Article Date: 7/1/2002

staffing solutions
Get the Right People on Board
What traits should you look for when hiring staff?

Hiring employees is the single most important management task you perform. These members of your team greatly influence patient satisfaction as well as the productivity and profitability of your practice. They also shape the "personality" and reputation of your practice -- not only among patients but just as importantly, among physicians and other referral sources.

The first step: Get the right people on board.

Know what you're looking for

To simplify your search, identify the skills, experience, values and personality traits of the person you're looking to hire.

This may not be as easy as it first seems. At the workshops I conduct on personnel management, I ask optometrists and office managers to describe in writing the ideal receptionist. The resulting profiles vary from one practice to another and sometimes from one individual to another in the same practice. They demonstrate that there is no single right profile.

Action step: Review the list of character traits in the table (right). This table is by no means exhaustive -- it's a sampling of the traits listed during past workshops. Add others of your own choosing. Select the five or so traits you that consider most important. Doing so will further simplify the task of finding the person you seek.

High tolerance for contact

Anyone dealing with the public engages in what sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls "emotional labor" -- work where "feelings" such as cheerfulness, warmth and sympathetic concern are an important part of job performance. Having to display such emotions with patients day after day (whether or not you feel like it) is taxing -- especially in a high-volume practice.

Above all, such repetitive encounters require what's called a high tolerance for contact. Those who lack it can become moody, irritable and perhaps short tempered with patients and may burn out over time.

Reality check: If you're in practice and personally lack a high tolerance for contact, consider surrounding yourself with people who have it in abundance.

What others look for

"What's the most important trait you look for in a new employee -- beyond skills and experience?" is a question I've asked countless doctors.

Nancy G. Torgerson, O.D., F.C.O.V.D., current president of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, whose practice is limited to vision therapy, looks for employees who have "enthusiasm, empathy and a love of learning."

Other healthcare practitioners can provide valuable insights. What traits do they look for? "Nice" was most important to Steven Garner, D.V.M., A.B.V.P., owner and chief of staff of Safari Animal Care Centers in League City, Texas, and his wife and hospital administrator, Cheryl B. Garner. "We can train people to do anything," they say, "but we can't make them nice."

Charles Blair, D.D.S., a dentist and management consultant in Charlotte, N.C., lists the following traits in order of importance:

1) loyalty
2) stability
3) enthusiasm
4) judgment
5) intelligence
6) technical ability.

Surprised that the top-ranked characteristics are so subjective? "Creating a conscientious, effective and efficient team," says Dr. Blair, "depends more on those personality traits than on I.Q., computer literacy or credentials."

Action step: Circulate the list below to all staff members and ask each person to check the five traits she considers most important in a co-worker. Discuss the results and reach a consensus. The more compatible a new employee is with your present staff, the better everyone's morale, motivation and teamwork will be.



Characteristics In Demand
A sampling of the qualities that doctors seek in employees.

  • ambitious
  • cheerful
  • common sense
  • conscientious
  • courteous
  • creative
  • curious
  • detail oriented
  • diplomatic
  • eager to learn
  • empathetic
  • focused
  • friendly
  • goal oriented
  • honest
  • imaginative
  • independent
  • intelligent
  • kind
  • likable
  • likes challenge
  • energetic
  • enthusiastic
  • flexible
  • loyal
  • patient
  • perceptive
  • persistent
  • personable
  • polite
  • productive
  • good listener
  • hard working
  • resourceful
  • punctual
  • respectful
  • responsible
  • self confident
  • self motivated
  • sense of humor
  • sensitive
  • sincere
  • team player
  • tenacious
  • thorough
  • tolerance for contact
  • warm
  • works well under pressure


Optometric Management, Issue: July 2002