Raising and Maintaining Staff Engagement: 6 Spine Surgeon Leaders Discuss


Keeping staff engaged and excited about their jobs is a key aspect of the success of a medical practice. Here six spine surgeon leaders discuss the challenges of keeping staff motivated and strategies they use to overcome those issues.

Question: What is the hardest aspect of engaging staff and keeping them motivated?


Douglas Won useDouglas Won, MD, Founder and Director, Minimally Invasive SpineCARE, Irving, Texas: In an organization that is rapidly growing, the most difficult aspect of motivating and engaging the staff is continually making sure we all stay on the same page. Though it is challenging at times, constant communication is vital to our success.


Jeffrey Carlson, MD, President and Managing Partner, Orthopaedic & Spine Center, Carlson useNewport News, Va.: Engaging staff is a constant focus of our team. The hardest part is maintaining the engagement. We are able to get our staff motivated and engaged in the practice, but the excitement and energy tend to wane.


Presenting the overall goals of the practice and getting our staff to understand these beliefs tends to get our staff to buy-in to the goals. Being open in the goals of the practice and expectations of the experience in the office gives staff a supportive base for their progress in the practice. Maintaining the interest of anyone in this generation of workers can be very difficult.


ANI-ThomasSLoftus use 2Thomas Loftus, MD, Founder, Austin Neurosurgical Institute: The most difficult part in engaging staff is keeping them in a cohesive team. The most difficult part in keeping staff motivated is the difficulty in helping them see the value they provide to the practice and the importance of each of their individual roles in ensuring the entire team functions at a high level of efficiency and effectiveness.


Q: What tends to weigh down on staff and de-motivate them?Bryan Oh


Bryan Oh, MD, BASIC Spine, Newport Beach, Calif.: Dealing with complaints from other staff and from patients. They just see it as job rather than a mission to make people better. No matter how much work they do or don't do, people will complain and so they feel like — why put in the extra effort?


Vincent PrusickVincent Prusick, MD, Great Lakes Orthopaedic Center, Traverse City, Mich.: One of the difficult things within spine is that sometimes you are dealing with patients who are suffering from chronic pain issues. The staff will get frequent calls about medication renewals and the staff needs to know when it is appropriate to do that and also when a patient may need to be referred to a pain management specialist. It requires a lot of staff training and they need to know the protocols.


Q: What are some workforce motivation strategies that you use at your medical practice?


Dr. Won: Firstly, education and mentoring. We provide unlimited opportunities for each and every team member to gain more knowledge as it pertains to the services we provide, each individual's job function and our organization as a whole. Secondly, feedback and encouragement. It is important to me that our team is always on the same page.


I strive to communicate a clear vision of what we want to accomplish and what my expectations are. After this is accomplished, we can then adequately provide the staff with constructive feedback and encouragement that will motivate them to give 110 percent.


Thirdly, recognition. Our organization coordinates a quarterly staff mixer where we come together as a team and recognize two or three staff members that have gone above and beyond during that particular quarter. These employees are sometimes chosen by their peers, sometimes by the management and sometimes by the physicians. It's a great way for the team to stay motivated throughout the course of the year.Dr Roh use


Michael Roh, MD, Co-Founder, Rockford (Ill.) Spine Center: One strategy that we have applied revolves around the notions of stress and control. Basically, situations with high stress and low control can be extremely toxic and inevitably result in loss of motivation and performance.


In contrast, high stress combined with high control is very stimulating and keeps people engaged in their job. Therefore, I strive to empower my employees to assess problems and make decisions, giving them control whenever possible. In my experience, surgeons who "micromanage" or indulge their "control freak" tendencies reduce their employees to unhappy drones. I also meet regularly with key employees to allow them to "shoot the breeze" and vent about anything that comes to mind about themselves or the practice. By keeping lines of communication open and honest, it allows me to spot potential problems early.


Also, I make every effort to be consistent in how I handle various clinical scenarios. This allows my clinical staff to accurately predict how I would handle common patient-related issues, and manage them based on my preferences. Lastly, I regularly express my appreciation to those who deserve it, whether it's a kind word, a gift certificate or a token of my gratitude for a job well done.


Q: What are some ways in which you keep the aspect of teamwork alive at your medical practice?


Dr. Carlson: We use a group meeting for our practice engagement quarterly to re-focus our goals. We are able to bring out new programs, new activities and re-affirm the values of the practice. This meeting allows all employees access to the management with any questions and concerns. This exchange of ideas is then pushed throughout the next few months as new processes are implemented. Employees feel appreciated for having their input heard and feel part of the process of the growing practice.  


Many practices have gotten rid of the social programs at their offices as the economy has gotten weaker. We still believe that our employees are the lifeblood of our practice and want to treat them as integral parts of our team. We want to reward our employees with summer socials, Christmas parties and other special themes throughout the year. This lets the employees know that the physicians are grateful for their active engagement in the success of the practice.


Dr. Oh: Having robust bonuses are important, for instance incentivizing people by number of surgeries is good idea. This is over and above the base salary. So if someone comes in for a cardiac procedure and it is close to the end of the day staff members who are incentivized by number of surgeries are more likely to stay the extra ten minutes to make the call to the surgeon.


Another is having nice parties or events, such as holiday parties and happy hours. These make them feel appreciated. Also, this should not be a luxury but should be a team building exercise.  


Q: How does staff engagement factor into the overall success of a medical practice?


Dr. Carlson: Our staff is the face of the practice to everyone that comes through our doors. If they are not happy, this shows in their interactions with patients. Our staff understands that success in the practice comes back to their wages and employment. The doctors understand the interaction they have with staff, affects the [interaction] the staff has with patients. We all work for the same goal of practice success. Without a full team, we all lose.


Dr. Loftus: Staff engagement is one of the most important factors in the overall success of the practice. I try weed out employees that do not, at a very minimum, seem to engage [in the] overall focus and direction of the practice. If they are not engaged, they will never meet the expectations of those that are and will never attempt to improve the status quo of the practice.


Dr. Roh: Clearly, an engaged staff member is a tremendous asset to any medical practice.  Patients can often sense when the practice is focused and enjoys itself, versus a tense or disinterested environment. Our patients will sometimes comment on how obvious it is that we enjoy what we do, which adds to their feeling of confidence that they are receiving excellent medical attention. Every employee plays a vital role, and the practice can only flourish when everyone is engaged and doing their very best work.

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