This article was written by
Joel Kestenbaum, OD, and has been vetted by the CovalentCareers team for inclusion in our resource library.

Introduction

I became an employer in 1984. I’ve worked with many professionals, office staff members, and everyone in-between. During my early years in private practice, I hired employees on gut instinct, which often turned out to be a mistake. 

Here are some of the people whom I've hired over the years: 

  • Friends (not always a good choice)
  • Relatives (hardly ever a good choice)
  • Patients (usually a good choice)
  • People off the street (sometimes a good choice)

Back in the early days, we didn't have the internet or sites like CovalentCareers to help us find employees. I relied on newspaper ads, local PennySaver ads, professional school job boards (actual physical job boards), and word of mouth.  

When we were small, that meant I was also our HR department, payroll administrator, bookkeeper, practice owner, buyer...and our only licensed professional. 

What did I know about hiring? There were no courses in professional school on how to run a business or professional practice.  

I learned along the way, and that's why I'm here to share some of the traits I've found are essential for an employee to do well in private practice. In no particular order, here are those traits: 

Punctuality

Nothing irks me more than a tardy employee, and employees need to be ready to work when they show up to the office. Nobody should be rolling into a clinic at 8:59 or 9:03 if their first patient is at 9:00 AM.  

For this reason, punctuality is a number one concern of mine. Our office manual states that employees must arrive at least 10 minutes prior to opening. We hold our staff accountable and habitual tardiness is certainly grounds for dismissal. Our clinic's integrity and name rest on professionalism, so I simply cannot hire someone who is not punctual.

Confidence

Confidence is a complicated thing, and it doesn't come easily for everyone. But my private practice employees are required to exude confidence. After all, the last thing a patient wants to see is a clinician who is not sure of his or herself. 

Patients are nervous enough when going to the doctor; they don't need their nerves increasing when a clinician's hands are shaking during an exam. 

When a patient feels at ease, they will have a good experience with their visit, which may help the healing process for them.

Adaptability 

Today's medical care is changing and evolving very quickly. Electronic Medical Records (EMR), insurance requirements of the practice, changes in patient insurance or benefits and changing staff require the team to constantly learn and adapt to changes.  

Some of the older staff members may have a hard time with this as they have developed habits that are hard to change. But if you are not changing, you are not growing. If you are not adaptable, you cannot be part of the team, at least not in private practice.

Communication skills

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen patients who have come from another doctor’s office stating that their prior practitioner didn’t tell them anything, and their staff was no better. They did not communicate even in the most basic ways.  

Patients want you to talk to them.  

They want to hear that they are healthy or they want to know what the diagnosis and prognosis are. The whole team needs to be able to communicate properly to patients and to each other in order to provide the exceptional care that patients deserve.

Flexibility

Employers love when employees are available for fill-in if another team member is sick or on vacation.  It is also important that employees are not stuck in their ways.

This obviously is similar to adaptability.

Internally motivated

As an employer, the best employees are those who can understand the practice goals and think on their feet. They anticipate solutions to problems before the problems actually take hold, and they put those solutions into play without being asked. 

A self-motivated individual will contribute in ways that aren’t robotic. They can understand the task at hand and complete a task with little help from others and in a timely fashion. As in Nike’s motto, “They just do it.”  

They make their own job fun and as a result, may make the job fun for their colleagues.

Team-oriented 

Wow, this is a big one.  

In order for a professional office to run smoothly, each staff member must understand that he or she is part of the big picture. They must do their job and understand where their tasks fit into what the whole team needs to accomplish. 

LeBron James could not be the great basketball player that he is without having an exceptional team surrounding him. Doctors, nurses and other professionals need a great team to offer superior care. 

The patients expect no less. 

Honest

Fortunately over the years I have had very few employees who were dishonest.   

Unfortunately, there have been a few and it cost our practice dearly.  

Some people are just liars and have lied their way into a job. Other dishonest employees can steal time, money, product, and eat your heart out. 

The moment a dishonest employee is discovered is the moment this employee needs to be terminated. No exceptions.  

Aside from the obvious loss of time, money or product, it is very costly and time consuming to hire someone new. It is also costly to prosecute that person if the loss was worth it.  

Employers must make sure to do their homework during the hiring process, conducting background checks, and/or checking references. 

Dependable

Life in the office is so much easier for everyone if each of us can be dependable.  

My father always said, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”  

I always know that if something needs to be done, and I give the task to a reliable person, it will get done…and I don’t have to do it.  Every team member knows who the reliable people are…… so why can’t everyone be reliable?  

I haven’t a clue.

But that's why carefully vetting your potential employees is key. 

The ability and desire to learn 

Can you teach an old dog, new tricks?  I think so.  

But the dog needs to want to learn. Those team members that don’t want to learn are just going to work their way out of a job. Nobody wants to admit that they don’t know or understand something, and this is especially true of the older generations.  

Technology is evolving very quickly and learning new systems as they apply to your job is paramount to keeping your job and getting ahead.

Positive attitude

As an employee you cannot be a “Debbie Downer.” Being upbeat brings the whole team up and makes for a more pleasant work environment.  

Try smiling when you are on the telephone. You can bet that the person at the other end can tell. Always be willing to try new things…..

Able to multitask

A busy office often requires that people can do more than one thing at a time, or at least prioritize what needs to be done so that the tasks are actually accomplished.  

In our office, the receptionist may be talking to a patient in front of them and the phone rings. Experience will allow the receptionist to take care of the patient in front of them and the patient on the phone at the same time.  

Perhaps the tech needs to assume the role of receptionist for 15 minutes. Is that possible? It should be.

I’ve learned a lot over the years about people and can go on and on discussing all of the positive traits that are needed in a busy office or clinic.  

It is important as a potential employee to highlight your worth to the practice.  

Once hired, it is imperative to be all you can be as an integral part of a superior team providing excellent patient care. It is equally important as an employer to maintain a level of positivity and not take your team for granted.  

Remember, you are always interviewing.

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