How Ophthalmologists Can Mentor Ophthalmic Techs for Practice Success

Apr 1, 2020
11 min read

Now more than ever, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, ophthalmology practices and healthcare organizations are faced with the unknown. It is important to recognize that this article not only covers how mentoring techs can create a foundation for excellence, but also that when there is dire need to align together in times of uncertainty, mentorship becomes even more crucial. Ophthalmic Technicians need guidance from their mentors: as ophthalmologists, you are the professionals they look up to, who they are proud to support.

Mentoring ophthalmic technicians: how ophthalmologists can help

Career development for an ophthalmic tech is essential for the entire team to collaborate well and ultimately achieve the highest patient satisfaction. I frequently receive feedback from patients where they can tell how experienced a tech may be. As amazing as my current tech team is, it sometimes happens that a patient will think a tech does not know what they are doing, even if the tech is highly competent in another scenario. When a tech lacks confidence, they can seem at a loss to patients. To build the confidence they need, the mentorship of an eyecare MD/OD is imperative.

Focusing on the patient’s satisfaction is one of the many important ways to run a practice, because a strong staff-provider relationship improves the most important factor in a practice: patient safety and fulfillment. After all, the patient can choose to go anywhere for their eyecare. You want them to choose the team that puts their safety and gratification first. By witnessing the relationship building and teamwork from the tech and provider, a patient can form a stronger bond with their eyecare team. Patients need to feel like they are part of their care plan, and it’s important we show them we are working diligently together to present and continually provide top quality care.

Both ophthalmologists and optometrists rely on their techs for the initial patient introduction and workup. This includes:

  • ancillary testing
  • dilation
  • laser safety protocols
  • proper room set-up
  • refractions
  • explaining the duration of the visit at every encounter with the patient
  • equipment calibrations
  • updating patient histories

And that’s not even a complete list! Mentoring certified and uncertified ophthalmic technicians is a more than a simple relationship strategy. It takes a great deal of time to make the effort needed to foster these relationships.

How leadership teams can foster mentorship

Outside of work hours, it’s crucial that the team meet and speak about cases, issues, concerns and questions.

Leadership presence and visibility is very impactful to the tech when the practice coordinator, office manager, operations manager, director and division chief are on the same page and leading by example. The leadership team must be supportive of the time needed for in-services between the tech and the provider teams. They need to support the dedicated training, again outside of work hours or on a conference day with minimal patients, providers and staff around so that the entire team can connect and learn without distraction.

Even if I support the techs and eye providers carving out time for development, I still need to help make time to facilitate by scheduling meetings amongst the groups and helping to set up the logistics for an in-service or special training event. The success of the tech and my other direct reports is one of the major components and most rewarding aspects of my job. When it comes to team engagement and the patient experience, you have to dive into what your staff and providers ultimately deserve.

Making time to be available to them is key. You owe them this time because of the type of practice you are trying to create—a practice whose providers support one another and push themselves to achieve personal and mutual goals. Preparing for training sessions is a consistent amount of work which takes time every day for the entire year.

This daily effort means thinking long-term, as well. At our practice, techs go through an annual competency process, during which they need managers and doctors with the expertise to evaluate their knowledge and improvement areas. The support from the ophthalmologist and a Lead Technician is necessary in order to complete the annual competency process. Over the course of a year, it's the manager’s job to give feedback on performance and more. It is then the duty of ophthalmologist and optometrist teams to help guide the tech to learn all they can in that given year.

These key elements of development can help your practice achieve the excellence you need

Ophthalmic technicians are either certified or uncertified. In most practices the goal is for the uncertified tech to become certified within 18 months of hire. Some practices take this more seriously than others, holding the 18 month standard or terminating the tech. This is a tough standard, but essential when trying to run a practice that needs all techs to work to their utmost potential and level of expertise.

If you work in an environment where the uncertified tech cannot administer drops, you run into a serious problem in your workflow. The uncertified tech will have to consistently interrupt the certified tech to administer drops for a patient and leave their current patient idle or their next patient delayed during this process. This can create major havoc and your patient could experience great delays which we want to eliminate as much as possible.

Set up a career ladder for your tech team

This is where mentorship and career growth come in. Setting up a tech ladder offers clear rewards as techs advance in their career development and certification. Techs should be able to advance to a lead tech role or senior tech role, should that be offered at a practice.

