Article Submission Guidelines for Practice Management, EHR, Glaucoma, and Managed Care

Exclusive Date: April 24, 2013

Interviewing Associate OD Candidates

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With a new crop of doctors of optometry graduating next month, many practice owners are looking to hire an associate. If your practice is fortunate enough to have ample patient demand, adding an associate OD is one of the best ways to dramatically increase profitability. This can also be an opportunity for the senior doctor to reduce his or her patient care days per week. This will allow the senior doc to dedicate more time to practice management duties and possibly take some personal time off as well.

Just as in the hiring process with any employee, finding the right person can be challenging. While there is no way to be absolutely certain in advance about an OD job candidate, the interview process is extremely important. Here are a few tips and topics that I have found helpful:

  • As you evaluate the candidates, keep in mind the overall job market for ODs in your area of the country. Some regions have many ODs to choose from while others may have trouble finding anyone to even apply for the job. Your ability to be selective should reflect the size of the applicant pool.
  • Start the interview process by making it a casual conversation. Help the candidate to relax so you can find out more about his or her personality. Just let the OD talk about himself, his education or his interests. Ask open ended questions. Resist the urge to talk about yourself and your practice in the early going.
  • Watch for signs that the candidate has an oversized ego. It usually won't work out if the young doctor thinks he is better than the staff or the patients. Of course, there is a natural tendency for the candidate to want to impress the senior doctor, but move the conversation away from that. Is he friendly and outgoing?
  • Try to judge how open the candidate will be to adapting to the procedures that you already use in the practice. There will certainly be some differences among how doctors provide eye care, but there are many factors that improve efficiency and profitability if they are common for the whole practice. Is the new doctor open to preferred brands of contact lenses and ophthalmic lenses? Can she adapt to the office software programs?
  • Discuss dilation protocol, which can be quite time consuming and could be a source of disagreement.
  • What optometric specialties is the candidate interested in? Do you have hopes that the new doctor can provide low vision or vision therapy services?
  • What is the comfort level for treating eye disease? Don't assume that the candidate will be an aggressive star in this area just because he is a recent grad. What specific types of cases will he treat or refer out?
  • Can the new doctor help market the practice? Will she be willing to present a seminar to patients or call on physicians in their offices? Will she join a service organization in your community? Will she be willing to work on marketing projects and social media during slow times in the office?
  • Discuss willingness and ability to see up to 25 patients per day someday. It will usually take some time to transfer existing patients who may have a preference for the senior doc, but you want to be sure the new doc can handle that flow when the time comes. If your practice does not typically see patients at a fast clip, you may want to achieve that before seeking an associate.
  • Will the new doctor be willing to hang out in the optical when not busy with patients? This can be a great practice builder if the doctor introduces herself to patients who drop in for optical service. I would love it if the new doctor could actually pitch in and help sometimes! I did plenty of dispensing in my early days of practice; why not the new doctor?
  • Ask the candidate about his aptitude with computer technology and judge his willingness to help the practice in this vital area.
  • The work hours are extremely important and should be discussed openly without sugar coating your expectations. A key benefit of hiring an associate is the opportunity to expand the office hours. I want the new doctor to work at least two evenings per week until 7pm and every Saturday. Doing that will also allow the doctor to have a day off during the week and still reach full time hours. If these hours are a change for your office, then there will also be some staff challenges to deal with, but convenient hours are a huge practice building strategy. For me, the hours can be a deal breaker.
  • Ask what the salary expectation is. He may try to deflect that question, but it's best if the candidate is the first one to mention a number. I prefer to pay straight salary with no incentives or percentages to start because it allows you to determine what level of production is possible. Be careful about paying a percentage; when gross revenue goes way up in future years, you could pay much more than the going rate for ODs.
  • Discuss the possibility for partnership vs. straight employment. Neither party may be sure at the outset, but it is best to avoid a complete mismatch of goals in this area.
  • Let the candidate ask questions. Explain your practice procedures and strategies.
  • Once you have a strong candidate in mind, consider having the new OD observe the practice over a few days. This becomes more than en extended interview; it lets you see if the new doc fits into the culture.
A valuable orientation technique I've used with new associate doctors is to let them begin to work as an optometric technician right out of school before the board issues the license. The salary level is obviously reduced until the license comes through, but it can be very educational for the doctor and helpful to the practice. Letting the associate observe (or scribe for) the senior doctor performing eye exams is extremely beneficial.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week