A colleague emailed me about hiring an associate OD and she suggested that I use the questions for a Tip article. Great idea! I'm always looking for good topics so please send me your questions if you think it would help other readers as well. Recent tip articles #537 and 538 offer more tips on hiring an OD, but I'll expand on some other aspects here.
Here are the questions that led to this article: I am having trouble recruiting a new doctor. What are your suggestions for recruitment? What questions do you ask an optometrist during an interview? How do you gauge if a doctor will commit to long term or move around?
Determine your job position
The first question is: do you want a partner (now or in the near future) or do you want an employee. The terms are not fully standardized, but "associate" usually is a synonym for "employee". Partner implies someone who has ownership in the practice. You should think this point through before you begin to recruit so you can advertise the position in a way that attracts the right candidates. If you are not sure, you may want to start with an employment based arrangement since those are much easier to control and to terminate. I will keep my comments to the employed doctor arrangement for this article.
Another consideration is if the position will be full time or part time. This one is mostly based on how much patient demand your practice currently has. You should be able to find some interested doctors for either full or part time, but the former is more likely looking for a career and the latter may be working in another practice besides yours. There is more turnover with a part time associate, but they can fill a void in patient care and it is less expensive and less risk
Consider your office hours carefully before you bring in an associate because this may be a great time to change them. Will you be able to have two doctors working at the same time? This works well if you have at least four exam rooms (two per doctor) and a large optical. Do you currently offer two or more evenings per week until at least 7pm and every Saturday? If not, consider speaking to your staff or hiring more staff members who are willing to work on those less popular hours. Patients love those convenient hours and expanding your schedule increases production and revenue.
What you start with - you may have to stay with
Realize that the policies and rules you begin with may be very difficult to change later. Here are a few sticky points where you want to start off on the right foot:
Hours. As mentioned above, start with the evening and Saturday coverage you want.
How many patients per day? It is best if the practice owner sets the schedule. Even though the new doctor may not be fully booked in the beginning, make it clear what the normal schedule will be and that the associate can't change it.
Lunch breaks. Are they included in the base pay or is the time deducted. How long is a normal lunch break?
Other assignments. Discuss what non-clinical duties you may ask of the employed doctor. This might be staff training, marketing, community outreach, office technology, etc.
Can the doctor decide to leave the office early if there are no more appointments that day? Will time off affect pay?
Emergencies. Will the new doctor see urgent cases the same day and how will you handle after hours calls from patients?
Where to look for a candidate
There are several well-known channels for posting a job position available for an OD. It is the same resources that doctors who are seeking employment will use to find a position.
Optometry schools placement services. Certainly the ones closest to you are of main interest, but many practice owners post positions available at all the schools.
State optometric associations.
The AOA placement service: Optometry's Career Center.
Commercial placement services and head-hunter firms.
Optometric consultants and alliance groups.
Industry sales reps from frames, contact lens, drug, and equipment companies.
This process is not so different than an interview you would do for a staff member. You want to get to know the applicant and see if he or she is a good fit. Try to ask open-ended questions and let the candidate speak most of the time.
Ask about the doctor's training, special interests, experience, and career goals. Delve into the aspect of prescribing and recommending products. Discuss pupil dilation preferences, comfort working with staff, expertise with computers and EMR software.
I'm on the lookout for people who seem to have large egos, even though they usually hide that during an interview. If a doctor thinks he is extremely important, he may not fit in well with the staff and with patients.
Review the sticky areas listed above to see how flexible and open the candidate is. The best fit occurs when the new doctor is willing to adapt to the systems in place in the practice.
Long term relationship
There is no perfect way to be sure an employed doctor will stay with you for a long time. Your odds improve if the candidate as roots in the community such as he grew up there or has a family or spouse there. You can also just ask the candidate and you'll be surprised how candid some will be.
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.