Making the Most of Recently Graduated Medical Practice Staff

June 10, 2014

New graduates are an untapped resource that can add innovative assets to your physician practice.

Over the last seven years, the healthcare industry has faced a seemingly growing set of challenges. Economic downturn, regulatory changes, and market consolidation have created an ecosystem where a once stable (if imperfect) industry is in an era of innovation.

Of course, that statement is not meant to ignore the positive developments of the past decade, including the surge in graduate student brain power that is available to medical practices.

Looking to weather the economic storm of the most recent recession, many graduates opted to continue their studies and further their skill sets post-bachelor's degree. As they finished graduate school, though, many students found the economy was still in limbo and, worse, that while their studies may have prepared them to tackle more complex problems, employers were not ready to utilize them in a significant capacity.

In one extreme example, a physician practice management organization hired a recent graduate with a master of public health degree to assist in their growth efforts. Initially, the group capitalized on this individual's analytical abilities by requiring assessments of new markets, identification of ways to streamline operating costs, and providing liaison support between various practices and the executive office.

However, after a short period of time, the organization purchased a building and relocated parts of its operations; it elected to have this person focus on building renovation and relocation logistics. This was a complex project that fully utilized the employee's brain power with the understanding that, after the project was complete, the graduate would return to the analytical role.

However, rather than going back to the original position, this individual became the de facto building manager, with days constantly interrupted by requests for light bulbs, meetings with pest control companies, complaints about water pressure, and other tasks that did not properly utilize the graduate’s education or abilities. The prevailing thought of the executive team was, "This person is young and will accept any work assignments."

It shouldn't be surprising that, after a short time, this individual resigned to accept a substantial analytics role with a major healthcare system. It was a shame to see that, rather than focus on the abilities of this bright young employee, the organization instead marginalized those assets, ultimately, to the competition's benefit.

While this is an extreme example, the situation and its results are not uncommon. As consultants, we routinely encounter physician practices that employ recent college graduates, but don’t fully utilize their knowledge. It's surprising to see the number of graduates with master's degrees that are being relegated to supporting administrative roles, with the prevailing thought being that, while the employee has completed advanced education, he still needs to “put in his time.”

Healthcare as an industry would do well to take a page from the tech industry in this regard, an area that routinely puts young (but very accomplished) minds in challenging positions to great benefit for all involved. In those roles, graduates feel challenged and needed, and companies benefit from their knowledge and low turnover.

That's not to imply that every master's of public health graduate should be offered a COO role, but they should be fully utilized.

Here are a few questions employers should be asking themselves about their recent graduates:

• Do we have a program to mentor these employees and aid their growth?
• Within the larger projects our practice has undertaken, is there an opportunity for these employees to contribute in a meaningful way?
• Is there a plan in place to identify advanced opportunities and assist graduates into those roles?

While it’s true that you need to combine experience with education to realize a valuable employee, there is a great deal that these progressive young minds can add to any physician practice, particularly in light of growth, advancement, and innovation. With all of the challenges that the industry is facing today, we do not need to add mismanagement of human capital to that list.