A Basic Guide to Brilliantly Staffing Your Optometry Practice

So, you’ve gone to school, passed your boards, have that piece of gold called a license in your hand, and you’re ready to open or take over the practice you’ve always dreamed of. Do you know who you want standing beside you each day? Representing you? Unless you’ve solved the mystery of how to do everything on your own, the answer to those questions is a fabulous, efficient staff.

Staffing your optometry practice can be one of the most challenging responsibilities of running a practice, regardless of if you are starting from scratch or taking over an established clinic. To help you, I’ve outlined 10 key points to remember when building the team who will be the heart of your optometry practice. Let’s get started…

1. Identify the Positions You Need

Optometry practices exist in so many sizes and structures that figuring out which and how many employees you need can be overwhelming. However, remember that, like clothes, staff members are much easier to add on than take away. So, think it through and try your best not to over-staff.

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When opening a practice from scratch as a new graduate, there are a few positions that are integral and others that you can add later. A good receptionist is priceless. He or she will be the face of your practice and the voice on the end of the line when your patients call. Take your time when selecting this person. In fact, if you can only afford one employee in the beginning, start with a good receptionist.

Another employee to strongly consider is an insurance and billing specialist. While most of our optometry schools introduce billing and coding to us, there is more to this process than they could ever cover in the midst of all our other classes. We all know the insurance world is changing rapidly, and having an employee who is trained in this area will allow you to make sure you aren’t missing out on any reimbursements and aren’t putting yourself at increased risk for an audit.

An optician is an employee that can be a huge asset, but you may not be busy enough to warrant a full-time position at first. If you’re starting out cold, I highly recommend considering cross-training your receptionist or billing coordinator to function as your optician. Eventually, though, you’ll want to have a dedicated person who is comfortable with sales to make sure you’re getting the most out of your optical.

As a new grad building a practice for yourself, you will most likely have enough time to work up your own patients in the beginning, even if you may not necessarily want to. That means a technician can be an employee added after the clinic starts to grow. Other positions to consider once the practice is on its feet are a check-out person so that you can avoid a traffic jam at the front desk, a scribe for your exams, and an office manager.

As I mentioned earlier, try to avoid hiring too many staff. When you have more people than you need, your staff won’t have enough work to keep steadily busy. While you don’t want to be stretched too thin, too much downtime opens the door to complacency and drama amongst staff. Plus, it’s not the best for your budget.

2. Utilize multiple tools in the selection process

When you get ready to find an employee, use as many tools as you can to find that perfect fit. There are several job boards that are available to you to post the position. You can post your optometry job to multiple career sites at once, including here on NewGradOptometry, by posting on CovalentCareers.

Some of these boards, such as Craigslist, are free. Others will charge. While the fees may seem steep, often the quality of resumes will be higher on the paid sites. Some sites will offer packages that allow you to post your ad to their site, and then they will take care of posting it to other boards for you. This is a great way to reach a large number of candidates.

Once you’ve gotten some resumes you like, don’t be afraid to do more than interview. Actually call the references, though keep in mind, most professional references will only be able to confirm former employment and tell you whether or not the person is eligible for rehire. Personal references can tell you more.

Quizzes testing the candidate’s knowledge of the job can be very helpful, especially when hiring a skills-based position like a technician or billing specialist. A working interview gives the candidates the chance to show you that they are trainable, and background checks and drug testing are also worth considering. Unfortunately, the results can sometimes be surprising.

3. Know each position as if you were doing that job

staffing optometry practice Dr Patricia Fulmer
Dr. Fulmer training an oph tech on Goldmann Tonometry

It is extremely important to fully know the job you are hiring for. The best way to do that is to teach yourself each position as if you were going to be the one working in that role. By becoming familiar with each job in your optometry practice, you’ll be able to recognize the best candidates, better describe the requirements to your future hire, and make sure your employees are doing their job correctly.

4. Protocols are your friend

I know, I know. There are very few things more boring than the idea of a bunch of protocols, but there’s also very few things that will help you more when it comes to running a staff. A good company manual that each employee has read and signed, along with your expectations outlined in black and white, will benefit you in many ways.

Protocols will not only help eliminate possible legal problems, but they will also help the clinic run smoothly, cut down on feelings of favoritism among your staff, and give them a standard to work by.

