Dear Arizona Pain Specialists:

image I have a bustling medical practice that I can barely keep up with; I need to hire more mid-level providers, possibly find another physician and do some research on opening another location. Additionally, I need to obtain Meaningful Use qualification and ensure my growing staff is HIPPA compliant. The problem is, I can’t do all of these things and practice great medicine. I have a family with young children whom I’d like to spend more time with, and I haven’t seen a golf course in two years. There simply isn’t enough time in the day. I’ve considered hiring an office manager to help sort through some of these herculean tasks, but I am not sure what to look for. Help!

Sincerely,

Rather Be Golfing


Dear RBG,

You are to be applauded! You’ve crossed the first, and possibly largest, barrier to having a wildly successful practice: You’ve realized it takes a team. You, as the quarterback, are in charge of leading your health care practitioners and medical staff to provide the very best care to your patients. Now, it’s time to build a team around you. This team should be composed of individuals with experience in business, human resources, compliance, marketing, information technologies, billing and office management.

Let’s assume you have a stack of resumes from your city’s best applicants for the office manager position. Your advertisement for the job suggested a lengthy list of large- and small-scale projects you want accomplished for your practice. Those who have responded vary in experience and education. How do you decide who is the best fit? Consider the following items during your interview with each candidate to help you make your final decision.

Presence

The old adage “first impressions are lasting impressions” holds true. Although it is illegal to judge your candidates for their age, sex, race or sexual preference, it is quite appropriate to judge them by the way they present themselves. Keep in mind that this person will be responsible for representing your name and your practice in the community. He or she may be responsible for negotiating contracts, hiring other staff members and speaking with the media on your behalf. During the interview, consider the following:

  • Did the candidate show up on time?
  • How is the candidate dressed?
  • Was the candidate prepared for the interview (did he or she do initial research about your practice and your mission)?
  • Is the candidate’s resume in top form?

It is not superficial to reduce your candidate pool because of misspellings on a resume or tardiness to an interview. With today’s economy, employers have the privilege of being extremely selective. There are more applicants than ever before who are likely overqualified in both education and experience, but due to the recent economy are unemployed and eager to return to the workforce. Therefore, the minor details of first impressions are significant. With so many great applicants available, you are wise to be highly selective.

Substance

This criterion is most important after you have narrowed your selection of candidates to no more than three. Most likely, all of these candidates are well educated, have strong references and have valuable experience. However, are they able to solve problems? Are they critical thinkers? Are they detail-oriented? Can they take a large project—like opening a second office—and organize it into comprehensive steps?

The right candidate will be able to “eat the elephant one bite at a time.” An office manager will essentially serve as a project manager, responsible for the execution of numerous projects across many different areas of a practice. This will require and someone who is extremely organized and detail-oriented. Successful project completion first requires successful navigation of each of the traditional stages of project management. These include:

  • project strategy;
  • preparation;
  • design;
  • development and testing;
  • training and business readiness;
  • support and benefits realization; and evaluation.

Within each of these stages, an effective manager will provide the following:

  • phase management;
  • control;
  • team management;
  • communication;
  • procurement; and
  • integration.

It is possible these seem like a series of buzzwords that do not truly equate to your end goal: crossing things off your business development to-do list. However, an effective office manager should be able to think within these stages and recognize that their completion is a recipe for success.

To determine how your candidates respond to a large-scale project, conduct a test during the second interview. Provide the candidates with a sheet of paper and pen, and give them 15 minutes to detail, in stages, how they would launch a second location for your practice. To prevent outside research, ask the candidates to turn their phones off prior to the test. Encourage them to take as many notes as they wish on the single sheet of paper.

The right office manager for your practice may not have extensive experience in either health care administration or practice development. However, the best candidate will be able to show, in steps, how he or she would start the process, and the research involved in doing so. When examining the candidate’s notes, consider the following: Do you follow his or her brainstorming? Is his or her line of thinking logical and rational? Are detailed solutions and steps included in the plan? Are there creative ideas you might not have considered?

The right candidate’s intelligence and problem-solving skills should shine, regardless of the fabricated project you present for testing.

Personality

Let’s assume you have identified three candidates with strong problem solving and critical thinking skills —two key characteristics of a strong office manager. These candidates also present themselves well and communicate effectively.

Now, it’s time to let your staff do the interviewing. Select several key employees with whom the candidate will work regularly. Perhaps this is a nurse practitioner, lead medical assistant and billing coordinator. For a second interview, have your candidate spend 15 to 20 minutes with each employee, while demonstrating a complicated task the employee is responsible for performing. Provide the employee with a list of questions to keep in mind to answer after the working interview. These should include:

  • Is the candidate friendly?
  • Does the candidate ask questions in a clear manner?
  • Did the candidate truly listen?
  • Did the candidate understand the process?
  • Did the candidate take notes?
  • What is your gut feeling?

It is likely, and to be expected, that your candidates will not understand complicated processes after spending only 20 minutes with an employee. However, the right candidate will take notes, be respectful and ask appropriate and logical questions. Most importantly, the best candidate will work well with all three employees you selected, and will demonstrate curiosity, intelligence and the interest to better understand your practice.

Experience

Once you’ve heard from your staff about the working interviews, it is time to take the final, and perhaps most practical, aspect into consideration: experience. Which of the candidates has management experience? Does the candidate have strong references supporting successful project management? Keep in mind, these “projects” may not be health-related. It takes the same skill set to be an event planner as it does to be a successful office manager, including organization, effective communication, diligence, honesty, and developing and adhering to a budget.

It is important to rely on staff feedback and the other areas you examined during the interviews. It also is important to rely on your intuition. The right candidate will fill you with confidence that the future of your practice is in the right hands. It might be helpful to provide a list of clear objectives and expectations to the person you hire, and offer a 90-day trial contract. After three months it should be clear whether you have hired someone with the presence, substance, personality and experience to be a successful office manager. By hiring an applicant that excels in all four of these areas you will have found a manager that is not only a great fit for your practice, but also someone who is able to help your business reach new levels of success.


Drs. McJunkin and Lynch founded Arizona Pain Specialists, a comprehensive pain management practice with three locations. They teach nationally and are consultants for St. Jude Medical and Stryker Interventional Spine. Through their partner company, Boost Medical, they provide practice management and consulting services. Ms. Donley is a project manager with Boost Medical and is responsible for the oversight of several pain management practices. For more information, visit ArizonaPain.com and BoostMedical.com.