Look beyond resume when hiring a doctor

A column about keeping your practice in good health

By Mike Norbutcovered practice management issues during 2002-06. Posted July 25, 2005.

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Trying to pick the best physician based on his or her curriculum vitae is like trying to select Beethoven's best symphony. They're all usually so impressive, the choice is never clear-cut.

But hiring a doctor based on credentials is exactly what many practices do, consultants said.

Instead of finding out how the physician would fit into the culture of the group, those doing the hiring usually look at the candidate's education and training, develop preconceptions, and then spend time selling the group in hopes that the candidate will accept the job.

Interviewing physician candidates is a skill few doctors master, mainly because they don't practice it often. But looking beyond the resume and finding someone who is qualified both professionally and personally can help secure a long-term partnership and a healthy business, consultants said. Being thorough and deliberate, whether you're speaking to the candidate or checking references, can save you from having to repeat the process too soon.

"How you choose a physician to share your practice could determine how happy or miserable you are every day, but it also could determine the success of the practice," said Howard Ross, president of Cook Ross Inc., a Silver Spring, Md.-based consulting firm specializing in leadership and cultural development. "The word that goes out about a practice is greatly affected by all the people there."

It's also built on the entire encounter with the doctor. That means patients might be impressed by a physician's keen diagnostic eye, but if his or her bedside manner isn't endearing, that favorable opinion might change.

Before you hire someone to join your practice, you need to have a good understanding of your patient population and the type of doctor necessary to serve it, consultants said. Detailed job descriptions can help hone your own focus, so when it comes time to review candidates, you can distinguish between impressive backgrounds and find the personality that will fit the best in your office, they said.

"What are the issues your practice faces that determine what type of physician you need?" said ArLyne Diamond, PhD, president of Diamond Associates, a management consulting firm based in Santa Clara, Calif. "What are the ethics or personality issues you have to consider?"

Fallon Clinic, a 240-physician multispecialty group based in Worcester, Mass., knows exactly the type of physician it is seeking for every open position it has. By listing job descriptions in great detail and outlining the core competencies of each position, clinic leaders are able to create a specific mold for the physician they desire. Then, it's just a matter of finding the right fit, said Baltej Maini, MD, a vascular surgeon and CEO of Fallon Clinic.

The clinic uses behavioral interviewing techniques during an exhaustive process that involves several members of the executive management team. It's a structured process that involves a half-dozen interviews or more, but when the day is complete, the clinic leaders know almost immediately if they want to hire that physician, Dr. Maini said.

"We're generally able to provide answers regarding offers within 24 to 48 hours," he said. "Candidates go though a rigorous screening process, so by the time the candidate gets in for an interview, we know a lot about them."

The remaining vital information is gleaned through a series of open-ended questions and hypothetical situations to gauge how a candidate considers the problems and responds.

The line of questions leads to engaging conversation that enables the interviewers to develop impressions of the candidates, which they discuss as a group later, Dr. Maini said.

"The choice is based on intuition, along with the general criteria," he said. "You have to rely on a gut feel."

A rigorous interview process is easy to pull off for a group the size of Fallon Clinic. But even a small practice can use many of the same tactics on a smaller scale, consultants said. Posing real-life hypothetical issues and questions that go beyond the candidate's resume can be revealing.

For example, you may be looking for a candidate who will mesh well with your established office culture, and you may want the physician to chat with staff as part of the interview process. If the doctor acts surprised, or grumbles about having to spend time with the front office employees, that would be an indication of the candidate's personality, Ross said.

Sometimes, the cues you're looking for won't even come from the answers themselves.

"We had a candidate with phenomenal credentials, but he never made eye contact," Dr. Maini said. "It's bad not to have eye contact, but it's especially bad not to when you're an ophthalmologist."

The open-ended questions are intended to separate the perfect candidates from the hungry ones, who will put on a good show in hopes of getting the job. You also need to ask the tough questions, and be up front about the type of physician you're seeking, consultants said.

"You want to get beyond the formal thing," Ross said. "Let's say they're putting on a good show or they're on their best behavior. You have to take them to the next level, where you get them more engaged."

Mike Norbut covered practice management issues during 2002-06.

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