By Justin Manning, OD, MPH, FAAO
August 25, 2021
An associate OD can expand and enhance the care your practice provides while growing patient volume and profitability. Here are key steps to take to ensure the one you hire will help you reach your practice goals.
Determine Whether an Associate OD Makes Sense Financially
A practice needs to be ready financially and physically to support an associate OD. How far booked out is/are the current doctor(s)? Twenty-five percent of patients will go somewhere else if they can’t get in within two weeks, according to Williams Group. Can you optimize your schedule further to see more patients without adding an OD? Do you have the physical space and staffing to support an associate OD? Will the associate be full-time or part-time? Will the current doctor or doctors be reducing their schedule, or will the new associate be seeing patients on top of the normal schedule for existing doctors? Do you have the exam rooms and staffing available to support this new associate in whatever capacity you’re planning to add them?
The average gross revenue per full time OD is over $800,000, and our friends at Williams Group report that a focused OD can gross $1.2 million seeing patients four days a week. It’s important to evaluate where you and/or your partners compare to this before considering adding an associate. These numbers certainly won’t happen right away with a full-time associate, but it is a benchmark you should keep in mind. It’s a unique paradox.
A practice brings in an associate to lighten the patient load and be able to see new patients that are being booked out weeks in advance. However, a new associate will not be able to fill their schedule with all new patients right out of the gate, so the associate will be seeing more established patients at the beginning. Do you have enough existing patient demand to support this process?
Identify Exactly What You Want From an Associate
How many new patients do you expect the associate to bring in per month or in their first year? Are you hiring an associate to bring in a new specialty that you don’t already offer? Do you expect the associate to live in your community? Do you expect them to get involved with community groups, market themselves to other physicians, or find other ways of gaining new patients? Are you expecting an associate who will be able to buy into, or ultimately, buy out the practice or do you have no plans for partnership? Defining these expectations upfront will help you determine the type of individual you want as an associate and communicate these expectations clearly throughout the on-boarding process and beyond.
Advertise the Job Opening in Multiple Places
There are physician recruitment services available for recruiting associate ODs, but they are often costly. Leverage job sites like Indeed and Monster. Most colleges of optometry have Practice Opportunities sections on their website where you can post your opening. Now that in-person meetings are being held again, most state association and national meetings have networking events for job seekers to connect with practices looking for opportunities. Finally, social media is also a good option. There are often Facebook groups for ODs and young ODs in specific areas where you can post your listing.
Develop a List of Effective Interview Questions
In addition to clinical acumen and reliability, you want an associate who is a team player, who is eager to work with the other doctors and support staff to achieve practice goals. Patrick Lencioni defines the ideal team player as one who is “hungry, humble and smart.” “Smart” in this case refers to having strong emotional intelligence. Here are questions that will help you determine if the potential associate is likely to be an effective team player:
In your current role, were you able to make changes or offer new ideas for the practice? If so, what new idea or change did you help implement?
What are your one-, three- and five-year goals?
Tell us about a time you had a challenging clinical case. How did you handle it, and what would you have done better?
Tell us about a time you had an upset patient. How did you handle it, and what would you have done differently?
If we asked the staff at your last practice (could also be residency or externship site), to share their opinion of you, what would they likely say?
What is it about our practice that excites you about potentially working here?
Tell us why we shouldn’t hire you.
If we were to expand *insert specialty care*, what are the steps you would take to make sure we’d be successful?
Tell us about the best job you’ve ever had. What did you enjoy most about it?
Tell us about the first job you had. How did you learn the ropes?
Think About How Well They Will Fit Into Your Practice Culture
One of the biggest ways you can get a sense of how the individual will fit in the practice is how they treat your team when they arrive for an interview. Does your front desk or other team members get excited about them as a prospective associate? Do they treat your team well or exude a self-perception of superiority?
Consider taking them out to dinner outside of an interview. If applicable, include significant others. A lot can be learned about someone in a less stressful, less formal environment.
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Once Hired, Mentor Them
Mentor the new associate, especially if you’ve identified that you both have a buy-in or buy-out goal in the future. From a career development standpoint, investing in the associate’s skills will not only bring your practice greater success, but also greater satisfaction and engagement for the associate. Provide positive feedback when the associate exceeds expectations, provides exceptional patient care or demonstrates/lives out a core value of your practice. Provide feedback for growth when the associate falls short and provide them the tools and resources necessary to improve.
HERE is a great article Harvard Business Review on “What Good Feedback Really Looks Like.”
Introduce the New Associate to Your Community
Introduce the doctor (and perhaps their family if they have one) on your practice’s social media pages and in an e-blast to all of your patients. If print media is still popular in your area, consider an announcement in the local paper. I recommend creating short social media/video snippets recorded by the new associates as “Get To Know” segments. Consider referring your own internal patients to the associate for specialty medical or niche care. It is essential that the owner/partner communicate to their patients how much they trust the new associate.
If you have close relationships with referring providers, consider taking the new associate to the practices and introducing them to the other providers OR host an upscale provider dinner or hors d’oeuvres to introduce the associate.
At the center of the doctor-patient and provider-referral relationships is trust. Do everything you can to instill trust in the associate you’ve brought on.
Photo credit, top of page: Getty Images