Optometric Management Tip # 252   -   Wednesday, November 15, 2006
An Idea for Finding Good Staff Members

I hear from many eye care professionals that finding qualified job candidates is a very serious problem. These practitioners would hire an optician or technician in a heartbeat if they could just find one. The problem seems to be worse in some regions of the country. Many practices are continuously running ads in the paper and are offering very good wage and benefit packages, but still get very few responses from people with eye care experience.

Good Staff = Success

Having the correct number of well-trained employees is a prerequisite for success. As Iíve stated before in this column, I believe many practices are understaffed, which can stifle growth and production. Delegation is one of the most important factors in practice management and you canít improve delegation if there is not enough staff. The doctor ends up doing many tasks that he or she is far overqualified for and while it may feel like itís economical to do things yourself, it is actually wasteful. If you know youíre understaffed, you canít afford to leave it that way for long for the following reasons:

  1. Youíre hurting your reputation for excellence in customer service because patients are not cared for as quickly and as fully as youíd like.
  2. Optical sales suffer when patients are rushed through the ordering process.
  3. There is a lost opportunity cost for every day when your production is lower than it could be. If you could see a few more patients per day, the financial implications are huge.

A Do-It-Yourself Tech Training Program

I encountered a period in my practice several years ago when I had a high amount of turnover all at once. We needed staff desperately and my effort to find experienced technicians was turning up empty. I realized that all the eye care practices in town were simply trading a limited number of trained staff.

Having taught optometry students at ICO and ophthalmic technicians at a local community college, I decided to put together my own tech training school in my office. I reasoned that the best eye care staff had some background education and knew more than just how to push the buttons on an autorefractor. I decided I would offer the program free of charge to the best and brightest candidates who were interested.

I was not sure if I would get much interest, but I placed an ad in the newspaper announcing that my office was offering an eye care technician training course at no charge. It turned out that there was plenty of interest and I used a combination of job resumes, a general aptitude test and personal interviews to accept the eight strongest candidates. I figured training a group would not be much harder than training one person, I had space for eight people and it felt like a good student-teacher ratio.

I had an immediate need for two or three new employees in my practice, so I intended to pick the best of the graduates for myself and then turn the rest loose in the community to assist my colleagues who were in the same boat I was. I hoped that doing so would also lessen the need for one doctor to raid the office of another.

The Curriculum

I designed a two-week course that had a mixture of lectures and labs, all held in the conference room of my office. The courses included:

Obviously, since this was a two-week program, the content was kept very practical and simple, but I had outlines, handouts, reading assignments and I used PowerPoint slides, model eyes and real props. I taught many of the courses myself, but I had my associate optometrist, optical manager and chief technician teach as well. I moved my clinical instruments, frames, lenses and contact lenses to the classroom as needed. The students practiced many procedures on each other.

The second week of the course consisted of clinical observations. During this part of the program, the students observed my staff performing their usual duties. We advised patients that we were serving as a training site for students and asked if they objected Ė no one did. The students watched us perform pretesting, special testing, scribing for doctors, frame selection and measurement, eyeglass and contact lens dispensing, frame repairs, lens fabrication in our optical lab, and general office administration. The students actually did some patient care work themselves near the end of their training, with my staff supervising.

We had a couple students wash out and not complete the program, but in the end, I hired three new employees and two of them stayed with me for several years. The program was time intensive for me, but in a severe staffing pinch, Iíd do it again.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management