8 spine surgeons on key characteristics they look for in staff — Drs. Adam Bruggeman, Grant Shifflett & more

Alan Condon -   Print  |

From interpersonal skills to organization and an affable personality, eight spine surgeons outline the key characteristics they look for when hiring staff.

Ask Spine Surgeons is a weekly series of questions posed to spine surgeons around the country about clinical, business and policy issues affecting spine care. We invite all spine surgeon and specialist responses.

Next week's question: What value-based programs are you participating in? What lessons have you learned?

Please send responses to Alan Condon at acondon@beckershealthcare.com by 5 p.m. CST Wednesday, Feb. 10.

Note: The following responses were lightly edited for style and clarity.

Question: What are your key considerations when recruiting staff at your practice?

Adam Bruggeman, MD. Texas Spine Care Center (San Antonio) and CMO of MpowerHealth (Addison, Texas): Assuming all qualifications being equal, probably the most important aspect is cultural fit when looking to hire staff. We found that an understanding personality and work ethic tends to be the strongest determinant of whether or not the employee stays for short term or long term. Given the costs to recruit and train new employees, understanding how a new employee fits into the current team is essential.

Beyond cultural fit, most practices need to stay apprised of the current salary and benefits offered within the community. Given that we are still involved in the coronavirus pandemic, the market is still an employer's market. However, as the market recovers and we put coronavirus in the rear-view mirror, it will become an employees' market and employers will need to ensure that their benefits and wages are in line with their local hiring market. Employees will also be looking for more flexibility in the work environment, particularly being able to work from home at least part time.

Todd Lanman, MD. Lanman Spinal Neurosurgery (Beverly Hills, Calif.): When considering recruiting staff for my practice, the No. 1 thing I consider is if they are friendly. During my interview process, I look to see if they seem affable, available and capable of performing tasks, and being pleasant to patients. Similarly, they need to be able to be highly organized, functional and willing to collaborate with other members of the team. It's important to be able to wear different hats and help with managerial functions, surgical scheduling, appointment scheduling, authorizations and prescriptions. It's important that they have a universal knowledge of the practice as well as having the capability to perform their individual duties.

Grant Shifflett, MD. DISC Sports & Spine Center (Newport Beach, Calif.): I think the most critical attribute of any candidate is a strong work ethic. You can find the smartest or funniest or most jovial person, but if they are not willing to work hard for you and your patients, your practice will suffer. Hard workers will go the extra mile to get a surgery approved, take a few more minutes to listen to a patient's complaints, or figure out a work-around for a problem that is presented to them. The net effect will be satisfied patients and a more efficient practice, which means you will be happier when you go home at the end of the day.

Robert Bray Jr., MD. DISC Sports & Spine Center (Newport Beach, Calif.): Staffing is a momentous problem currently with a continual stress and depletion from the pandemic. We are simply running out of nurses and technical support people. We have adopted a very staff-supportive approach — extending sick time, if needed, and providing as many extras (food, hours off to support children at home, etc.) as we could.

By creating a bubble and testing all staff and patients frequently, we have created a safe environment, and sticking to that diligently goes a long way to help staff feel safe. They reflect that to our patients, and it has been worth the added cost. Simply put, loyalty to our staff and their needs has allowed us to stay functional. We sought and obtained vaccines for everyone, so hopefully the stress continues to decrease as we defeat this pandemic. 

Christian Zimmerman, MD. Saint Alphonsus Medical Group and SAHS Neuroscience Institute (Boise, Idaho): Ongoing recruitment is stunted for every reason during the last year, yet depending on need and position, our situation remains imperceptibly optimistic. Physician/provider recruitment appears to be more auspicious, secondary to the reported exodus from adjoining states with less desirable living conditions. This also applies to staffing positions. However, the staffing job markets remain compressed because of supply/demand reversal. In a recent search for a new staff member, we witnessed much more enthusiasm and willingness in both job interview and response.

Brian Gantwerker, MD. Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: We rely on two key things when we hire staff: experience and independence. The most successful staffers have adequate experience dealing with both the challenging and the mundane. There is very little one can teach someone like that —they hit the ground running. Independence is an important characteristic that one finds in the staff member that can problem solve on the run, triage issues and can distil critical information and get things done efficiently and effectively.  

Vladimir Sinkov, MD. Sinkov Spine Center (Las Vegas): Having proper staff in the office is vital for a thriving medical practice. First and foremost, the person must be capable of actually doing the job they are hired to do, or capable of being trained for that job in a reasonable amount of time. It seems obvious, but I have seen staff hired because of who they know, not what they can do. The results are typically negative for the entire practice.

Assuming that the person being hired is capable, the next most important consideration is how well they "fit" with the existing staff and providers. Medical practice is a team effort and everyone's input is very important. Maintaining a good working relationship and communication among staff is necessary for proper patient care and efficient office flow. If one worker if highly skilled at their job, but cannot work with others, their contribution to the practice will always be below full potential and they may potentially alienate other staff members. Therefore, personality and proper fit with the rest of the office staff is just as important as their skillset when recruiting new staff.  

Richard Chua, MD, Northwest NeuroSpecialists (Tucson, Ariz.): Great interpersonal skills, telephone/communication skills, ability to cross-train.

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