Optometry is a learned profession in that our knowledge seemingly never ceases to expand. We are required to keep up with new advancements in the management and treatment of refractive errors and ocular disease.
Every few years it can feel like our previous assumptions, practice patterns and protocols change. I don’t know about you, but every time I leave a conference or other professional meeting, I can’t wait to implement these lessons for my patients. Imagine a scenario where your staff feels that way without having to leave your office.
“Our optometric staff are invaluable; they are advocates, champions, and experts in the patient care experience.”
We regularly survey our patients and the staff leave as much of an impression as the doctor does. So how can we continue to educate our own staff about new technologies in contact lens wear, new diagnostic devices to detect diseases earlier, disease states in general, and even the psychosocial aspects of today’s environment?
In my practice, we have 6-8 optometric technicians on any given day and upwards of 30 staff members in the office. We used to individualize learning and spent a lot of time doing what could be called “in the moment training.” This felt cumbersome, repetitive, ineffective, and inefficient. Staff members were already thinking of the next task, doctors and managers were saying the same message to multiple staff members and it all felt haphazard.
We already had in place our new staff member training along with online learning modules to serve as a great foundation, but we still felt the challenge of keeping up with all the demands of educating our staff on the newest innovations in eyecare.
That’s when we took a step back and asked a few questions.
Training assessment questions
- How can we get on the same page quicker?
- How can we avoid having to say the same message 4-5 times per day?
- How can we make sure everyone gets the same training?
- How can we use this to enhance team building and team morale?
We knew we needed to create a streamlined process that engaged our staff to be curious, gave them the tools to be successful without repetitive coaching, and justified the experience of being together. We ended up creating a series of presentations and used our lunch hour to train our staff effectively and efficiently. The staff ultimately looks forward to these programs because they know it will be productive and be ready to take that knowledge to elevate the patient experience
Here’s what we have learned over the 4+ years we’ve had regular training sessions (and also what doesn’t work!).
The formula to stellar optometry staff training
The best training
moments happen when something of interest shows up on a retinal image or based on a patient complaint. The staff member actively hunts the doctor down to ask “What is going on with this patient?” These are the moments that I wanted to replicate for every staff member. That piqued their interest in what we do in the exam lane. Their natural curiosity in the case is the perfect backdrop for learning.
We partnered with our industry vendors to curate trainings that matched with what products were being discussed. A presentation on glaucoma when a pharmaceutical rep came into our office to discuss new treatments. Contact lens troubleshooting is a recurring presentation that correlates with innovative lens technologies or parameter increases.
One of the best things we have done is to ask the staff what topics they want to see covered. It allowed us to see where the staff thought they needed more training. The staff then felt more involved with their own training. It made the topics more interactive and relevant and ultimately fun. We even did a Reddit-style “Ask Me Anything” training where staff could submit questions ahead of time, or simply ask the doctors anything. Allowing for open time further showed our commitment to their growth.
I highly recommend reading The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It inspired me to change the way I thought about training to create a learning environment that was safe and engaging and ultimately the staff kept asking for more.
We have created a formula to make our presentations successful. The formula should be followed in this order: fun, interactive, relevant, and educational .
Training dos and don'ts
DO make it fun! The best learning occurs when someone is having a good time. There is no law that says learning can’t come when you’re smiling. When the staff get to lighten up and aren’t feeling like they are being lectured, the information being discussed is truly discussed. This training time can be a time to recharge from all the craziness that can happen when you are serving the public.
DON'T make the learning space be a super serious environment. Yes, we deal with serious issues of health and vision, but that feels more like a lecture (not the good CE kind, either) instead of a place to learn.
I asked the staff recently to come up with 4 words that best describe our staff training. This is what they came up with:
Staff thoughts on training:
- Confidence Building
- Team Bonding / Team Building
- Inspiring Excellence
DO get your staff talking, discussing, and giving input during your training. Make the training space a true place of learning. My staff knows I want them to engage in the conversation and that it is okay to not say the right thing while we are learning. I want them to make mistakes because that creates an opportunity to grow their knowledge.
DON'T be the only one talking, you’ll probably be the only one listening.
DO encourage role playing. If we are training on a new piece of equipment, I want to make sure the staff has the tools they need to communicate why and what is going on to the patient. Make it as close to the real life situation as possible.
DON'T have the staff say “I like to tell the patient…” or “I would say…” Have them sit in an exam room or by the equipment to discuss it. Whatever it takes to have the staff verbalize it exactly.
DO highlight what is important in your office. Don’t heavily train on glaucoma if you are a pediatrics practice. More importantly, use actual patient cases to help illustrate disease processes, diagnostic imaging, or treatment regimen.
Using your own patients for disease topics or treatment plans helps to make it stick in their mind. They can’t remember a random issue but can remember “that patient who came in last week with the thing.” (that’s exactly how a staff member put it).
DON'T pull pictures or cases from the internet. These patients should already be in your practice. (But for surgical videos, yes, use YouTube)
DO...I saved this for last because this is the final piece of the puzzle. If you do not have the three above elements first, no matter what your message is, it will not have the intended effect. Since you are investing time into creating training modules for your staff to help everyone, you want the staff to leave with more than something than can look up on Google. When you create this complete environment to learn, you’ll be amazed how quickly it can sink in for your staff.
DON'T assume what the staff does and doesn’t know. Be as foundational as possible because there’s a possibility someone with the most “knowledge” has a key concept backwards (it happens).
Staff training is one of the best parts of my job. As physicians who educate our patients on disease processes, contact lens technologies, and refractive care, we should be able to use this information to engage our staff. This knowledge exponentially makes your optometry practice better
because the staff can handle more. More questions from the patient, more autonomy to catch things during workups, and more authority to create the excellent patient experience because of what you have trained them to do.
The staff is an extension of the care you provide in the exam room. Investing in your optometry staff's growth
with time and energy to create the right process will return back to your patient care exponentially. It has made a difference for our doctors, our patients, and ultimately the staff to show that they are a crucial part of the success of the practice.