Article Date: 9/1/2005

Building a Solid Staff
Résumés don't tell you everything you need to know about potential employees. You may have to read between the lines to discover their best qualities.

By Susan A. Resnick, O.D., New York

PROFESSIONAL publications and practice management seminars offer valuable information and advice for hiring, training and managing staff, but often they don't convey the intangible elements that build a reliable and efficient office team. For the past two decades, I've had the good fortune to work with a group of professional people, several of whom have been with our practice longer than I have. Every staff member helps create a pleasant experience for our patients. In this article, I describe the qualities I look for in my staff and share the team-building insights I've learned over the years.

Searching for Staff

My colleagues and I always use several sources to find new job candidates for our multi-site practice. In addition to placing newspaper ads and contacting employment agencies, we ask our current employees for referrals and tap our patient base. We attract quality personnel by offering competitive salaries commensurate with experience and the local cost-of-living. Full-time staff members receive health benefits and may participate in a profit-sharing plan.

Although experience is a plus, we also look for other important qualities. We're more concerned with a candidate's demeanor, temperament, communication skills and willingness to learn than with cumulative experience. Above all, we're looking for employees who will support and advance our practice philosophy. (See "Our Practice Philosophy" for details.)

Dr. Resnick and her partners depend on their New York office staff to support the mission of their five-O.D. practice. Team members include (left to right): Cary Hirschfield, supervising optician/contact lens fitter; Ingrid Romero, administrator; Liselle Del Castillo, technician; AmyRose Javier, administrator; Kumiko Suzuki, Japanese liaison/interpreter; and Jane Lim, technician.

Ask Your Current Staff

Our staff comprises several unique, versatile and dedicated individuals who list actor, designer, mother, student and teacher among their qualifications. Recently, I asked several of them to answer two questions: "What attracted you to our office?" and "Why are you still here?"

Their responses were thoughtful, candid and as diverse as their individual personalities, but I detected several common threads in their comments.

Opportunity to learn. Several employees mentioned they were attracted to our practice by the promise of on-the-job training. Our long-time office manager explained the opportunity to learn new skills and grow into new responsibilities fuels her ongoing enthusiasm for her job. She especially enjoys cross-training for other duties, which gives her broader learning experiences and a greater variety of daily tasks. In return, the office gains better coverage for staff vacations or illness and the ability to use personnel more efficiently.

Concern for others. Two of our technical supervisors have adapted teaching skills they acquired in the non-optometric world to their jobs as patient educators. They thrive on the thanks they get from patients, and they say helping people is the most gratifying part of their job. Their dedication to patient care shines through in the way they treat patients and work with other staff members to fulfill our practice mission.

Ability to excel. Employees are happiest when they're doing what they like best, so we give our staff members incentive to practice at the highest level of their training. One optician jumped at the chance to work exclusively with contact lenses and, over time, successfully built his own practice within our office. He fits all types of contact lenses, specializing in cosmetic tinted and custom masking lenses. In addition to dispensing contact lenses, our other contact lens technician spends half her time single-handedly running our eyeglass dispensary. She was attracted to her position by the potential to broaden her contact lens skills and practice in a private setting. Finally, a part-time administrative assistant who's studying to be a designer appreciates the flexibility and income that help him pursue his career dreams. We benefit from his detailed-oriented nature and outgoing demeanor. He makes patients feel special by talking about their jobs and interests and picking up right where he left off on their next visit.

Our Practice Philosophy

For more than 40 years, our offices have strived to provide state-of-the-art contact lens and related ophthalmic services in a most courteous and comfortable environment. To whatever extent we have achieved this goal, we are indebted to our hard-working and dedicated staff and to you, our loyal patient following.

You may rest assured that we will continue to spare no effort or expense in carrying out our mission of providing the finest care and services possible. If we falter along the way, please let us know how we can better serve you.

Signs of Success

Building a well-integrated office staff requires more than finding the "right" people to fit the job. The real trick is recognizing the strengths of each individual while fostering an atmosphere of shared goals and respect. We know we've succeeded because patients frequently compliment us on how well we run the office, and they commend the attentive, courteous behavior of our staff. Our employees express their dedication to the greater good of the practice through the quality of their work and their interactions with patients.

Over the years, I've discovered that seemingly unlikely candidates often make surprisingly good employees. I attribute much of our success to our staff's trust, respect and continuing support. They've helped me and my partners achieve the clinical excellence and level of patient care our patients have come to expect from our practice.

A 1983 graduate of SUNY State College of Optometry, Dr. Resnick is a principal in the New York City-based practice of Drs. Farkas, Kassalow, Resnick and Associates.

Optometric Management, Issue: September 2005