How to help a new associate succeed

December 3, 2004

Paving the way for the new doc on the block will make for a more congenial work environment and save you money.

After months of recruiting, interviewing, decision-making, and contract negotiation, you've brought a new associate on board. That's 90 percent of the battle. But the success of the hire hinges on the other 10 percent: integrating the doctor into your practice. You can go the old-fashioned route and let Dr. New fend for himself. Or you can try to smooth Dr. New's adjustment, maximizing the chances that this will be the beginning of a long and fruitful professional relationship.

Preparing for start day Have everything set up and ready to go before Day One. In addition to sending the recruit information about the area's housing, schools, recreation, and cultural activities, assign someone to work with him on licensure, credentialing, and securing hospital privileges and malpractice coverage.

A large part of the new physician's job satisfaction will depend on how well he adapts to the community. "Invite the physician and his significant other to visit for a long weekend before starting the new position," advises Nancy Ahlrichs Raichart, a human resources consultant with EOC Strategies in Carmel, IN.

Keep in touch with the couple during the pre-employment period via phone and e-mail. "That assures them that you're glad they're coming, and starts to make them feel at home even before they arrive," says Frederick J. (Fritz) Wenzel, former executive director of the 735-physician Marshfield Clinic, in Marshfield, WI, and now academic director of the practice management MBA program at the University of St. Thomas College of Business in Minneapolis.

You need to consider the intra-practice logistics, too: Besides adding the new physician's name to your sign and letterhead and incorporating him into your computer system, determine which exam room or rooms he'll use, which staffers will assist him, and who will help him get acclimated.

Before Dr. New arrives, you'll also need to decide whether it's time to add staffers, especially if your practice is small. "Many groups are what I call 'anorexic,' " says Will Latham, a consultant in Charlotte, NC. "To keep costs down, they're so tightly staffed that everyone is working at full capacity. So they inevitably have to hire at least one clinical staffer to support a new physician, and possibly a new clerical person to handle the increase in telephone calls and billing." If possible, involve the new physician in the hiring decision, Latham recommends.

Making the new relationship work Consultants unanimously agree that each new doctor needs a mentor. The mentor should meet frequently with the doctor, provide orientation and guidance, and let her know what the practice expects from her. It should be someone who can enunciate the mission, vision, and values of the group-a doctor who models the behavior that's expected of all the group's physicians, says Richard D. Hansen, vice president of the Medical Group Management Association Health Care Consulting Group.

Make sure, too, that someone provides a rundown of the information the recruit needs to function, including how the practice handles appointments, reception, billing, coding, computers, transcription, managed care organizations, payroll, marketing, call rotation, CME, and how the hospital operates. "In one group, a recently recruited ob/gyn was on night call for the first time," Hansen notes. "She was summoned to the hospital to do a delivery and couldn't get in. No one had told her that at night all the hospital's entrances are locked, except for the emergency room."