Best practices for onboarding physicians

Colin Zhu, DO
Colin Zhu, DO

Colin Zhu, DO, is a traveling physician who is board certified in family practice and lifestyle medicine. He has practiced as a CompHealth locum tenens physician for the past four years. Zhu is the author of "Thrive Medicine: How To Cultivate Your Desires and Elevate Your Life” and is a podcast host of Thrive Bites.

As seen from a Locum Tenens perspective.

Own a practice? Head a department? You likely know it is essential to bring on the best professional support to make your practice thrive. That means having the best onboarding practices to smooth the transition between the newly hired employee or locum tenens physician and the future high-performing new physician in your facility.

As a locum tenens physician, I have heard horror stories about physicians not getting into their assignments correctly or the facility not running smoothly because of miscommunication. I’ve experienced this myself—there is nothing worse than not being able to onboard properly to a new assignment and starting the first week seeing patients on the wrong foot.

From a locum tenens perspective, a new assignment could represent new opportunities whether it is working at a new facility or city, meeting new people, or potentially a brand-new permanent job. From an employer’s perspective, a new physician could represent an opportunity to fill in a gap of work and possibly open up new relationships with a new potential permanent position that the physician can provide for their practice.

During my four years working as a locums tenens physician, traveling in four different states, and across eight different assignments, I have seen onboarding at its best and worst. I believe there are four key players to making your onboarding the best it can be, whether you are bringing on a new temporary physician or potential permanent provider to a new assignment. The first is the client, who is the employer or private practice owner, the client’s recruiter or HR person, the physician’s personal recruiter (if working with a placement agency), and finally, the physician.

Communication is the number one ingredient between all four parties. There will not be any smooth transition for onboarding, otherwise. I had my own horror story where I ended up moving to a remote city in Northern California for a new assignment. After a week of being on assignment, the medical director of the facility did not even know that I was there, plus I was asked to work and commute between three facilities because they did not have enough patients for me to see. Which begs the question: why was I even there to begin with? I want to help prevent potential fiascos like this.

For the employer, the most important detail to sort out, first is to establish what is the need for your practice. With that information, you can find out what kind of support you will need and for how long. Then you can go find the best physician for the job. Next, understanding how many patients or how many shifts the physician needs to cover, how much support they are going to need, and what other resources they may require to do the job efficiently while they are there. From my perspective, knowing what kind of support staff, like medical assistants and nurses, would be at my disposal is vital. Also, if procedures are required, knowing what the available resources are that physicians will need is essential to check before they arrive, so they are not scrambling when a procedure needs to be administered.

For the client representatives and the physician’s recruiter, they need to establish all of the above but also housing needs, travel/relocation needs, and vehicle needs for the physician. Also, it is important to make sure they have a proper orientation with the facility and sufficient time for them to familiarize themselves with the electronic medical record of the facility.

However, even before all of this happens, it is crucial to have an interview with the physician to acquire the best initial rapport possible. For the physician it is best to have an interview with the office/practice manager and the medical director of the facility. Take time with this. The interview is important to answer questions between the two parties and also to see if it is a mutual fit during the requested time that is needed for their services. Again, communication is key here.

Lastly, this is an amazing opportunity to create something long-lasting and fulfilling for both parties. Healthcare needs stronger relationships and stronger communication and that comes from establishing great initial rapport with the client (employer) and the physician and everyone else in between. Patients need these relationships to be stronger because they are used every day in the ever-changing and sometime tumultuous nature of healthcare. Let us show them that we are here to serve them and that starts with smooth transitions from onboarding great physicians for accommodating and receptive employers.

About the Author

Colin Zhu, DO, is a traveling physician who is board certified in family practice and lifestyle medicine. He has practiced as a CompHealth locum tenens physician for the past four years. Zhu is the author of "Thrive Medicine: How To Cultivate Your Desires and Elevate Your Life” and is a podcast host of Thrive Bites