Ask the right questions to hire the right physician

October 9, 2009
Jack Valancy, MBA
Jack Valancy, MBA

Preparation is the key to conducting successful interviews-and to hiring the ideal physician.

Key Points

Medical practices, like people, each have distinct personalities. Your ability to match your practice's personality with the physicians you hire can be crucial to your mutual success.

Whether that physician is an addition to your team or a replacement, your choice usually begins with the job interview. It serves as the means for both you and the candidate to assess whether you are the right fit for each other. Preparation is the key to conducting successful interviews-and to hiring the ideal physician.

"I look for people who will mix well with the patient population we have in terms of the milieu of the practice," says Mark N. Rood, MD, part of an independent, three-physician family practice in suburban Chagrin Falls, Ohio. "Our patients have certain expectations that go with that personality."

VISUALIZE THE IDEAL CANDIDATE

Begin the recruiting process by visualizing your practice's ideal candidate. Identify 5 to 10 qualities you are looking for or wish to avoid. This is your "key issues" outline, against which you will measure each candidate.

What types of patients or cases does your practice see or wish to see? What qualifications are necessary to serve them well in the office, hospital, or other settings? What skills and experience should the physician have? Should he or she be board certified?

Rood's practice places a high value on customer service and patient education. He notes that the practice's physicians spend a lot of time talking with patients, either in the office or on the phone, about their health. A physician who doesn't share this practice philosophy will not work out, he says. For him, it's one of several key issues.

"We're looking for physicians who have an interest in continuing to work independently, have some degree of entrepreneurship, have a good work ethic, and who can provide quality medical care," he says. His patients, he adds, have high expectations for the quality of care they receive.

Describe your practice's culture and the ideal candidate's interests and attributes necessary for a good fit. For example, what are the candidate's views on evidence-based medicine? Patient satisfaction? Treating a particular patient population? What kind of work schedule and workload should the new physician expect? Is your practice's tone formal and reserved or laid-back and casual?

Consider your community's location and the lifestyles it offers. How important is it for the new doctor to be familiar with the area? Are deep roots in the community an asset? Should candidates come from a similar place-e.g., city, suburbs, or small town? Is there a risk of the new physician being a "fish out of water"?

Do you want a physician who will work hard to increase his or her compensation-and improve the practice's profits-or do you want someone for whom money is not as important?

The mythical "Dr. Right" is the guiding ideal used by Auburn Family Medical Center, a five-physician group 25 miles southeast of Seattle. As with Rood's group, Auburn's Kevin Martin, MD, seeks physicians with an entrepreneurial bent who will take responsibility for both the medical and non-medical aspects of the practice.

"We are mindful of the fact that we are physicians in the business of providing care," says Martin. "We try to make sure we don't fall into the trap of becoming businessmen who are seeing patients."

While compiling your key issues outline, think about which attributes are required and which are flexible. Think about the compromises you might accept, if necessary.

Be prepared to tell candidates what they need to know about the job. What kinds of patients or cases should the new physician expect? What will the schedule be like, including call? Where will the new physician be practicing? What size workload can he or she expect at first, and how might it grow?

Think about your practice's culture, the new physician's colleagues, and possible career paths. Talk about living and working in your community. Be ready to explain, if asked, why you are recruiting a physician at this time.

Finally, be prepared to discuss the position's compensation and benefits, including recruiting incentives. (Your hospital may offer help in the form of a loan to the new physician to cover recruiting incentives, compensation, and practice expenses. Develop realistic financial projections of the new physician's practice, based on verifiable information, to reduce risk.)