down on our culture.

Attracting and retaining staff is a paramount priority in healthcare overall and in hospice care in particular. Cultivating a people-first culture that’s clearly supported by the presence of leadership, is essential. It’s what allows team members to live out their purpose, pursue their passions, and explore exciting new career possibilities — and it’s the VITAS Promise we make to each and every employee across our organization.  

To foster a thriving workplace, healthcare organizations must:

  • Make the work purposeful by tying it to the organization’s mission, values and community
  • Communicate values and expectations clearly, regularly and openly with all staff — just as we would ask employees to do with our patients and their families
  • Demonstrate authentic buy-in from the top and find opportunities to inspire ambassadors from within
  • Create calls to action — fun ways to get employees engaged, connected and encouraged to translate the organization’s values and beliefs into everyday behaviors
  • Provide people with the resources and professional opportunities they need to stay motivated and feel cared for

Behind every hospice patient success story is a team of compassionate and committed care providers who made it possible with their can-do spirit and desire to make a difference. The experience for a person when nearing the end of life can only be as good as we are. We need to take the best possible care of our people if we’re to provide the best possible care for our patients.

Diane Psaras is executive vice president and chief human resources officer at VITAS Healthcare.