I happen to receive many reader questions, and an interesting one was posed to me just the other day. It made me sit and reevaluate my practice staffing operations. The question was from an OD who was opening a brand new practice: How much staff would I recommend at the onset of the practice opening? I wondered, in retrospect, would I do anything differently now? The answer was yes. I think the perspective I gained is valuable for both new and existing practices.
In the Beginning…
When I first opened my practice, my goals for staffing the office were simple: hire one or two motivated candidates with optical background (I didn’t have time to train someone because I was working elsewhere as well as in my new practice at the time). This person or persons would set up office procedures, answer phones, schedule appointments and gradually work into busier times at the office. At that time, I had to decide if I wanted one full-time staffer or two part-timers to have more flexibility. I ended up hiring one full-time staffer who was not afraid of taking on the daunting task of helping a new practice get on its feet.
You Win, You Lose
I was fortunate to have a go-getter staff member who did wonderfully in the first several months. But, I was really concerned that this person would burn out. Although he assured me he was doing fine, the daunting task of manning the office full time while I was only there part-time was starting to wear on him. He had no back-up and no one else to help him complete daily tasks. Additionally, I started to get nervous that I was putting all the proverbial eggs in just one basket. I started to contemplate a few scary scenarios. What if he got sick for an extended period of time? What if he quit? Would I know everything there was to know about his daily work? I know
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almost every practice owner intends to know her practice inside and out, but I will tell you this: realistically there is not enough time in the day to know every single task your staff members do every day. It is not a valuable use of your time to order nose pads when you could be examining a patient or networking to build your practice.
The Cart Before the Horse?
The other factor I considered was financial. Could I afford to add a part-timer when I was still scratching around to pay my bills? The same concepts apply to established practices. Do you hire additional staff after you become busier, or hire them to handle anticipated busier times? I’ve tried to live right on the edge of “practice as you mean to go,” which often means you take a leap of faith. After all, opening a practice is just that. In this area, however, I faltered. My staffer continued to try and put on a brave face and I believed he was doing all right. It was only after a meltdown and obvious under-staffed times that I made the decision to hire an additional staff member. Ironically, my third staff member came only a month later as I became aware of how much smoother the office was running. Production increases soon followed.
In hindsight, I should have hired that second staff member months sooner. Looking back to the start of my office, I think I would have been well-served to hire a full-timer and part-timer right away. Yes, the financial burden would have initially been greater. But, the peace of mind in knowing that I had back-up, my staff had more than one person to complete the work, and my office would not compromise customer service would have been well worth it.
I encourage all offices to examine their staffing operations. You may just find peace of mind is only one more staffer away!
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