Article Date: 7/1/2002

Hiring Tactics
How to Hire Your Next Optometrist
Whether you select a recent grad or an experienced doc, these hiring guidelines will help you refine your search.
BY CHRIS W. LIEVENS, O.D., AND Z. BAGHERI-DJONDABEH, O.D., Memphis, Tenn.

Whether you practice privately or in a corporate setting, the time often comes when you need to either replace or add an O.D. When in this position, you'll find that you have to sift through a lot of applicants from varying backgrounds.

 

DIGITAL IMAGERY BY PHIL HOWE

The task at hand may seem unsurmountable, but with a little organization and direction, you should find the responsibility quite manageable.

I'll walk you through some basic components of the hiring process and what you need to know about those new O.D.s who are applying.

What are you looking for?

If you're looking to fill an expertise or a niche in your practice, then you'd be better off considering seasoned pros because they offer experience. But don't disqualify those new grads just yet. They promote themselves as garners of the newest information and innovative techniques. In addition to their up-to-date education, they also bring energy with them. Further, their salaries are typically lower than those of experienced optometrists.

Because we pretty much know what we can expect from established O.D.s (just look around at your colleagues), we're going to concentrate on the qualities and qualifications of new graduates.

Therefore, a careful review of what we see leaving optometric education is important. Furthermore, a sample of what personal issues new graduates are facing may enter the equation.

QUICK FACTS:

In the summer of 1991, a survey of 917 practicing O.D.s who graduated between 1980 and 1990 evaluated the practice modalities they chose upon graduation. Only 18% of the new grads entered into private practice, whereas nearly 63% of the total were employed by O.D.s, M.D.s, HMOs or commercial enterprises. Of the 63%, only 16% chose commercial practice.

Gauging competency

To better delineate the scope and role of optometry, we as a profession must define entry-level competency, or in the case of Doctor of Optometry degree programs, the exit competencies needed for a new optometrist beginning in general practice.

Entry-level competencies include the professional attitudes, skills and knowledge base required to ensure safe and effective patient outcomes and to support life-long learning. Entry-level competencies are affected by many variables including state laws, the nature of the educational process, the structure of the profession, healthcare policies, the economy and technology, to name a few. O.D.s are expected to manage every relevant condition in a manner that assures safe and effective care for the patient.

However, the level at which the condition is managed is expected to differ from entry-level, following practice experience or supplemental education.

Before you bring them in

Before you even arrange to meet with a candidate, you should do two things:

1. Pre-interview. Screen before you meet. Initial phone interviews are a quick and effective way to screen job applicants.

2. Check references. Some potential questions to ask references are: How long did this person work for you? In what capacity did he work? On a scale of one to five, rate this person on job performance, communication skills with others and conscientious attendance. How would you describe this employee? Would you hire him again?

Interviewing savvy

Many O.D.s aren't trained to conduct job interviews, so they often fail to gain much insight into a job applicant's personality. The following section will guide you so you can glean as much as possible from your interviews.

Well-known pointers. I'm sure you're familiar with certain interviewing techniques, such as making eye contact with a candidate and beginning the interview with a few ice-breaking questions unrelated to the available position. Also, schedule interviews so as to avoid interruptions.

Make the most of questions. Do your best to ask each pros-pective employee the same questions so you're objective in your assessments. Describe a hypothetical situation that could arise on the job and ask how each candidate would handle it. Avoid questions that a candidate could construe as discriminatory, such as whether she has or plans to have any children. Personality -- not just an individual's qualifications -- should play a role in candidate selection.

Turning the tables. You're not the only one who should ask questions in an interview. One way to learn more about the applicant is through the questions that she asks. A good hire should inquire about opportunities and advancement, not simply benefits and salary. Be prepared for questions regarding your practice setting such as your patient demo graphics, patient flow and technician/staff responsibilities.

Where personality counts. Screen carefully for personality, because your employees are ambassadors to your patients. In your notes, describe shortcomings that relate directly to a person's ability to do the job. Some examples: not enough education, poor communication skills, erratic employment record or not enough related job experience.

You should also protect yourself against accusations of sexual harassment. For example, if you must interview someone after your regular office hours, make sure another employee is in the building with you.

