The Administrator’s Desk: What’s Your Mission?

October 1, 2008

A mission statement isn’t just words on a page. It’s a statement of principles that will help guide every decision you make. Here’s some help on how to develop one you can be proud of.


About a year after Susan Miller joined Family Practice Associates as the new office administrator, she made the executive decision to close the office for a day. All members of the staff, physicians and clerks included, were to attend an off-site planning meeting to create a road map for future growth. “We had just grown to three providers, and we really hadn’t done any work up to then in terms of looking ahead to where the practice would be going,” she recalls.

The staff split into two groups. The physicians stayed with Miller to create a mission statement and discuss long-range plans for the Lexington, Ky.-based practice. A local professor was brought in to conduct a customer service seminar for the staff during the first half of the day, and help them create their mission statement in the afternoon. “After we came back together as a group, we looked at both mission statements, took the best from both, and combined them into one,” says Miller. The one-sentence statement included carefully phrased goals such as “taking care of families in the community,” “treating patients as individuals,” and “providing services in a cost effective manner.”

“That was 1992,” says Miller. “We’ve revisited it several times since then, but it really hasn’t changed.” Over the years, the practice (which has since grown to 12 providers) has explored a variety of new services and locations. “Each time we look at something like that,” says Miller, “we have to test it back against our original mission statement and ask ourselves, ‘Does this match? Does this make sense?’”

That process, says Tannus Quatre, a principal with the healthcare consulting firm Vantage Clinical Solutions in Bend, Ore., is what helped Miller’s practice succeed. “One of the biggest errors we see made among medical practices is that they think for some reason because it’s healthcare there’s no need to have a direction or mission for why they exist,” he says. “What happens is the efficiency of decision making and the trajectory of the practice over the first five years is much different than if you’d established a mission that drives each and every person in that practice.”

Defining your direction

A mission statement is a written document that summarizes who you are as a practice, and as a member of the community you serve. It speaks to the physicians’ core identity and reminds them why they are in medical practice to begin with. “It’s like your brand,” says Cindy Dunn, senior consultant for the Medical Group Management Association. “It’s the thing that makes your practice unique and the reason you come into the office every day.”

As it is for Family Practice Associates, your mission statement should also be something your physician shareholders refer back to when contemplating a shift in direction. For example, if your mission is to better serve your community, you’ll likely want to incorporate some element of pro bono care. “That way, if one of the partners is looking to expand into an affluent suburb, you can all go back to the original mission and decide whether or not that move supports your mission,” says Quatre. “If it doesn’t, you can either scrap the idea or change the direction of the ship a little by adjusting your mission statement. But make sure it’s guiding the entire practice and that everyone is on board.”

How to write it

Before you begin drafting a mission statement, or while you’re revising one, gather input from multiple sources - employees at every level of your practice, patients, and even other members of the business community who can help provide outside perspective on what your practice brings to the table. “I often have practices review the results of their patient and employee satisfaction surveys for additional input,” says Dunn. “That usually gives the physicians a little nudge. ‘Oh yeah, we do do that well.’”

Think, too, about what sets your practice apart. “I advise physicians who are trying to prepare their mission statement to create a list of things that make their patients, practice, and employees unique and then incorporate these into the statement,” says Dunn.

Though some practices require a mission statement that is several paragraphs long, Quatre and Dunn agree that short and simple is best. A one- or two-sentence mission statement is easier to remember and thus, easier to uphold and to communicate to staff, says Quatre. “Use lay terms so it’s not too technical.”

Say it proud

Once you’ve done the work and defined who you are as a practice, don’t tuck it away. Post your mission statement in the lobby for patients to see, e-mail it to every employee, include it as part of your human resources packet for new hires, and distribute it to every vendor and hospital with which you are affiliated. “Communicating the medical practice’s mission to all clients (patients, vendors, staff, hospitals, etc.) is a good first step toward letting them know what they should expect from the practice,” says Dunn.

Use it, too, in any new marketing material you create. “Mission statements can be very effective in core messaging around the practice,” says Quatre. “You can integrate part of it into your tagline and certain marketing campaigns, using pieces of it to really help sell your services.”

Buy-in

Above all, of course, make sure every physician shareholder embraces the mission statement. “When it’s merely a formality, it lacks the impact it should have,” says Quatre. “The mission statement works beautifully when you have practice owners who understand what they’re trying to create so they’re passionate about it. They’re excited to tell people this is why the practice exists and that they should choose this practice because they agree.”

Whether you’re drafting a first mission statement, or revising an old one, the time you spend with physicians and staff clarifying your raison d’être will not only lead to greater insight into who you are as a medical practice, but also provide a roadmap for getting where you want to go.

Shelly K. Schwartz, a freelance writer in Maplewood, N.J., has covered personal finance, technology, and healthcare for 12 years. Her work has appeared on CNNMoney.com, Bankrate.com, and Healthy Family magazine. She can be reached via editor@physicianspractice.com.

This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Physicians Practice.