How does Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) attract great talent? Find out how they manage their employer brand.

Leiden University Medical Center: where people can make a difference 

“Rather than money, it’s the chance to make a difference to people’s health and wellbeing that really motivates our staff,” says Denise van de Leur, Director of Human Capital and Organizational Development at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), one of the Netherlands’ leading teaching hospitals. “By enabling ambitious people to stay close to what they want to achieve, we can attract and retain the high quality professionals we need,” says Serena Sterkenburg, Employer Branding and Talent Acquisition Specialist at the LUMC. But with all hospitals facing increasingly complex challenges and a host of competing demands, how does LUMC sustain the inspiration, engagement and creative dialogue that are so important to its success?

The LUMC is one of eight university medical centers in the Netherlands. These elite institutions provide specialist medical care that isn’t available in standard hospitals. They are also the country’s main centers for scientific research and medical education.

“A combination of cost pressures, the need to give patients greater say in their treatment and the rising incidence of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are making the challenges faced by hospital staff more and more complex,” says Denise van de Leur. “The need to focus resources in the most efficient way whilst ensuring patients have the right care and co-decision making opportunities is leading to much greater specialization in, and differentiation between, the university medical centers. Our specialist areas are divers and include amongst others: organ transplantation, special cancer treatment, complex cardiac interventions, migraine treatment and neuroradiological interventions and we are a first level traumatology centre for our region. We need to attract leading practitioners in these fields to provide ‘last resort’ specialist treatment and take forward academic education and fundamental research.”

“It’s rare to find someone who is naturally outstanding across all the three areas of academic education, scientific research and patient care,” says Serena Sterkenburg. “Realistically, the most you can expect is probably two out of three; for example, they may be great in the operating theatre and research, but not the lecture hall or vice versa. We would work with them to develop their capabilities and confidence in engaging and developing their skills in every area needed.”

fostering innovation and debate 

“There is clearly a lot of competition for the kind of medical and research professionals we need to attract and retain. And we know that these people are ambitious and intellectually curious. We’re fortunate to be part of such an old and prestigious university here in Leiden, which gives our people an opportunity to work with other leaders in their fields and engage with some of the brightest students. Our people also like the opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing that come from our place at the center of a large cluster of medical and life sciences research like our Bio Science Park and the ‘Medical Delta’ which includes the LUMC, the Leiden University, TU Delft and the Erasmus Medical Center and University in Rotterdam,” says Ms van de Leur. 
“Another key part of our appeal is the opportunity we offer our people to really focus on their domain of choice,” says Ms Sterkenburg. “As we have a finite budget, we clearly have to be very careful in how we target resources. And we know that what attracts and motivates our people is the chance to push back the borders of medical science and apply these breakthroughs for the benefit of our patients. So we make it a priority to put enough financial and organizational resources behind these developments, even if some other lesser priorities might miss out.” 

“A key part of the academic freedom is the license to challenge people at all levels of the organization. We want to foster a high level of intellectual debate and be a truly learning organization. We want to ensure proper commitment and accountability. We call this ‘productive conflict’. A situation where opposing views can be expressed openly and safely, with the aim to learn from each other and without damaging the personal relationship. And the foundation for this is trust. If employees trust each other and trust their leaders to support them, they will be more prepared to take accountability and challenge others rather than shying away from conflict. All this constructive debate creates a learning, high performance and healthy culture,” says Ms van de Leur.

How do other employees such as nurses and support staff fit into the employer brand? “There are some differences in focus of our Employee Value Proposition. We tend to put more of a spotlight on the working environment and development opportunities, for example, while for medical staff we focus mostly on the teaching, research and cutting edge medical opportunities. But the chance to work with great people and make a difference is at the heart of the brand whomever we speak to,” says Ms Sterkenburg.

And it’s a successful approach. The Randstad Award Survey shows that in the Netherlands, LUMC is the most attractive non-profit organization people want to work for. It also has exceptionally high staff engagement and low turnover rates for the medical sector.

celebrating success

Ms van de Leur and Ms Sterkenburg recognize that there are areas that need work. Ms van de Leur is looking closely at leadership and talent development as part of a wider review of HR strategy within the LUMC. “We tend to make the best medical or research practitioner the head of department. But he or she may not be a natural leader. Academic mastery and leadership are different crafts, so we need to think more about who we put in these positions and how we prepare them for these roles,” she says.

And in a sector where differentiation and the need to attract extra funding are becoming more important, they would like their people to be a little less reluctant about celebrating success. “The people here set very high expectations for themselves on the one hand, but don’t like publicizing their achievements on the other. In an academic environment, saying ‘we’re good’ isn’t the done thing. While not changing our culture entirely, we would like our people to be more open about their achievements, so outsiders can learn more about the great work we do,” says Ms van de Leur. 

making all the challenges worthwhile 

So what can other medical and public sector organizations learn from the LUMC? This is an institution that gives people the freedom to choose the right direction for them and mobilizes the organization to support this. In other words, LUMC tries to make the coat fit the employee. It also prizes the productive conflict that is so important in fostering intellectual curiosity, learning and a high performance, yet safe climate. The pressure on funding and growing weight of demand are always going to be a challenge at the LUMC, as at other public medical facilities, but the lively and liberating culture at LUMC makes this is a place that people look forward to coming into every day.


employer branding at LUMC

LUMC was voted as the most attractive non-profit organization people in the Netherlands would like to work for, in the 2015 Randstad Award survey. Among all organizations, it ranked number one for interesting job content.