March 22, 2017
New hires to a practice need to be trained in how best to serve patients, so that patients have a positive experience, and want to return. They also need to understand how to serve as partners with the OD to ensure patients leave with the products they have been prescribed.
Ours is a small practice, but like any-size practice needs to do, we have developed a system that trains and evaluates new hires to make sure they are positioned to succeed. New hires do not go on the floor to work with patients until they pass testing, and I am certain they are ready to represent the values and standards of our practice.
I am a solo OD with a support staff of six. We spend $1,000-$1,500 annually per employee on training. That includes recruiting, paying the potential new staff member a stipend while they are in training and paying the trainer.
We have developed a systematic, step-by-step training process that each new hire is required to successfully complete before working with patients. The return on investment for us is having a team of employees who can partner with me to serve patients at a level that exceeds their expectations, encouraging them to return each year, and refer friends and family.
Prior to implementing our new hire training system in 2014, our turnover was about 3-4 percent, and we are now consistently below that level. We have had some wonderful potential staff realize the optical field was not for them, or they did not fully appreciate what health care entails as an employee. When necessary, our new hire training regimen allows us to eliminate a staff member who would not be happy, and that person gets to avoid a position they would really not want.
Document System & Appoint Trainer
The new hire program is documented in a binder in our office. It details every task a new employee needs to learn. It is presented sequentially, from basic office systems, like how we like employees to answer the phone, to complex pre-testing and eyewear and contact lens ordering tasks.
For each position, we have one staff member who is the trainer in charge of implementing the training. The new employee cannot go to the next step of training listed in the binder unless they are signed off by the trainer and myself, after passing verbal assessments and practical application of the information just learned.
Implement the Training System
My ideal scenario is for the new staff member to be able to easily answer, or handle, patient questions and challenges without hesitation. When they complete the training, they should be capable and confident to answer any non-medical question a patient has.
One of my greatest pet peeves is going into a business, and asking basic questions, only to be told, “I am new, you will have to wait and ask some else.” That is completely avoided with our system because a new hire is not officially a member of our staff, and able to work with patients, until passing each step of the training program.
Each step is divided out, with the new hire first reading on their own information about each task they must master in a designated area of the office. After studying each section of the new hire training manual on their own, they are then given a verbal assessment on each section. After they pass the trainer’s verbal quiz, I then pose my own to the trainee. If there are any wrong answers, or obvious ignorance of the material, we have them re-study, and take the assessment again. If the section of the training requires application of an office function, they are then required to show that they can competently apply that data they just learned.
Once passed by the trainer in charge, and myself, on both the verbal and application steps, the trainer, new employee and myself sign off on the section just completed, and the employee proceeds to the next. The end result of the program is a new staff member completely confident in handling patients, so patients are always happy that they came into our office that day, no matter how many times they come through the door.
Cross-Train to Enable Full Staff Coverage
We cross-train, with each new employee learning about all of our office systems, regardless of their level of experience in the optical industry. For example, we have an optician with 20 years’ experience. Before she joined our group she also went through the training program. Further, she gives workshops to the rest of the staff on patient-optician relations and sales, which is invaluable given her experience.
As doctor, I also do my own continuing education to the entire office on common eye health concerns and conditions and treatments. I am also careful to explain when staff members should refer a question to me, rather than answering themselves.
Get Feedback from Co-Workers
We query the new hire’s co-workers on how they are doing, and the person in charge of training the new employee also is always observing the new hire work, and asking them questions to spot check them.
In addition, in our administration area of the office there are binders with the training program manual for review and our office policy manual. These are often referenced by staff if any questions arise. We are an open office, in both philosophy and physical layout, and questions from employees are important, and always correctly answered, so no incorrect information gets passed along to patients.
Get Feedback from the New Employee & Improve Training
When the new employee completes the training program, they are asked what they thought of it. My wife, who helps me manage the practice, and I, personally do this, so we can continue to tweak for improvements. We ask all new hires, both those who successfully finish the program, and those who do not, and are not able to join our staff.