How To Hire An Associate

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By Robert Smith, Contributing Editor

Hiring an associate can be a time-consuming, involved process—if it is done properly. As with any major professional decision, you must take great care and consideration in order to make the right move at the right time with the right person. Making a rushed or uninformed decision can result in excess costs and wasted time, not to mention the potential damage done to relationships with patients.
Do you really need an associate? There are a number of key considerations in determining whether to bring an associate on board.
• Do you need more time off? Bringing an associate on board enables you to take that time off without inconveniencing patients by closing the office or referring those patients to other DPMs in your absence.
• Are you too busy? Having an abundance of patients is a nice problem to have until you attract such an overflow that you are unable to serve your practice efficiently.
• Are you handling too many repetitive or administrative tasks? Too many doctors bring aboard associates for this reason, resulting in frustration for all involved parties. If you hire an associate simply to take all your night calls or handle paperwork, you’re missing the point and denying your practice the kind of potential long-term assistance it needs to grow and meet more of your patients’ needs.
Residents know this. The best residents perform as much due diligence on potential employers as those employers do on them when considering them for an associate position.
“One of the things a prospective associate asks himself or herself is, ‘Why does this doctor need an associate?’” notes Jasen Langley, DPM, an associate at a New Jersey podiatry practice. “If there are only three patients in the office, an alarm might go off that the doctor is just looking for someone to do his ‘scut work.’ If the office is busy to the point where you can recognize a need for help, there’s a greater probability that an associate will be able to really work at the practice.”

Finding The Right Person
If you decide to pursue the hiring of an associate, set the groundwork before you begin your search. Consider the costs associated with hiring an associate—salary, benefits, perks and the like—and whether your current and projected patient base and billings enable you to handle the additional costs of an associate. Determine the specific needs of the practice and figure out what areas you would like a new associate to take on (new procedures, specific scheduling requirements and so forth). Prepare your staff for the search and enlist their assistance in readying your practice for the arrival of a new doctor.
When setting out to find the right associate for your practice, it is imperative that you give yourself plenty of time in order to make the right decision.
“When people want an associate, they typically don’t make the decision to find one until the 11th hour,” explains John McCord, DPM, whose practice is based in Centralia, Wash. “Then they look through the want ads or something like that. They don’t give themselves enough time to meet people.”
“You need to begin your homework very early,” concurs Hal Ornstein, DPM, of Ocean, N.J. “I wouldn’t just throw an ad in the paper. You should do that as well but also put something out in your state newsletter; put something out on the Internet; send letters to colleges and their residency programs. Do all of that in order to get the most responses that you can. However, you should start early because you need to make the best assessment you can of a person.
“It’s almost like dating,” muses Dr. Ornstein. “Say someone is a two-year resident. If you can start learning about them in their first year, you’re starting to ‘date.’ If you hire him or her, that’s your engagement. If you become partners, that’s your marriage.”
“It is almost like going out and finding someone to marry,” concurs Dr. McCord. “Once they’re there, it’s not easy to get rid of them if it’s not a good fit. It could be very costly, not to mention very sad.”

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