Mid-career development for medical practice staff

July 13, 2018

Stepping back for perspective in the middle of your career can unveil fresh insights and help plan future accomplishments. Here are six ways for medical practice staff to advance their careers.

Discussions about professional development tend to focus on medical practice staff entering the field, who have much to learn, and those at the end of their careers, who have much to teach. There’s an assumption that individuals learn as they go, but there can be several years, even decades, where it can feel like they’re just plugging away.

Christopher Lee, MPH, CPHQ, clinical solutions marketing manager for Family Health Centers of San Diego, finds that once practices hire qualified personnel, many small practices do not necessarily invest in further development of their staff-to their own detriment. “Many of them are just humming along doing the same things they’ve always been doing,” he says, adding that makes it even more important for staff to advance their own career. “[Career advancement] is something people have to take the initiative to do.”

Professional development is important to medical practice staff at all stages of their careers. However, mid-career development may be especially important for those staff who are ready to advance their skill set to maintain peak performance, increase earnings, improve their marketability, or prepare for a job transition. This development can reinvigorate daily work and drive staff forward, but it can also be overwhelming. Here are six ways medical practice staff can advance their careers.

 

Identify skills gap

Wendy Terwelp, a career coach who works with healthcare professionals of all kinds and founder of Opportunity Knocks of Wisconsin, says staff should not wait for practice managers and other bosses to green light their professional development-even if there is no or limited financial support. “If you don’t continue your training and professional development, that hurts your career more than anything else,” she says.

She says medical practice staff should start by identifying their skills gap. She suggests staff ask their bosses what areas in the practice are currently unfulfilled or need improvement. In some skill sets, such as medical billing or coding, it may make sense to pursue a higher certification or a next level course.

Carol Aiken, CMM CPAR, clinical operations administrator of Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine in Huntsville, Ala., has seen the difference training makes in her more than 30 years of practice administration. “It’s very difficult to work in a medical office and just learn on the job,” she says.

 

Set achievement goals

It’s important to have a career advancement goal in mind, says Andrea Clement, the Atlanta-based director of communications for The Medicus Firm, a national healthcare recruiting firm. “What skills do you want to add-and why? What new role are you aiming for?”

Clement recommends practice staff who are not sure what would make sense in terms of career advancement talk to their supervisors to see what opportunities may be available and what they might need to do to qualify for them.

Assessment tools can help staff identify the next likely area of focus or advancement, many of which are often offered through professional medical associations, certification programs, or courses in a given skill set.

Join professional associations

Once staff have a sense of their goals, experts agree that staff should mine professional medical associations for helpful resources. Clement says there are associations for nearly every medical office role, including coders, billers, nurse managers, case managers, patient advocates, and more.

There’s the AAPC, National Association for Medical Staff Services (NAMSS), the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), and any of the professional organizations that doctors and nurses belong to, such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), among others.

Most associations offer industry information, career advice, trend updates, and job boards. Professional associations often host conferences with expert speaker panels, mentorship connections, continuing education, and networking opportunities.

Lee says he’s benefited from the professional associations by learning about staffing trends, upcoming policy announcements, and reimbursement changes. He has also seen career planning courses and mock interviews offered at association meetings and conferences.

 

Find a mentor

An additional benefit of professional associations is the chance to meet and develop a relationship with a mentor in an area that medical practice staff hope to either break into or develop their skills toward.

Mentorship is important, Lee says, because “you don’t know what you don’t know.” When trying to improve upon one’s skills or make a career change, he says, people tend to come with a lot of assumptions of how they think the process works, though not all of them are correct. Mentors can steer staff in the right direction and help accelerate the learning process.

 

Build a network

Professional memberships also open the door to another key strategy for career advancement: networking.

Lee says through an association he participates in, he was able to ask a chief administrative officer of a large hospital about transitioning into hospital business strategy. The executive told Lee how to get started and helped connect Lee with someone in the organization. Without the help of the officer, he doubts he would’ve gotten a call back.

Building a network is an ongoing process and can require a bit of input before yielding results. However, studies have found that many career opportunities arise from weak ties, so it’s important to keep meeting people and keep in touch.

“Ideally, networking should be an ongoing mindset and approach, not just a one-time push when you’re in need,” Clement says.

Aiken says she encourages administrators and office managers to allow their employees to network. She regularly receives calls from fellow practice managers and their employees asking questions about issues ranging from Medicare initiatives to coding questions. “I’m telling you, healthcare can’t survive if we don’t network,” she insists.

 

Go to school

Sometimes the best career move for medical practice staff is to take additional courses, whether in person or online. Clement knows it can be challenging to make the decision to sacrifice the money and time in order to fulfill this goal, so she recommends asking a series of questions before taking the leap into further schooling. These questions include:

  • Am I choosing the right degree to further my health career goals?
  • What type of instruction does the program offer?
  • What kind of help and support will I have?
  • How much will it cost, and how will I pay for it?
  • Will my new degree prepare me for career advancement?
  • Will my degree be respected by my employers?

However you go about improving your skills, Terwelp says career advancement is a necessary part of working in the ever-evolving medical field. “You have to be on top of your game in the medical profession so that you can [continue to] accommodate the rapid changes. You’ve got to own your career.”