As a founding physician with Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island (OCLI), I have watched the company grow from 6 doctors to 70 with an overall workforce of nearly 1,000 employees and locations in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Of course, now we have a human resources department who oversees our hiring, but I am still active in the process.
In this article, I will share what I have learned over the years and give you some insight into how OCLI attracts, finds, hires, and retains the best and brightest ophthalmologists in the field.
Step One: Assess your need
At OCLI, we typically bring on one to two new physicians each year. Knowing when to bring on a new doctor and building a consensus among the partners is key.
Consider two days vs two months
To determine if we need a new ophthalmologist, we first look at how far out our doctors’ schedules are booked. In the old days, it used to be a bragging point for your success to be able to say, “Hey, I'm booked out for two months.” In today's world, that's a practice killer. New patients are the lifeblood of a practice, and they want an appointment within a couple of days to a week—not two months down the road.
So, if one of our doctors is booked out two weeks or more, we will consider that perhaps that practice or department needs an additional doctor.
“Remember, if you have the staff to meet the demand, tomorrow’s appointments could become today’s appointments and be earning income right now.”
Establish a consensus
Next, you have to ensure the doctors your new hire will be working with understand the need for an additional team member and are willing to bring them into the fold and share the patient load, otherwise it is doomed to fail. This may involve explaining their incomes may dip slightly in the short-term, but will bounce back. Also, stress how the addition will be beneficial to all involved in the long run. And remind them this was the case when they came on board as well, and other doctors were willing to make a temporary sacrifice to help them succeed.
Once a need is determined and all parties are on board, it’s time to begin the search for the right doc.
Step Two: Attract top-notch ophthalmologists
As I mentioned, at OCLI, we have a human resources department, but for both small and large practices, I would offer the same advice: understand that hiring is an ongoing process and then cast a wide net.
Keep a constant presence on ophthalmology job boards
To get the top candidates, particularly those just finishing their fellowships, we often start the talent acquisition process a year in advance. We also make certain to always have job postings live on the most pertinent hiring websites.
“The cost of missing a great candidate greatly outweighs the small cost of keeping your job listing live on a consistent basis.”
Cast a wide net by advertising on ophthalmology job boards
We post on all the society sites, such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO), American Glaucoma Society (AGS), American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS), and so on. We also post in industry publications, like Ocular Surgery News and Ophthalmology Times, and on eyecare-specific, niche job boards.
In addition, we send out letters to fellowship directors of the top programs, especially if we are looking for a particular subspecialty. In turn, directors will reach out to us if they have a stand-out fellow who they think would be a good fit here. Developing those relationships with preceptor and directors is invaluable.
As a third method, we use professional recruiters to find physicians who, for example, took a position two years ago and are not currently happy where they are and are looking to relocate to a new practice.
Step Three: Look Beyond Basic Skills
Before beginning the interview process, home in on the qualities, beyond clinical skills, that are most important to your practice. For example, here at OCLI, we stand by the philosophy that if you put the patient first everything else will fall into place.
“For us, it is truly about doing the right thing for the patient, and we want doctors who align with this mission.”
So, aside from having technical competency, we look for candidates who are affable, have a good rapport with both patients and other doctors, and who never shy away from work.
We also know program pedigree is important. The fact that they were accepted into a top fellowship means they have been vetted two or three times since medical school by directors and preceptors.
Step Four: Conduct thorough interviews
Involve the Team
When we receive a resume from an ophthalmology candidate who comes from a premier program with the credentials we are searching for, we hand their CV over to three or four of our doctors who are familiar with either the program or the subspecialty. They will give it a more in-depth look and make recommendations. If we feel positive about a candidate, they move on to the interview phase.
Invest in the interview
Our interview process is an all-day event.
First, the physician meets with either our COO Amyn Andharia or our CEO Tom Burke. Then, they are escorted around to three or four representative offices to meet a few of the doctors with whom they’ll potentially be working. Usually, I speak with them as well.
Oftentimes, the day will end with a dinner so we can get to know them on a more personal level and get a better flavor of the person. Then, if we are really interested, we will follow-up by sending them a small gift to show our appreciation for coming to visit the practice. If an interviewee has come from out of town, we pay their travel and lodging expenses.
About 95% of the time, I also meet with the candidates. At this time, I'm not testing their knowledge; I am just seeing if they can carry on a conversation and trying to learn more about them. So, I might say something like, “Hey, what do you do outside the office?” or “What'd you do last Saturday?”
Additionally, I feel part of my role is to give them answers to questions they may not want to ask, like what the on-call schedules look like, what a typical office day will be, and what being part of a private equity-backed practice will mean for them. I make certain they understand there is a path to ownership; the best and the brightest don’t want to just be an employee, they want to have skin in the game.
Do due diligence
At this point, it is time to check on their background, work ethic, character, and skills. At OCLI, we do extensive due diligence, for sure. We call their references, directors, preceptors, fellowship mentors, and past employers, if relevant. We want to learn all we can about the person and how they behave as a physician.
Step Five: Facilitate a strong start
Once a candidate is chosen, the real work begins. At OCLI, we believe in building our young docs. This means actively referring patients and cases to them and doing our best to make their schedules full. We believe it is our responsibility to “send the elevator back down.”
“By retaining physicians and keeping them happy, we strengthen and grow the company and our profits.”
This starts with making an optimal offer.
Competitive pay and benefits
Young doctors have spent years going through medical school, residency, and fellowship—and now they're looking forward to making a decent living. Offering competitive pay and benefits is essential, so ask around, call consulting firms, and listen to the head hunters. Determine the typical starting salary for your location and their particular specialty. Include benefits, such as health and dental for the whole family as well as a 401k option. Make certain to reiterate the path to ownership within your particular practice.
Step Six: Optimize onboarding
Our onboarding process begins months before the new ophthalmologist’s arrival.
We communicate with them regularly to make sure they have the proper licensure and all credentials in place ahead of time. Our internal team works with them to make sure they are “live” on Medicare, Medicaid, any required HMO, and have hospital staff privileges. In addition, well before they start, they have a schedule built out, so they know what hours they will be working. They are also contacted about any specialty equipment needs they may have.
When they arrive, they are welcomed by either our CEO, a fellow doctor, or our office manager who shows them around. Within the first day or so, either I or another managing partner will call to check and see how they’re doing and if they need anything.
All of this leads to them being able to step in, step up, and start contributing on day one.
Regardless of the size of your practice, you are only as good as the doctors who make up your team. Therefore, it is crucial that you commit to attracting the best and the brightest, find the foremost fit for your organization, and share the wealth once they join you.