The best employees will share your practice's values

A column answering your questions about the business side of your practice

By Karen S. Schechter amednews correspondent— Posted May 21, 2007.

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Question: We are in the process of hiring some additional staff members to assist in several areas of our practice -- front desk, billing and collections, and clinical. We have advertised in the local newspaper and on Web sites. We say that we will consider only applicants who have five or more years of experience, depending on the position. Nonetheless, the majority of resumes that we receive come from people who have less experience. What can we do to attract more experienced candidates?

Answer: Across the board, physicians and their office managers agree that it is difficult to find good employees. Of course, everyone has a different definition of what they consider to be a good employee. We would suggest that a universal definition would be an employee who supports the practice's mission and lives its supporting values every day.

If this is the premise of a good employee, then there are two questions that need to be answered before looking for additional and/or replacement staff members. What is the mission/value proposition of your practice? What qualities are you looking for in an employee who will support that proposition?

The answers to these questions will help you identify the specific qualifications you are looking for in a candidate for a certain job position, and will assist you in the recruitment process, whether you do it internally or hire a placement agency.

What does it mean when a job advertisement asks for someone with experience? Are you looking for job/industry-specific experience, or function-related experience? That may depend on the position.

Customer service experience, regardless of where it came from, may be more important for someone applying for a front-desk position than unrelated experience in a medical practice. Clinical experience is more appropriate for someone who is seeking a back-office position. Someone with nonmedical accounts receivable management experience may be appropriate for a patient accounts collection or payment posting position. But you may want someone with medical coding and billing experience to post charges and work outstanding insurance balances.

Experience often brings with it perspective and maturity. Situations that may rattle a less experienced employee may not bother a more experienced one. More experienced employees are not necessarily looking to prove themselves, since in many cases they already have. Instead, they are looking for a position that builds on their strengths and provides them opportunity to grow professionally and personally. More mature employees can help minimize petty issues that often occur in an office with less experienced and less mature staff.

On the other hand, experience may be saddled with other challenges. These could include an inability or unwillingness to adapt to change. The introduction of electronic medical records is bringing this situation to light. The age of the experienced employee may help dictate what that person defines as priorities in life. Baby boomers, especially those who are more financially secure, might not be interested in the often long hours and rigidity of a private practice schedule. Attracting and retaining more experienced employees might not always provide the benefits you were looking for and continue to look for.

This takes us back to our initial comments that a good employee is not necessarily an experienced one, but rather one who possesses the basic skills you are looking for, along with a congruent set of values. A smart person can be taught a skill. But you cannot teach a person to live your values.

If your style of practicing medicine is more traditional, an experienced person who believes in a more alternative or homeopathic approach may not be the right fit for the practice. In this situation, a person applying for a clinical position with less than five years of experience, but who firmly supports your style of practicing medicine, may be a better choice.

The answer to your question may come in how you present your practice to the public. Instead of advertising for a specific number of years of experience, consider listing the type of experience and personal qualities that you value in an employee. If you are truly looking for older candidates (implied by asking for more experience), then you may want to consider how the work force is structured and introduce more job sharing or flex time. This also should be included in the job advertisement.

There is an abundance of literature on attracting and retaining good employees. Some articles and books are industry-specific. A key point to remember is that "good" is in the eye of the beholder. It is based on the physician-owner's values and reason for practicing medicine. This concept should serve as the foundation not only for attracting new employees, but for retaining them as well.

Karen S. Schechter amednews correspondent—

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