Liz Tonkin loves watching people succeed. While many companies transitioned to remote or hybrid work after the pandemic, MedPro Healthcare Staffing’s CEO bet on bringing employees back into the office. Today, she regularly walks the floors as recruiters fill vital positions at healthcare facilities across the country. The work takes on added gravity in an era of exacerbated staffing shortages. But Tonkin has managed to preserve an upbeat, supportive work environment while maintaining a sense of magnitude. “That’s my primary driver; building teams and a culture where people want to come to work and have fun,” said Tonkin.
Finding the perfect balance between work and play isn’t easy, but MedPro leadership seems to have cracked the code. When MedPronians aren’t solving hospitals’ staffing needs, they enjoy holiday trips, Dolphins’ football games, catered lunches, and employee appreciation days, among a long list of extra-curricular activities and events. Word is getting out. With each class of new hires, the faces change, but their motivation remains the same. They applied because they love MedPro’s culture.
“You have to create the culture you want,” said Tonkin. “We made a conscious decision to put people first.” Prioritizing the workforce has benefitted business. MedPro is a five-time Sun Sentinel “Top Work Place” winner, including in 2022 when Tonkin was also named “Leader of the Year” in the midsize employer category. And MedPro was named one of the “2023 Best Staffing Firms to Work For” by Staffing Industry Analysts. “Our most important assets go home every night. Culture is the most important element. It’s more important than strategy. It’s everything,” said Tonkin.
Climbing the Ladder
Tonkin’s tenure with MedPro started almost 20 years ago, but her interest in healthcare began as a child. She was just five years old when she decided she wanted to be a nurse. Her mother never worked in healthcare, nor did her grandmother or anyone else in her family, but as a young girl growing up in Tiverton, Rhode Island, Tonkin heard the calling.
After graduating from the University of Rhode Island with a Bachelor’s in Nursing and passing her boards, she was recruited by Cedars Medical Center (now the University of Miami) and headed to South Florida. Tonkin started as a staff nurse, but she worked her way up to Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Operating Officer for several acute care facilities.
Tonkin’s passion for staffing ignited in the mid-1990s. “I think it’s in my blood. Once you get into healthcare staffing, it never leaves you,” said Tonkin. Early in her career, she showed her knack for the position. She was just 28 years old when her supervisor noticed Tonkin’s staffing aptitude and reached out for help. “My supervisor said, ‘I’m gonna tell you the staffing. You tell me what to do,’” recalled Tonkin. She took to the position immediately, displaying an innate ability to match the right nurse with the right patient.
She rapidly rose up the leadership ladder and became Chief Operating Officer at HCA Healthcare in her early 30s. Her love of staffing and friendly relationship with management engineers inspired her to start All About Staffing, the country’s first group purchasing organization (GPO), and roll out workforce planning solutions to more than 200 hospitals. “It was the Wild, Wild West back then,” said Tonkin. “You’re young, and if you can dream it, you try it.” She focused on how the company could put together a system to get the right nurse at the right place. “That was really the beginning of the whole industry and how we exist today.” Thirty years later, she’s CEO of one of the largest healthcare staffing firms in the U.S.
An Evolving Industry
Tonkin’s background in nursing remains a strong influence. She treats people how she would want to be treated and has successfully meshed her caretaker nature with the know-how for numbers and strategy. “I have good EQ. I can read people and situations, and I’m not afraid to make a quick decision,” said Tonkin.
Those skills are being tested as technological developments rapidly transform healthcare and staffing. Digital platforms and disintermediation are restructuring the staffing process, but people remain the key element to quality care in Tonkin’s view. “The industry is less personal. The whole perspective has changed. But to me, it’s a people business.” Tonkin believes using technology to improve efficiency while maintaining a personal connection is crucial. “Nursing is an older workforce. The younger people coming in are more tech-savvy, but we must keep that balance to enable everyone to thrive in the industry.” According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of registered nurses in the U.S. in 2021 was 41.3 years, but most RNs are 50 and older. Additionally, with more than 195,000 nurse openings expected from now until 2031, more facilities will be utilizing foreign-educated nurses.
“Originally, it was the rural hospitals, facilities on reservations, and those that didn’t have a supply of new graduates that embraced international nurses. Now, everyone is looking at them.” The shift positions MedPro, the industry leader in the international recruitment, training, and staffing of foreign-educated healthcare professionals, to be at the forefront as a solution provider and take a greater share of the market. But the opportunity comes with challenges.
“Our account managers used to oversee international and domestic, but as the company grew, we evolved and specialized.” Tonkin believes they can improve the synergy between international and domestic recruiting and enhance client messaging. “We have great technology and visibility in our systems and salesforce. Our biggest challenge is getting more clients and MSPs and utilizing this distinct differentiator to our advantage.”
Industry competition is relentless, but so is Tonkin. Her competitive nature was on full display during an event last fall for Light The Night, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society annual fundraiser. Tonkin lined up with dozens of MedPronians in a test of endurance to see who could do the most squats. Twenty minutes later, Tonkin was among the three finalists. “I’m very competitive,” she joked. “I just want to keep getting better.”
2023 and Beyond
For many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic was a defining moment, a time to sink or swim. “When one of our clients put out the call for 800 additional nurses, we answered with 800 nurses. We’re a completely different company after COVID,” said Tonkin. “We’re much more bullish. We learned what it took to get it done.” MedPro has grown exponentially, adding nearly 100 employees in the past year alone.
Despite the end of the pandemic, the U.S. still faces a healthcare staffing shortage. A combination of travel nurses, allied professionals, and foreign-educated healthcare professionals will be part of the solution. “We’re going to get bigger and stronger and continue to invest and scale,” said Tonkin. “There’s going to be a lot of successful people here, and I’m excited about it.”