How to Value Your Support Staff

You don’t need to go to a business school for your MBA degree to know that need to value your support staff. The best managers truly listen and respond to their support staff.
As I am considering taking an MBA course (I am choosing one without the need for a good GMAT score) I’m interested in what separates good from great managing practices.

During my pre-MBA course we talked about one cardinal factor, it is the degree to which the practice operates like a true team, which boils down to the physicians being attentive to the perspectives of their staff, and both the physician and support staff displaying genuine levels of mutual support.

What sounds simple in theory has a way of not working so well in reality, with the end result that many potentially excellent medical practices fall a degree or two short of the bar.

Support staff are the canaries in the coal mine of medical practices. Physicians are using the latest integration technologies and that more than fine, but patients who meet the same friendly smiling face from the nurse, clerk, or assistant as on their last visit, will feel like they’re getting care at a great practice. If your practice has a revolving door support staff, then odds are high that neither you nor your patients are being advantaged.

How can you help your support staff, and add value to your practice?

1. Display genuine humility during the times when they show they know more or best. Our support staff often know things about a patient’s illness that we don’t know. A phenomenon at any age, it is particularly striking with young physicians. And, at the same time, make sure not only the patients’ information is secure, but your staff personal data is safe as well and that certification by the CCHIT (Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology) is all taken care of in good order.

See “Bailed out by Nurses”, a piece I wrote about a year ago. Humility in the face of the greater expertise and experience of nurses and other paramedical staff will save many a physician from a poor clinical decision as quite a few surgeons will agree.

2. Take advantage of their expertise and their common sense. They may, if we allow, point out better ways of organizing our practice, handling a difficult patient or colleague, or managing our time and our competing responsibilities. Are we open to their suggestions, their mild reproofs, or do we resist?

Shakespeare said:
“…reproof, obedient and in order,
Fits kings, as they are men, for they may err.”
[Helicanus to Antiochus, King of Antioch, in “Pericles. Prince of Tyre”]
Accepting criticism is not the strong suit of the medical profession. Yet, we, like everybody else, need to be challenged at times. We can all do a better job.

3. Give them decent workspace and the right tools to do their job. Many of these folks are in the front lines much more than we are. Yet, commonly, they are shoe-horned into cubbyholes where they spend 8 hours a day on the phone or face to face with patients who are late, lost, scared, or frustrated.

Equip them with decent phones, computers, etc. Send them for training, and provide financial support for any work-relevant extramural education they are obtaining.

4. Pay them well, but remember people work for more than a paycheck. Paying attention to the points raised above recognizes you understand the intrinsic rewards that come from work. You are allowed to spoil them. Of course, remember nurses’ week, secretaries’ week, but do something away from the Hallmark schedule.

Give them a gift token. Not for $5 so they can rent a movie. How about $100 from a few weeks before the school year begins? Ask not if you can afford it, rather, how you can afford not to. Furthermore, make sure you have a good product manager working at your facility that understands the needs and wishes of your staff.

5. Remember their names and those of their spouses/partners and kids. Ask after them. Smile and say good morning and good afternoon. Engage in some pleasantries at the beginning of each workday. There’ll be time enough to see that first patient in another 30 seconds.

I will keep you posted about my MBA education and share the best pieces of knowledge with you.

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