Lawful questions. Make sure your hiring procedures comply with the law. With respect to employment, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers not do the following:

The ADA doesn't require employers to make accommodations that would cause undue hardship such as when a particular accommodation brings with it a cost that damages the financial stability of the employer. Because employment laws and court interpretations are constantly changing, it's important to stay abreast of the latest laws and trends in hiring and personnel management.

 

Self Assessment

 

Students' views of their own skills.

In the Spring of 2002 we conducted an e-mail survey of 21 students currently enrolled in optometry schools around the United States. Although the survey doesn't provide statistically significant data, it does give a sampling of the mind sets of current optometric students. The goal of the survey was to evaluate students' views of their optometric skills as well as their concerns about entering the job market. Sixty percent of the respondents were female and 40% were male. Sixty percent were 4th-year students and the rest were 3rd-year students. Here are some interesting findings:

  • Most students are confident in the areas of clinical (50%) and communication (40%) skills but not so confident in their business management skills (0%).

  • A significantly higher percentage of students (95%) prefer a mentoring relationship with their employing doctor rather than being autonomous.

  • The biggest fears of students getting ready to embrace the "real world" of optometry are: inadequate knowledge (35%), being unable to find the right job (20%) and being unable to fulfill financial needs (15%).

Negotiating salary. If the candidate has been out of school for a few years and has professional experience in optometry, then you should expect to pay him a higher salary than you would a new grad. Determine an annual salary as a percentage of the hired doctor's total gross charges year after year. Obviously you wouldn't determine the initial salary that way.

Peter Shaw-McMinn, O.D., further notes that late days and weekends often call for a higher daily salary, as do on-call days. Craig Steinberg, O.D., J.D., observes that moonlighting is oftentimes expected, as many private practitioners can't afford a full-time employee at the start of any agreement.

After going through the aforementioned steps, you should've by this point had a chance to meet with and analyze each qualified candidate and choose the one who best fits your needs. So what do you do next?

Extending the offer

Contact the successful candidate by phone to offer her the job. Then send a letter stating the position for which you hired her, the rate of pay, the starting date and time, whether the position is full or part time and whether it includes benefits.

Hiring legalese

Hiring a new O.D., if only on an employer-employee basis, is a complicated process that both parties should take seriously. Consider these examples:

The simplest type of employer-employee relationship might involve a written and signed statement between the two parties that the employee understands and acknowledges that her employment is "at will." In basic legalese, that means that either the employer or the employee may terminate the employment for any reason, with or without cause, with or without notice and without further obligation or liability. This statement must be signed and dated by the employee, with the original retained by the employer. You can do all of this without a notary public, lawyer or accountant to put pen to paper as a witness or advisor.

Shaw-McMinn sees the need for an attorney if there's a potential for difficulties, possibly because of the arrangement and/or financial risk. If a prospective hiree is planning on buying into the practice, the doctors involved must agree on the practice worth and buy-in terms before they begin the employment trial period.

As for non-competitive covenants, Steinberg notes that, with respect to employees, these documents are unenforceable in some states, even though some corporations insist on them.

Guaranteeing a happy ending

From advertising to interviewing to selecting an employee, the hiring process is full of potential pitfalls and roadblocks. But if you prepare yourself and know what to expect from each interview, then you should find the whole experience quite stress free. And remember, don't automatically disregard applications from new grads -- they have a lot to offer your practice too -- you just have to know how to find what you're looking for.

 

Sample Questions to Ask During an Interview

Sample Questions Not to Ask During an Interview
  • Why would you like to work for this practice?
  • Tell me about the best/ worst employer you've worked for. What did you like best/least at your last position?
  • Do you have skills or interests that you haven't been able to use at work in the past?
  • What are your strongest/ weakest skills?
  • What do you feel you could contribute to or learn from our practice?

 

  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children?
  • What is your age?
  • Are you in good health?
  • Where were you born?
  • Where do you live now?
  • What's your religion?
  • What's your sexual preference?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • Are you disabled in any way?

 

Dr. Lievens is chief of Primary Care Services and is an assistant professor at the Southern College of Optometry.

 

 



Optometric Management, Issue: July 2002