Not having enough staff is a huge problem facing optometrists. I see practices every day that are understaffed. Frequently, the practice owner or office manager has been searching for weeks or months, but can’t find the right person. In many cases, the office has given up the search. In the short term, one might rationalize that the best decision is to simply not act, but there is a very large opportunity cost if you don’t hire someone. It could be that doing nothing is costing your practice a great deal in lost profit and reduced service quality. These negative factors can be invisible because you don’t miss what you never had, but they are quite real.
It is very hard to generalize about the reasons why a practice may have trouble finding a new employee. Much can depend on the local job market and on the philosophy of the owner or manager. I understand from decades of hiring in my own practice and in helping other doctors staff their offices properly, that it is not easy to find great employees. But as hard as it may be, I would never allow my practice be understaffed for very long. At some point, I would simply hire the best candidate I can find and go about training him or her.
Where can you look?
The usual resources for hiring include online job boards, such as Craig’s List, Indeed.com, Monster.com, and many more. I would certainly post the position available in one or more of these standards and they usually work quite well. But not always. They can sometimes produce almost too many candidates with none of them very qualified. That is a problem, but you can screen them and be selective about whom to interview. You could also rewrite the ad to require more experience.
I also find the local newspaper is still a good source for find employees. It may be true that newspapers are declining in readership, but they all have an online version and many people who are looking for a job check those classified listings. Running an ad in a newspaper may have a cost, but hiring the right person is very important. Go ahead and pay for the ad!
There are many other more creative ways to find new staff members:
Hire a patient. After all, you already know them. Peruse your files and call a few up and ask if they would be interested.
Look for candidates in real life. You know a great personality when you see one, in retail stores, restaurants, hair salons, wherever you work with people. If you interact with someone you think might be good for your office, give her a business card and ask them to call you if they are interested in making a career change. Tell her that your office is looking for bright people like her. Obviously, this will not result in a candidate with optical experience and you will need to train the person.
I do not believe in stealing employees from other eye care providers from an ethical standpoint, so I would not solicit anyone. If you run an ad in the media and an employee of another practice is looking and replies, that is different and quite acceptable.
There are web-based services in the optical industry that can help you search for job candidates.
Local colleges have placement services for their graduates in medical fields, business management and even opticianry.
Experience or no experience
It is smart to hire a great personality with excellent training and optical experience if you can find such a candidate, but it is often not possible. Realize that the pool of people who have all those qualities can be quite small. In general, you are better off hiring someone who has the brains and personality you want, even if they don’t have experience. You can train the skills, but you most likely can’t change the personality or the IQ. After some reasonable time period, you have to move on and change the ad to read: “no experience needed; will train.” That should open up a larger group of candidates for you to interview and choose from.
How will you train a new employee if you are already understaffed? Well, this may be one of the rare times that you need to authorize some overtime for one your existing employees to work with the new employee. The doctor may also need work some extra hours and teach some skills. There are some very good online videos and other training programs that the new employee can take while on duty in your office. Finally, don’t underestimate the value of having the new employee shadow some current staff and the doctor. If the office is busy, the senior staff do not have to teach or communicate at all. The new one can just silently observe the veteran and she will still learn a lot.
Could it be you?
The old adage “hire slow; fire fast” sounds great and we can all agree with the principle, but there is a limit to how slow you should be. If you have searched and searched and found no one, you may have to lower your expectations. Also, be realistic about the pay scale you are offering and the type of person you are seeking. You may have to either raise the pay level or lower the minimum skill requirement.
Many optometric offices are using the following tools to look for the best employee possible:
Interviews with former supervisors
Excellent results on pre-employment tests (I strongly believe in doing this one)
These are all excellent tools in the right job market and with the right candidates, but you also need to know when to lower your standards and take a chance on an individual who shows promise in the interview. I would use these tools as support factors, but if you are too strict with the results they could cause you to reject someone who would be great. In the end, we really never know for sure how a new employee will perform until he works for you. There is always some degree of chance and some employees just won’t work out and you will have to part ways.
If you are really unsure about a candidate, consider having her come in for a full day working interview and pay her a pre-agreed upon fee.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.