What Your Culture Says about Your Medical Practice

February 28, 2013
Lori Schutte, MBA

Here are some cues you may be missing when it comes to your medical practice's culture and messages you may send to potential physician candidates.

While traveling, I once saw a billboard advertising a hospital’s maternity care center as the most popular place in the area to give birth. An electronic ticker displayed a real-time count of the hospital’s deliveries. This high volume indicated the unparalleled experience and expertise of the hospital’s staff.

As I drove further down the highway, I noticed another billboard about a different hospital’s maternity care. This time, the childbirth facility was advertised for its promise of individual personalized care and attention. Like Avis - the second largest car rental company - and its famous slogan, “We try harder,” the hospital couldn’t claim to be number one by volume, but it could highlight the positive aspect of having a more personalized approach to delivery.

Imagine a physician coming to interview for an open position at either of these hospitals and passing these two billboards. What impression would potential job candidates have based on these external cues? And would their opinions accurately reflect a culture compatible with this physician’s expectations?

Culture Dictates Candidate Selection

Organizational culture and the physicians’ work environment have an impact on future retention. The doctor who would be successful and happy in the high-volume, fast-paced delivery room is probably going to be a very different candidate than the one who thrives in the lower-volume, higher-touch hospital.

Many physician candidates say it’s difficult to determine the organizational culture of a medical practice until after they’ve started the job. Administrators often find that practice culture is difficult to define and hard to convey to candidates. This makes it even more difficult to change practice culture for the better.

Actions speak louder than words. For insight into the culture of a practice, candidates can look at how they’re greeted in the reception area, visit the hospital cafeteria, and spend a few minutes informally in the doctors’ lounge.

Watch for those red flags. If your candidate asks for a personalized parking space and that’s not consistent with your culture, this person may not be a good fit for your organization. If a candidate is rude to the receptionist or nursing staff but not rude to the administrators or physicians, that may be a warning sign. Ultimately, this should give you insight into how comfortable your candidate will be with your culture.

Attributes like accountability, autonomy, work environment, and modes of communication are important to physician job satisfaction and engagement and are communicated to candidates both overtly and subtly. All of these factors determine whether your organization will attract the best candidates who will excel at your practice.

If you asked your physicians or any other employees to describe your culture in five words or less, what would they say? Have you ever asked? Would they be the same words you would use? Ask them and tell us what you find out.

Lori Schutte, MBA, is president of Cejka Search, a nationally recognized physician, allied health, and healthcare executive search firm providing services exclusively to the health care industry for more than 30 years. E-mail her here.