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How to talk to the boss about career advancement


Tips for medical practice staff to broach the conversation of mid-career professional development with their employers.

If medical practice staff desire to improve their career skills, they will likely need to have a conversation with their boss, often the practice manager.  Together, they’ll need to explore opportunities to advance to a new role, take time off to pursue improvements, or ask for reimbursement of costs.

Wendy Terwelp, a career coach who works with healthcare professionals of all kinds and founder of Opportunity Knocks of Wisconsin, recommends medical professional staff frame the conversation around the employer’s return on investment.

“If they can leverage the conversation into how it will benefit the practice, that’s going to help them get reimbursed or sponsored to attend a conference,” she says. “Operational efficiencies can turn things around and increase profit, so if they can learn better ways to implement different technology, that can help.”

If the boss is a particularly challenging person, or if dollars are tight, Terwelp says staff should make the case that healthcare changes rapidly, especially with technology. New skills can help a practice avoid so many hassles. Training can improve procedures and documentation, which helps avoid lawsuits. That, in turn, can improve compliance with the joint commission.

And if employers still aren’t convinced, show them the research. For example, a 2010 study in the Journal of Oncology points out that the payoff for better trained staff manifests in better employee retention, staff morale, practice efficiency, job competency, and patient satisfaction.

But approaching these conversations can mean walking a fine line between sounding self-serving and making a case for how individual professional development can benefit the practice.

If this is a nerve-wracking prospect, Carol Aiken, CMM CPAR, clinical operations administrator of Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine in Huntsville, Ala., advises staff to look at the situation from the administrator’s point of view. Aiken, a practice manager with more than 30 years of experience in hiring and running a medical practice, says she keeps a keen eye on those motivated employees.

“I’m never going to look at anybody for advancement opportunity unless they have been self-motivated to present an opportunity to me for consideration,” she says. “I always tell younger people don’t be arrogant and think that you know it all, but also don’t shy away from the discussion. Maybe there is no real opportunity for improvement today but let your employer know ‘I want to be as valuable to you as I can.’”

Aiken says improving skills is a win-win for both parties. When staff let employers know in a concise and succinct way they would like feedback, that shows they are serious about their job. That can lead to further discussions about opportunities for advancement, too.

However, professional development is ultimately an investment in the future, so if a boss isn’t supportive, Terwelp says it may be worth trying to find another job where advancement is possible. “If you’re not growing, then you’re not moving forward.”

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