When making the jump to private practice, physicians assume a litany of new responsibilities and, depending on your strengths, medical staff management may be your most loved or loathed one of all.
In the latter group? You’re not alone: As the Harvard Business Review reports, many physicians struggle with people management skills even after a successful clinical career in patient care. These “leadership deficits” are normal and may even have systemic root causes in that some medical schools don’t equip students with the management training they need.
Still, maybe you’re great at it: Other physicians may be naturally effective leaders thanks to their upbringings, life experiences or their personalities.
Either way, as a business owner, the burden of managing staff—from hiring and firing to all the tough talks in between—largely falls on your shoulders. Be prepared for the challenge with these best practices.
Recruitment and hiring
Do: Think about hiring needs in advance
Effective practice owners identify which roles they need and when they’ll need them. They start preparing their recruitment strategy in advance, rather than waiting until bandwidth is stretched, which can make you hurry into a bad hiring decision. Putting together a list of job duties and potential job boards, for example, can help you clear away some of the legwork beforehand.
Don’t: Assume you can’t hire part-time workers
Even if you don’t need 40 hours a week of help, it doesn’t mean you can’t explore alternative hiring arrangements, from working with temp agencies to listing a part-time clinical or clerical role. According to Medical Economics, one practice owner in rural Kansas even partnered with a local hospital to ensure that his new hires could pick up additional hours there, which helped him attract more talent.
Do: Make a training calendar
Medical office employees—or all employees, for that matter—need a regular training and development program that keeps them engaged and professionally competitive with peers. From medical device demos to HIPAA and EHR review, aim for a good cadence of training activities that balance out your and their needs without clogging up their calendars.
Don’t: Forget to ask employees what they want to learn
Your own ideas of a training program could vary from what clinical and operational employees want or need. Whereas practice leaders may tend to focus on risk-aversion activities like compliance, other training areas could include improving the patient experience or resolving payment and billing hurdles. For a robust program, ask staff what they’d like to learn and adapt from there.
Do: Create a protocol for office disputes
Coworkers are bound to disagree, sometimes vehemently—and that’s especially so in healthcare. Because even the smallest conflict can create big problems with turnover and morale, it’s important to create a policy and protocol ahead of time with an action plan on how you’ll manage it. For help, engage an experienced HR consultant to write a policy that works for you.
Don’t: Ignore the signs of a personal problem
If an employee becomes more aggressive or prone to conflict with others at the office, don’t overlook the potential influence of a personal problem—from the death of a loved one to marital strife or even substance abuse. One chief medical officer even told the American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) that it’s among the first things he looks for in cases of difficult employees. Offering targeted counseling or a temporary leave of absence may help employees manage their personal affairs before returning to work.
Never stop learning how to effectively manage your employees
If you’re not one who navigates medical staff management very well, you can always hire a consultant to help—but as the decision-maker, the brunt of these responsibilities will still land in your lap.
Consider polishing up your emotional intelligence and people management skills through an online leadership course, which can help bridge knowledge gaps left from medical school. The AAPL and the American Medical Association are good places to start.
Whatever you do, never stop learning how you can become a more effective physician leader. You may never love it, but if you can live with it, you might find practice ownership to be among the most rewarding jobs there is.