Despite its grounding in science, medicine is a people profession. Doctors and medical staff find themselves dealing with patients at of all ages and cultures, sometimes at the most exciting and delightful times of their lives, like organising travel immunisations, or having a baby. At others, they find themselves dealing with people during frightening or traumatic periods, such as when they have been given a serious diagnosis or are concerned about the health of a loved one.  

Staff need to be able to deal with, and interact with, people who are joyful, angry, arrogant, fearful, confused, depressed …. the list goes on. And, in many cases, there is no preparing staff for what a patient will present with from one day to the next. Therefore, it’s critical to build a multi-skilled, cohesive, resilient team who can cope with the good days and the bad, and still get the job done.

Using recruitment best practice to build your practice can help overcome the following challenges.

  1. Building an integrated team.

Administrative staff not only have to be skilled in all of the processes and technology you use to track patient care, they need to also have a thorough understanding of how the medical profession works – referals, lab testing, surgery waiting lists and hospital bookings etc. Similarly, medical staff should have thorough knowledge of how your administrative processes work so they can follow them competently and completely. This is critical to building a robust and integrated team to deliver the best possible care to patients. This can be a big challenge for small practices, but in small practices it is often more imperative that staff have the opportunity to build knowledge across different areas so that they can multi-task if need be. Extra training can be costly with people ‘out of the business’ for periods of time but staff should be encouraged to take up professional development opportunities and time should be factored in for post-conference or study debriefing (where appropriate) so the newly learned skills and information can to be brought back to the business and shared for the benefit of all team members. Small practices need to be clear with staff that a “it’s-not-my-job” mentality is not tolerated within the culture and that team members are required (and expected) to have some level of cross-training covering various compatible areas of the practice, as well as ‘pitch in’ when needed.

  1. Finding qualified staff and keeping them

It takes a special kind of personality to work with sick people. Recruitment best practice means that you need to recruit on a skills-basis, but also look for someone who has a good ‘bedside’ manner and who will get along with existing members of your team – personality conflicts can really wreak havoc. It can be tough finding the right person – but there are agencies who can help you recruit, and who can provide you with locum staff until you settle on a permanent team member. The challenge once you’ve discovered the ‘perfect fit’ for your practice, is ensuring you put together an attractive remuneration package that won’t stretch your budget. Large hospitals and big city-based practices can usually offer staff many perks, obviously this is harder when you run a small practice with smaller profit margins. Look for staff incentives that don’t cost you – but will actually help you to build your practice. Providing a defined career path is one way you can attract high calibre people, especially young star graduates keen to learn and progress. Can you afford to assist with study fees? A gym membership or an organised discount at the local organics store are not expensive ‘perks’ – and healthy staff mean less sick days. Flexible hours and generous annual leave entitlements are another value-add. The cost of locum staff while your people are on leave will never outweigh the benefits of refreshed, enthusiastic, loyal staff. While recruitment best practice is to offer wages in line with the profession’s industry standards, try to think outside the square to offer incentives that will attract and retain good people. 

  1. Avoiding staff burnout

Burnout is a harsh (and increasing) reality across the profession as GP practices get busier and the wider health care system continually undergoes change, with pharmaceutical breakthroughs, advances in technology and the growing emergence of ‘integrated healthcare’ that looks well beyond symptoms to lifestyles and social factors too. While it’s important to encourage your team to be congnisant of their own stress levels, ensure they have adequate access to resources and support if needed. Most importantly create a team culture that enables them to feel comfortable speaking up when they are not coping.

  1. Staying in touch with staff

In a busy practice, particularly when business is humming along well, it’s easy to forget that occasionally, the petrol needs topping up, the tyres need changing and the oil needs checking. By building in to your budget, your culture and your schedule, time for formal team meetings and also fun team outings, outside of clinic hours, you can provide ways to communicate and stay in touch with staff, and keep on top of any issues that staff are potentially facing – whether it’s a software glitch or a problem with a supplier or even conflict between team members – being aware of issues and working to remedy them as soon as possible allows your team members to feel like they have a voice and they are heard. Being responsive to issues makes them feel validated, which plays a big part in job satisfaction and staff retention. It’s important to give staff the opportunity to come up with potential solutions too – often the best ideas come from the most unexpected places.

While we go out of our way to provide quality heatavoiding, burnout, h care to our patients, we should also apply the same philosophy to our staff, to ensure they feel empowered and supported and part of a well-functioning team. The results will be less staff turnover and a happier working environment, which not only benefits the practice, but patients as well. And this will enable you to run your practice more efficiently and effectively, long term.

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