Personnel management is crucial skill for new doctors

January 1, 2006

You're a new dermatologist starting a life of serving others. The long years of medical schooling and training are about to pay off, and you're ready to apply what you've learned to the treatment of your patients. You're anxious to make those sometimes difficult decisions that, you hope, will cure their ills or ease their pain, help them look better and help them feel better. In short, their well-being — sometimes even their lives — will be in your hands.

You're a new dermatologist starting a life of serving others. The long years of medical schooling and training are about to pay off, and you're ready to apply what you've learned to the treatment of your patients. You're anxious to make those sometimes difficult decisions that, you hope, will cure their ills or ease their pain, help them look better and help them feel better. In short, their well-being - sometimes even their lives - will be in your hands.

The easy part

And that, relatively speaking, is the easy part when you're starting out, says Naomi Lawrence, M.D., who heads the Center for Dermatologic Surgery in Marlton, N.J. and is associate professor of clinical medicine and director of dermatologic surgery at Cooper University Hospital in nearby Camden.

Dr. Lawrence speaks frequently on the topic of personnel management. It's a good thing that she and other physicians make it a point to talk about the topic, for as thorough and conscientiously as this country's medical schools teach doctors-to-be to be doctors, they often fall short when it comes to teaching the fundamentals of business in general - and personnel management in particular.

Have a vision

When starting out, new doctors must have a vision, Dr. Lawrence says, whether starting their own practice or joining one. That vision should focus on four main factors: Efficiency of practice, how patients are treated, how the office acts as a team and the level of work they're willing to do.

"In your own practice, you have a role as the boss, and to be a good boss it's important you remember to act like one," Dr. Lawrence tells Dermatology Times. "You have to understand roles and responsibilities. You have to be involved, be approachable and willing to listen, but you have to stop short of being a friend."

New doctors joining an established practice can learn much from observing, and those lessons can be applied to their own practice if they ever start one, Dr. Lawrence says.

"Observe how the physician treats the staff, and how the staff treats the physician, and observe how they act and interact with you," Dr. Lawrence says. "You should expect professional behavior and respect from the staff, and you need to know what you are able to do if someone doesn't meet your expectations. Ask questions and get answers."

Hiring

Asking questions and getting answers is crucial in the hiring process, too, and, as a boss, new doctors eventually - if not immediately - will be hiring staff persons. It's important that everyone in the practice talk to the interviewee, who should be prepared to spend half a day, even a whole day, on the process. Remember, too, that benefits and a decent salary will go a long way toward bringing a loyal, committed employee into your practice.

When interviewing prospective employees, Dr. Lawrence suggests asking questions that will get them talking.

"Ask them to tell you about themselves, and try to pick up on diction, grammar and attitude," she says. "Questions like 'What kind of job are you looking for' can lead to establishing their willingness to cross-train, for example. Use questions that can help you determine their temperament . . . 'Are you a morning person,' for instance, has always worked for me."

Evaluating

Once the hiring is done, employee performances must be evaluated - and Dr. Lawrence strongly suggests that evaluations be done weekly for the first three months after hiring, then a six-month review and then a yearly review after the first year and beyond.