Tuition Assistance Tools Help Ardent Health Employees Thrive Blog
Tuition Assistance

How Ardent Health Services Gives Employees Tools to Thrive


Ardent, a 30-hospital system based in Nashville, TN, was interested in expanding the ways it supports its staff. In recognition of the challenges that have become commonplace throughout healthcare—high rates of staff burnout, widespread turnover, and the costs associated with training new employees—Ardent wanted to be proactive. 

In search of a solution, Ardent leadership surveyed its employees. Leadership wanted to understand what measures could make sure employees had what they needed to feel supported and provide the best care possible. They learned that the majority of employees were interested in upskilling and pathways to degree programs to advance in their careers. With this feedback in hand, Ardent turned to Workforce Edge to provide access to learning and training opportunities. 

Rachael Frija, DNP, RN, NPD-BC, NEA-BC, corporate director of clinical education at Ardent Health Services and Adele Webb, executive dean of healthcare initiatives, Strategic Education, recently discussed Ardent’s approach and how it has helped the system solve many of its staffing challenges while fostering a healthy work environment.

The state of the industry

Nationally, we’re in the middle of a staffing crisis. According to findings from a Fortune/Deloitte survey conducted in fall 2022, the majority of CEOs (71%) representing more than 15 industries expect talent shortages to continue in general, and nearly all (94%) expect to see talent shortages for certain roles.  

“We need to think critically about how we can support our care providers and help them continue to find satisfaction in their work,” explains Webb. “Doing so can help with retention while improving patient care.” 

Given this need, health systems are focusing on how they can ensure healthy, safe, and thriving environments by implementing the six American Association of Critical-Care Nurses healthy work environment standards. They include skilled communication, true collaboration, effective decision-making, appropriate staffing, meaningful recognition, and authentic leadership. 

Solutions for a variety of employee and organizational goals

Ardent implemented educational solutions to foster a culture of learning so employees can easily and affordably obtain job-relevant skills while upskilling in areas they were interested in. This helped foster an effective retention strategy. 

“We wanted to see how we could be a better partner in creating a healthy work environment,” says Frija. “For example, one of the areas we saw where we were lacking is that we didn’t have opportunities for educational and professional development for our nonclinical staff the way we have for our clinical staff.” 

When Ardent leaders communicated with nonclinical staff, they learned those teams were as interested in learning and development opportunities as their clinical counterparts. Throughout the process, the lesson became clear: Ardent employees overall were interested in more access to education, training, and credentials. Not only can these programs help employees expand their skills, they can also help workers achieve their career goals. 

It’s a trend within healthcare organizations and the workforce in general. A recent survey of adults pursuing additional education found that 93% of current learners agree their program experience will help them advance in their careers going forward.* 

“We’ve seen at hospitals around the country the difference that education can make—the role it can play in supporting employees and their goals,” says Webb. 

*2021 Jobs for the Future Survey commissioned by Strategic Education, Inc. 

An ongoing success story

“One of the reasons I wanted to create a partnership with Strategic Education [Workforce Edge’s parent company] was that they offered nursing and non-nursing degrees. We saw a great opportunity to close the gaps we saw,” says Frija. 

Workforce Edge also makes it easier to administer tuition assistance. It's designed to offer employees a curated marketplace of education providers to choose from—all in one ecosystem that also provides organizations meaningful insights and visibility into their investment with real-time data to track cost and participation. Workforce Edge has been key to Ardent’s strategy of offering opportunities to nonclinical staff with a variety learning providers and universities on the platform. 

Workforce Edge has had another benefit for Ardent. “It’s helped us, as an organization, to work toward standardization and alignment of our tuition assistance,” explains Frija.

“Because we’re heavily focused on retaining our staff, we saw offering tuition assistance really demonstrated a commitment to employee development and career growth.” She adds that this effort has “led to increased employee engagement, job satisfaction, and, of course, retention.” 

This standardization across the enterprise in terms of clinical and nonclinical employees has had positive ripple effects on how the enterprise interacts. When analyzing this trend beyond Ardent, a 2021 Jobs for the Future Survey conducted by Strategic Education, Inc. showed that 79% of current learners agree the skills they learned in their program have helped them be more effective problem-solvers and decision-makers at work while 82% agree the skills they learned in their program have helped them be a more effective communicator at work. 

As Ardent looks toward the future, it continues to focus on the needs of employees. Frija explains that “we know if we provide educational opportunities and career pathways for our people, the work becomes more than just a job. It enculturates people to their company and makes them want to be a part of that team and create a career here.” 

Interested in learning more about Workforce Edge? Connect with our team

Ardent Health Services implemented a tuition assistance management tool to give employees a variety of professional development opportunities. Read more here.