Practice Management Channel

How I Contribute to Practice Culture As an Associate OD

By Suzanne LaKamp, OD, FAAO

April 17, 2019

Practice culture is dependent on more than the practice owner and leader; all doctors and staff who work at the practice make an important contribution. The culture that is collaboratively created then impacts patient care and service, and, ultimately profitability. Here’s how I learned about helping to foster an effective culture at my shared OD-MD practice, and how as an associate, I continue to make an impact.

It’s important for everyone, including associates, to work toward a culture that will help the practice succeed, as a more successful practice is good for the entire practice, not just the owners.

Our practice vision could be stated as: “We are experts in laser vision correction, taking care of patients by getting them the freedom of great vision without dependence on glasses or contacts.”

Culture Lessons from a Mentor
I learned about practice culture most from my mentor, Harry S. Campbell, the former CEO of our practice, Durrie Vision.
He is a leading executive for various industries, including as past president for two Fortune 500 companies, Proctor & Gamble/ Walmart Customer Team, Embarq, an internet startup, sports teams and healthcare. I am lucky to have worked with him for over four years.

Culture is defined by people, practices and performance. The right people, without workplace friction, can lead a practice to measurable success. At Durrie Vision, we build our culture on trust, transparency, fairness and support.

Trust with management and leaders. The absence of trust will breakdown a team and create a dysfunctional business.

Transparency. This means knowing the larger goals the practice is working toward, and exactly what is expected of each employee.

Fairness. Fairness translates into owners not showing favoritism with OD employees, or any of the doctors showing favoritism with support staff. It also means being inclusive for all individuals in a team.

Support. Harry would troubleshoot potentially problematic situations (such as too many requests for time off with staff) starting from a “yes” position, and then work his way backwards. A manager can help get individuals what they need as long as it isn’t harmful to the team or the business.

Solidify Ideal Culture in Staff Meetings
We have monthly staff meetings to discuss clinical topics, practice news, targets for growing the number of new patient exams and surgeries and the practice’s larger goals. We also include announcements of upcoming employee birthdays and work anniversaries.

At the end of meeting, a PowerPoint slide is presented with an illustration showing that the heart of the practice starts with the team, followed by great patient care, which leads to the good results.

Communicate Ideal Culture to Patients
Treating employees well carries forward to great patient care. Respecting and listening to staff creates a positive atmosphere, which is contagious. Also, if employees buy into the practice vision, patients are more likely to as well. You have to take care of staff before you can take care of patients.

It’s the little gestures, such as offering to grab patients a water or coffee, that standout in the practice. A lot of little things done well is cumulative.

After we participate in community events, or charities, we post photos and news of it on social media, on our practice Facebook page.

Participating in local charities goes a long way to showing the community your practice’s culture.

Our practice participates in annual races that support Head For the Cure, a non-profit that raises awareness and money for brain cancer research. We also support Team Kris Campbell, named for Harry’s wife. Kris was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor, and continues to help Harry with fundraising efforts. To date, the Campbells have raised over $350,000.

In addition, the practice is a sponsor for the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired (CCVI). One of the major community events employees participate in to support CCVI is the Trolley Run, a 5k race.

Make Continuous Improvement to Culture
The emphasis in our practice used to be patients were taken care of first, followed by staff, and then the doctors. Harry changed this. The culture now prioritizes the team, which takes care of patients, and, in turn, drives results.

Harry discusses culture, with numerous real-work examples, in his book, “Get-Real Culture.” He talks about “imprinting” the desired culture. A strong culture can last beyond certain people or leaders, and carry forward in a business.  Another great book Harry wrote related to company culture is “Get-Real Leadership.”

Provide Input, Even If You’re Not an Owner or Partner
I have one-on-one meetings with my supervisor in which I note possible improvements like how we can be more personable with patients, and provide more individualized care. When I first joined the practice, the owners reached out to me to get my assessment of the practice culture since I was seeing it with fresh eyes.

I told them I noticed negativity in attitude among some of the support staff in my first year. This wasn’t new or shocking at the time to my supervisor. Annual employee surveys revealed the same negativity that I had noticed. Since that time, we have implemented new practices in how staff are managed, hired additional employees, which has lessened the workload burden, and improved communication between supervisors and employees.

Keep Tabs on Practice Culture By Surveying Employees and Patients
The workplace culture is not a fixed environment, and will naturally shift with the people, place and staff management approaches that are taken. One of the ways to define and to monitor culture is with annual employee surveys. Harry predates my employment by about a year. He administered surveys, and tracked the results over the years. He used this tool to illuminate practice culture via employee engagement. Highly engaged employees are business advocates who are more likely to stay in their jobs, and help grow a practice.

I interviewed with Harry years ago, and remember we talked about workplace culture. After starting, there was no formal training about culture. Observing and working with each other is how we learn the ideal culture. I have since learned that hiring nice people outweighs certain skills–hire for personality and attitude, train for skill, as they say. Nice people help create a better culture!

Make Work-Life Balance a Part of Your Culture
Last year we moved into a new, larger space. This has enabled us to host most of our after-hour events in our own office, allowing employees to get home faster.

Employee camaraderie is important, but, at the end of the day, employees want to get home to family. Recognizing the need for work-life balance has improved our culture. Employees appreciate that the practice owners understand that their family comes first.



Suzanne LaKamp, OD, FAAO, is an associate at Durrie Vision in Overland Park, Kan. To contact:

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