How to Find, Hire and Keep Great Staff

October 4, 2005

There is no secret to finding, hiring, and keeping great office staff. Prepare before you need to hire, hire correctly, and be the best boss in town.

There is no secret to finding, hiring, and keeping great office staff. Prepare before you need to hire, hire correctly, and be the best boss in town.

"Hiring in a medical office is really not very different from hiring in any other type of office," said employment consultant Keith Borglum, president of Professional Management & Marketing in Santa Rosa, Calif.

"There are steps that every savvy employer takes to prepare for hiring, vetting potential employees, and keeping the best employees happy," Mr. Borglum told the American Academy of Family Physicians Scientific Assembly. "The problem is that nobody talks about those steps, or any of part of practice management, during medical education. When it comes to staffing, you have to stop thinking like a clinician and start thinking like the successful businessperson you want and need to be."

The first step toward successful hiring is preparation. Know what skills you need and what skills you would like to hire, Mr. Borglum advised. Creating a written job description for every office position will help focus attention on the different tasks that must be accomplished and the skills needed.

The average practice pays 27% of annual collections for wages and benefits, he noted The average staffing ratio for family physician practices and specialties if 3.6 FTEs (full time equivalents) per physician. Budgeting for needed positions is an essential part of getting ready to hire.

How much money will that new hire expect? That depends on the going rate for a similar job in competing practices. Physicians and their office managers need to talk to each other about current pay scales. Potential hires know the appropriate salary range and expect you to be equally well informed.

Networking is the most effective way to find great staffers, he continued. Ask colleagues, ask consultants, ask pharmaceutical reps, ask local training programs, and ask your own employees.

"Like seeks like, so if you like your current employees, offer a $500 bounty for every new hire they bring in who stays for some predetermined period."

Prior applicants are another good hiring pool. Just because you couldn't get a promising candidate last time doesn't mean he or she isn't available now, even if it means changing jobs.

Hiring correctly is the next step. Every applicant should complete a written job application and sign the form. That protects the employer from resume inflation or outright lies on the application. Give each potential hire an objective skills test. Not only will it show how much they know, it will also indicate what kind of training will be needed as well as how much.

Don't trust anything on the application, Mr. Berglum advised. Check all references and spend the money for complete civil and criminal background checks as well as a credit check. Give the potential employee at least a half-day to observe the office - and to be observed - then ask the staff for their reactions. If current staff aren't happy with the new hire, you won't be either, he said.

Keeping great staff means keeping them happy. Frequent public praise is a great motivator; so are bonuses based on performance or education. Allow for flexible schedules and at least consider profit sharing as an incentive. Above all, be nice to your staff.

"Just being a nice person will help keep your wage scale down," Mr. Borglum said. "If you are perceived as a tough, hard-to-get-along-with boss, you may have to pay 25%, 30% above market rates to keep any staff, much less the good ones."