Setting this up is time consuming, but it’s another opportunity for team cohesion. The lead tech could assist the administrative manager with updates to their annual competency process. They could also partner with the ophthalmologist or optometrist to lead in-services or lunch and learn retreats with the rest of the tech team. The lead tech can be a mentor especially to the uncertified techs, offering their knowledge and extraordinary example for them to push hard when trying to finish and complete their upcoming certification exam.

From a management perspective, if the techs don’t have a tech leader, it will be very difficult for the manager to identify the needs of the group. There has to be an expert tech in the group based on their years of service, exceptional performance and more. That tech leader and the administrative manager must have a solid relationship, as the manager will need to communicate the needs of the tech group to MD and administrative leadership as well as the group of eyecare providers who are part of the team.

Explore in-house learning opportunities

When it comes to setting systems in place for ophthalmic tech career development, ask your doctors! When I’ve spoken to ophthalmologists and optometrists about furthering the development of the ophthalmic techs in our practice, several have offered their time to help set up learning sessions such as:

  • Slit lamp exam teaching
  • Regular one on ones with the tech and an MD or OD
  • Study sessions for non-certified techs on the weekend (off hours) meeting at our practice’s affiliated medical school library
  • Observation hours with the MD/OD in clinic, including observation of post-ops with the surgeon (day one cataract surgery post-op and longer)
  • Lunch and Learns in a dedicated meeting space to go over an MD’s subspecialty. Example: Neuro-ophth inservices, going over the understanding, history, exams and specific patient cases
  • Ophthalmology Division providers volunteered to assist the administrative manager with the annual competency process
  • Live demonstrations of each testing equipment and break down of tech work up
  • Observe and shadow rotating residents, observe how the residents interact with the ophthalmologist. What is in their on-call bag, and what equipment can be taught to the tech that the resident utilizes most? (Portable slit lamp, medications, learning about on call consults, etc.)
  • Working closely with the practice surgery scheduler to understand how post-ops work in terms of scheduling and the concerns patients may have pre-op as well as post-op

If teaching is a priority in your practice setting, these options will be easier to set up (especially if your setting is academic). Finding which options are both possible for your practice and beneficial for your techs is key!

Focus on—and reward—cross-training

Many techs who are working in eyecare may not have always had the vision and dream to initially become an Ophthalmic Technician. They may have had a strong interest solely based on the collaborative environment and focus on education and growth of the office where they began their career.

I work on a team where several non-clinical employees have been inspired and found an interest in becoming a tech based on the level of skilled learning, nurturing environment, and the overall outcome of a new and exciting career that still involves the same specialty. Those who start off from another non-clinical position may take more time to get up to speed than a certified tech who is hired with experience, but they are held to the same standards when it comes to certification.

Their “outside eyes” are extremely valuable as they can point out workflows or processes that either do or don't make sense considering their own pre-tech knowledge.

Most of the time I find these self- starters are go-getters, have high energy and end up being monumental members of the team. It's also always nice to witness the ophthalmology providers see this team member in a new light. We are all mutually grateful for the cross training that also comes with someone who knows several areas of the practice and its functions.

For instance, in our current times with COVID-19, the skeleton crew implemented and changed on a daily basis includes those who know the front desk check in/check out, tech duties, phones, admin work and more.

Keeping up with daily team huddles is essential (particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic)

The team I work on has monthly staff and provider meetings. My next goal is to implement a joined (staff and providers) team meeting which includes all that could take place quarterly. It's important that the entire team can receive updates together. With that, it’s also another dedicated source of time for a provider to hold a mini inservice or more. I know how much the staff would appreciate this, especially our technicians.

In addition to our monthly meetings, it's also very important to keep up with a daily huddle. The huddle can be in a written or in person format or both.

The huddles tie into the daily meeting that is needed to address current or past issues and work to try and resolve and prevent them with the entire team participating. It allows for a form of interaction which can help set up the rest of the day and prepare for any heads up items and areas to focus on. It is especially great to see ophthalmologists and optometrists participate and join in on the huddles because of how much it means to the staff and incredible technicians. It’s been fascinating to witness and be a part of their growth!

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About Whitney Griesbach, MHA

Operations Manager at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center with 13 years’ experience in Healthcare, and a passion for strategic planning, improving operational efficiencies and the patient experience. Whitney went to Fisher College for her undergraduate degree in Healthcare Management and …