The foolproof way to hire medical office staff

March 21, 2008

Is there an opening at your practice? Follow the author's four-step path to find the best person for the job.

Among the many administrative tasks I wish I could avoid, bringing new office staff members aboard is high on the list. Physicians who work for institutions or large groups rarely have to go through this difficult process. Those of us working solo or in small groups aren't so fortunate.

Because recruiting employees is both expensive and time-consuming, it's important to get it right so we can do it as infrequently as possible. To increase the likelihood that new hires will do the job well and fit comfortably into our practice, we need to develop a process to ensure that all applicants are diligently screened. After years of trial and error, I've developed a recruitment method that works.

Step 1: Get the word out

Next, we put an ad in the newspaper. We've found that an ad in the weekly circular that's distributed free to local residents brings in more, and better-qualified, applicants than a far costlier ad in the metropolitan Sunday newspaper. To discourage job-seekers from overrunning our already crowded waiting room and tying up our telephone lines, our ads typically state that resumes should be sent to a post office box or submitted by fax or e-mail.

A more contemporary approach is to put your ad on the Internet, on Monster and other websites where many people, especially children of the Boomer generation, do their job hunting. (My son posted his resume online and received several job offers in his field, sight unseen.) As with newspaper ads, web-based ads require you to pay a fee. Prices on Monster, for example, range from $375 to $1,100, depending on your location and how long you want the ad to remain.

Speaking of fees, going through an employment agency can be pricey, but it also can streamline the recruitment process. Headhunters tend to screen out weaker applicants. However, they often send over candidates who want more pay than you're offering.

One strategy we've used when caught shorthanded is to have a temp agency send someone to fill the slot. We pay the agency approximately 50 percent more than we normally pay for the position. But after a period of time-say, three months-as agreed in advance by a contract, the temp (now trained for the position) can become our permanent employee, and we no longer need to pay the agency.

Step 2: Screen applicants

My manager reviews applicants' resumes, looking for appropriate education and work experience. She also looks for signs that the applicant is someone we'd rather not hire. These may include frequent job changes, unexplained gaps between jobs, and unrealistic salary requirements.

Next she telephones promising candidates to explain a bit about the position and try to get a sense of whether the applicant would be an asset to our practice. She listens for phone manners, clarity (no mumbling), and warmth. The questions applicants ask can be revealing, too. If they're primarily interested in how much sick time or vacation is offered, a red flag goes up.

Something we haven't done, but most experts strongly recommend, is conduct background and credit checks on people we hope to hire and ask potential employees to undergo drug testing. (Note: State rules vary on drug testing. Consult a lawyer before telling potential employees that they must be tested.)