Passing The Torch To A New Partner

By John H. McCord, DPM

I am going through an interesting phase of my career as a podiatrist. I am trying to find a replacement for myself when I walk out the back door December 31, 2008. I plan to throw the keys to the office behind me and lock myself out. My license expires that day. This day also marks my 62nd birthday. I do not plan to dabble in podiatry until I get old(er) and feeble.

Replacing me is an interesting challenge. I advertised the job of an associate for my partner, who will be taking over the practice. Seven well qualified young podiatrists applied. They have all had or are completing three- or four-year surgical residencies. All of them are smarter and better trained than me.

My partner and I decided that we needed to meet these people and have scheduled visits to our clinic. We decided to try to show the best of our practice and hoped that the challenges would not be so obvious.

The best is that we all get along and mostly have a lot of fun with our work. Three of the staff got into a major catfight the week before the first candidate arrived. I had to threaten to duct tape them together in the storeroom to get them to work it out. When the first candidate arrived the next week, he marveled at how well our staff got along and at their efficiency.

Our office schedule gets chaotic with frequent calls from the ER for consults and drop-in emergencies. During the second candidate’s visit, my partner was out due to illness and all hell broke loose. I was covering his patient load plus my own and the ER blessed us with two motorcycle wrecks, fractured metatarsals and ankles, and one mentally challenged drug seeker who held a stuffed kitten and cried out in pain when I touched his completely normal appearing ankle. I wanted to whisper to him, “I will give you $500 to shut up. I am trying to lure an associate.” I did not have the guts.

I always show job candidates the company books. A new podiatrist should know the financial health of a practice before making a commitment. I show them my personal income over the past three years and that of my partner. They can see that my junior partner has outearned me for the past three years. They get a sense of their own potential for productivity in our practice.

They stay in my home or with my partner. That is a good way for them to get to know us and us to get to know them on a more personal level. I invite their families to come for the visit. If the spouse does not like our town, there is little chance for success in the deal. It also gave us a sense of the health of the marriage. The last thing we want is an associate with marital problems.
We get plenty of after hour calls from the ER. This is not a plus when you are trying to lure a young associate. I was just about ready to put steaks on the barbecue for a young podiatrist who was visiting our practice.

My cell phone rang. It was the ER. A guy named Joe was practicing quick-draw with a nail gun and had a nail embedded through the dorsum of his foot. I told the ER doc to get an X-ray, then pull the nail out and get another view. The nail was through the top of the boot. I told him to cut the boot off.

I turned the steaks and then checked the films on my computer. I called the ER doc with instructions for tetanus prophylaxis, antibiotics and wound care. Joe will see me in the office tomorrow. The young candidate was fascinated by the casual relationship we have with the ER and was not scared away.

Looking for my replacement is difficult. All of the relationships and trust the medical community has in my practice have been hard fought gains. When I first arrived in this community 32 years ago, all foot and ankle trauma was funneled to orthopedists. Once in awhile, the ER threw me a bone by sending me a broken toe or a hangnail. Now there is a steady flow of trauma into the practice that will be a stimulating challenge to a well trained young DPM.

Showing the practice to new young doctors is like selling a beloved horse. You kind of hope they realize what went into making the practice what it is and will never abuse the practice for their own gain. Seeing the enthusiasm of well-trained young podiatrists has been stimulating. I like the direction our profession has taken and will enjoy seeing the next generation take it even further.

Dr. McCord is a Diplomate with the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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