It’s best, when first putting your manual together, to have a practice management firm or staffing expert review it to make sure you’ve covered all the necessary legal areas. Your manual is meant to protect both your staff and your practice.

5. Train, train, and cross-train

Training doesn’t only occur when a staff member is first hired. It is important to complete extensive training for a new employee, but we have to remember to continue the process throughout employment. Encourage your staff to try to find ways to improve themselves, and always keep your eyes open for articles, webinars, and new technology that can help you further train your team.

Once an employee is fully trained at their position, make sure to cross-train. You never know when someone may unexpectedly call-out or be unable to work, but if you have a truly cross-trained staff, the unexpected doesn’t have to cripple your day.

6. Don’t be afraid to have a standard and stick to it

Most new graduates have an idea of the kind of amazing career and practice they want to have when they graduate. They want a staff that is caring and efficient and mirrors the high standard that they want to portray. This is a GREAT mentality. Hold on to it.

It is absolutely okay to demand a standard of performance from your staff that meets your expectations. Sometimes, as new docs, we get caught up in wanting our staff to like us and allow certain behavior to slide to avoid having to correct an employee. Try not to do that. Your staff will respect you much more if you are fair in upholding your standards the same way toward each team member.

Remember… your staff is human. They’ll have their bad days. But if they know what you expect and you’re consistent with those expectations, those days will be few and far between.

7. Make time for reviews

Employee reviews are something that both staff and supervisors tend to try to avoid. It can be uncomfortable to conduct a review when a staff member isn’t performing to standard. Despite that, try to keep in mind that these reviews are important.

Reviews give you one-on-one time to sit down with each of your employees and have an open dialogue. While reviews are a time to address issues that need to be corrected, they are also a great opportunity to praise your team members and listen to what they have to say. Giving your staff both positive and constructive feedback shows that you are aware of the quality of job that is being done and that you want them to grow within the practice.

optometry staffing dr fulmer
Dr. Fulmer training training with her surgery coordinator

8. Lead by example

Your staff will be looking to you as a guide for the dedication, attitude, and work-ethic that is expected in the practice. Try to always keep that in mind. New graduates, like their staff, can’t be perfect or upbeat every single day, but making a constant effort to try to show your excitement for optometry and your passion for your patients and practice will help your staff maintain the same attitude. There will be days that this tip is hard to follow, but you can do it.

9. Ask your patients/fellow new grads for feedback

As we’ve all been told before, it doesn’t matter how wonderful the doctor is if the patients don’t have a good experience with the practice’s staff. Have you ever gone to an appointment, really liked your doctor, but left with an overall feeling of dissatisfaction because of your dealings with the staff? I have, and it most definitely influenced my decision on whether or not to return.

When you’re in the exam room, ask your patients how their experience has been. Consider having occasional anonymous surveys that will allow your patients to give feedback.

Also, when your classmate calls your office to ask your opinion about that bizarre patient they had that day, ask them what their impression was of the person that answered the phone. Were they friendly? Based on that interaction, would your colleague want to be a patient in your practice?

10. Always remember your staff represents YOU

Your practice is the fruit of the hours and hours of work you’ve put in to be a part of the optometry world. Your staff represents that practice and you. Do all you can to make sure they portray the image you are trying to build for yourself, and don’t be afraid to part ways with those who don’t stand for your standards. As a new graduate, you have the opportunity to make your image and your staff what you want it to be.

As you build your team, you’ll make mistakes. People will fool you. You’ll wonder if you interviewed Dr. Jekyll but he sent Mr. Hyde to work instead. That’s okay! Don’t get discouraged. Don’t give up. You’ll find that chemistry that makes a great team. Staffing is not a perfect science, but keeping these 10 points in mind will help make the process easier. Good luck, new graduate, and happy interviewing!

About Patricia Fulmer O.D.

Patricia Fulmer O.D.
Patricia is a 2012 graduate of The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry and former AOSA National Liaison to the AAO. After graduation, she moved to Amarillo, TX, to complete her residency in Ocular Disease and Primary Care at the Thomas E. Creek VA Hospital. Patricia is the current Center Director for VisionAmerica of Huntsville, a co-management practice specializing in secondary and tertiary care, cataract surgery, strabismus, and oculoplastics in Huntsville, AL. She recently earned her Fellowship in the American Academy of Optometry at the 2015 meeting in New Orleans. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, attending concerts, art, and Alabama football.

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