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One of the problems with owning your own practice is that if you take a
nice, long, well-deserved vacation, the practice income virtually stops.
And even if you make peace with that, which you should, the practice
expenses keep coming. A colleague and regular tip reader recently
emailed and asked if I had any suggestions on what to do about being
overstaffed when he takes a vacation.
Ask for volunteers
I would not impose mandatory time off on employees or pressure them to
take vacation days when the owner/practitioner does, but there is no
harm in asking if employees would like some extra time off without pay.
This time off would not count against personal days or vacation days, it
is just extra free time. Some staff may welcome it.
If you are still overstaffed during the vacation period, I would assign
one or more special projects to key employees. I’ll provide some ideas
Of course, some staff members are needed to just to operate the office
as usual, so determine that number first. Some of the usual duties are:
answer phones, make appointments, sort mail, enter payments, run recall
notices, print statements, check in optical jobs, dispense eyewear, call
patients, repair and adjust glasses. The number of people you need each
day depends on the size of your office, but I think it’s important to
keep the office open during normal business hours.
You need a manager
It’s important that there is someone who will look out for the
productivity of the office and who has the authority to direct staff
while the doctor is away. In many offices, the doctor is the only
boss. I don’t think that is the best arrangement and I believe virtually
every practice should have a manager, even if the staff is small.
Having a manager is very helpful when the doctor is on vacation, but
even when working, the doctor is generally too busy to observe most
A true manager will
Observe that all employees show up for work on time
Assign work duties and monitor progress throughout the day
Coordinate lunch breaks
Supervise general office procedures and patient service
Make decisions about any problems that come up
Make daily bank deposits and reconcile the cash drawer
Close the office properly
Even if all employees choose to not take time off during the doctor’s
vacation, a manager may ask again if anyone would like to go home early
on any given day. Many employees will take advantage of such an
opportunity on the spur of the moment and that reduces payroll costs.
Special office projects
Doctor vacation days offer the perfect time to conduct some special
projects that would normally not be convenient if patients were being
seen. There are plenty of tasks that will be within the usual scope of
typical office job descriptions, but others are clearly outside of that
realm. I would be sensitive about asking staff to perform duties that
are outside of the norm for their job. Some employees will be happy to
pitch in and perform any job they are capable of for the good of the
office, while others will be clearly insulted. If you ask for help with
unusual jobs, do so without implying any pressure if an employee wishes
to decline. Use good judgment. While an employee with a “can-do”
attitude may earn special appreciation from the boss, don’t upset staff
morale if someone chooses to opt out of a strange assignment.
Here are some projects for staff to do while the boss is away.
Write a procedure manual. Most offices have a policy manual, which
describes the rules of the office, but very few have a manual that
describes how to do the actual jobs of all employees. This is very
valuable when you are training new people and even more so if you sell
your practice. Just tell groups of employees to write down every step
of their jobs, type it up and save it as a computer file. Just list
how they do what they do. It will be a thick manual. Include digital
photos of clinical instruments or business machines.
Computer data entry or clean-up. Are there any data entry tasks that
were postponed because you were too busy?
Produce a practice newsletter. Write the stories, layout the copy
with a software program, work with a printer.
Conduct a survey of service quality and patient satisfaction by phone
Train or cross train staff in new areas. Technicians can be taught
to perform frame selections. Opticians can perform visual fields.
Receptionists can dispense a pair of glasses. Can all techs insert
trial contact lenses on another person easily? Is everyone skilled at
lensometry? Can more than one person file insurance claims?
Put all frames on display into standard adjustment.
Purge old patient records and move to remote storage or have extremely
old files destroyed.
Reorganize trial contact lenses and verify gas permeable trial lenses.
Here are some more ideas, but they are outside of the usual office tasks,
so much depends on your staff. If the job is far outside the job
description, ask for volunteers… don’t force it. Consider allowing
staff to wear blue jeans or other work clothes if appropriate for the
Plant flowers and work on landscaping
Deep clean parts of the office that are often neglected
Paint walls and woodwork
Wallpaper and decorate
Clean out and discard clutter and old contents of storage areas
Days without patients may also be the perfect time to have contractors
and other service people perform work. You could assign a staff member
to coordinate and supervise the work while you’re gone.
Supervise contractors who are doing repairs or remodeling. This could
be plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers, etc.
Supervise new carpet or tile installation.
Work with a computer consultant to replace and expand a computer
Have a security system installed.
Creating a practice that does not depend solely on the owner/doctor for
everything is in the owner’s best interest. Take some steps toward
achieving that while you take a vacation.