The Key to Retaining New Medical Practice Staff

January 12, 2015

You want your new medical practice staff members to become great, loyal employees. Here's how to start off on the right foot.

Your receptionist quit four weeks ago, and you finally filled the position. In the time it took to find the new hire, your remaining staff became overworked, customer service declined, and physician productivity fell.

Sound familiar? Most medical practice managers have faced similar scenarios, and many make a dangerous mistake as a result. Since they are so rushed to get new hires up to speed and trained properly, they overlook a key element of new staff training and orientation: relationship building.

Joe Theine, a practice administrator at Four Corners Eye Clinic, a five-physician ophthalmology practice in Durango, Colo., says failing to cultivate a personal connection with new staff members from day one can take a big toll on long-term engagement and retention.

"My role isn't to be their best friend, but I can be a part of a place where they can start to feel like this is an environment and a team that they can open up to, that they can develop friendships, that they can have relationships with people that are here," says Theine.

The good news is that building that connection with new staff does not require a lot of time and resources. It does, however, require a thoughtful approach - one that begins even before a new hire walks in the door for his first day. Here's how experts say you can turn new hires into loyal and long-term staff.

GET STARTED EARLY

Begin setting the stage for a warm welcome as soon as you establish a start date for a new hire.

Send her a welcome letter or e-mail that includes guidance regarding what time to arrive, how to get into the office, who to ask for, whether to pack a lunch, where to park, and so on, says Carol Stryker, founder of practice management consulting company Symbiotic Solutions. "Silly things that are just mind-numbingly obvious to people who have been there even a week throw new people off."

A few days before the new hire gets started, post her photo, her name, and a few details about her role (and perhaps even her previous experience) in a staff common area, suggests Mary Pat Whaley, founder of Manage My Practice consulting firm. Or, Whaley says, distribute that information via e-mail. It's a great way to inform staff members that a new hire is joining them, and it also ensures that they will have an easier time striking up conversation. As Amy Thomason, a human resources specialist at consulting firm SS&G Healthcare, says, "There's nothing less welcoming for a new hire than when people don't know he or she is starting."

Also, ask one of your established staff members who will be working in the same department as the new hire to serve as her "buddy," says Cynthia Blain, a director at SS&G Healthcare and an administrator at several practices. As this buddy spends time with the new staffer on her first few days of work, it will give her "a bird's eye view" of what her typical day will look like, what the expectations are, and who she will be working with most closely, says Blain.

STAY CONNECTED

Continue the warm welcome by ensuring that you or another administrator have some time to spend with the new hire on his first day, says Blain, who usually meets with new hires for the first hour and then checks in again at the end of the day. "We've interviewed and everything but interviews tend to be a little bit more nervous, so we just have a casual conversation and I set what my expectations of the job are," she says. "Also, I introduce the staff verbally like, 'Here's who you go to if you have questions about one of the doctors and how they handle things,' or, 'Here's the person to go to if your paycheck isn't right.'"

Don't forget to provide the staffer with a tour of your practice and introduce him to other staff members and physicians in person. It's also helpful to provide him with an organizational chart in advance of these introductions, as that will help him better remember names, faces, and roles, says Troy Jaklich, president of Legacy Human Resources, which specializes in consulting for  medical offices.

After that first day, be careful not to abandon the new hire. Check in frequently during his first few weeks and months of employment, says Whaley. Ask how he is feeling about his new role, if he has any questions, if he has the resources he needs, and so on.

In addition, Thomason says, provide positive and negative performance feedback often. "If ... you don't address [when] someone gets off course as soon as it happens, it's a lot more difficult to address down the road."

MAKE THEM FEEL VALUED

Staff members who feel a sense of purpose are more likely to become engaged and stick around for the long haul, so work hard to help new hires see the "bigger picture" - how their role affects patient care.

Whaley recommends having new staff members rotate through the various departments of the practice. As they spend time observing how each functions, they will get to know other staff more personally, and therefore learn how to best work with them. This process will also make it clear to the new hire how her role ties in with the broader organization.

If possible, have the staff member shadow a physician during a routine patient visit, says Whaley. The staff member will get to know the physician more closely, and she will see how her role contributes to patient care. "Connect that person's job to what the physician does," says Whaley. "That's important to them, to know how their job relates and how important that job is."

Aubrey Westgate is senior editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at aubrey.westgate@ubm.com.

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Physicians Practice.