How Much Should You Be Paying Your Podiatric Medical Assistants?

Lynn Homisak PRT

I’d like to share with you a two-part question that both staff and doctors ask me frequently (maybe you’re even one of the ones who have approached me):

What is the “going rate” average salary for a podiatric medical assistant and is there a salary “cap” for what an assistant should be earning?

As long as the podiatric medical assistant’s scope of practice remains undefined, training remains on the job and marginal at best, and tasks delegated to staff vary from office to office, determining an average “going rate” salary will continue to be a challenge in our profession.

Unlike the medical or dental assistant who graduates with a list of learned skills and qualifications and a recommended starting wage expectation, the podiatric medical assistant must struggle without either. I conducted a nationwide, podiatric-specific survey in 2007 to try to determine a benchmark for staff salaries and while we came up with a number ($12.62/hour), there were a wide range of variables to consider. What applies to one part of the country (or office) does not necessarily apply to the other.

My recommendation is to base your wages on your wage philosophy. Are you willing to pay higher wages to attract a more qualified individual or pay little for little in return? You also need to consider the performance and demographics of the practice, current economic indicators and an internal assessment of individual staff duties and performance. I strongly suggest aligning wages to job positions rather than to individuals along with performance-based raises in order to develop and maintain an equitable salary structure within your practice.

Consider the annual employee performance review. If conducted properly and consistently, this is the best tool to measure work performance. Take the necessary time to sit with each staff member personally and provide a clear sense of how he or she is doing, what your expectations are and where he or she can improve. Then provide help where needed and finally discuss what the outcome of the improved or continued performance will be (reward).

This assessment needs to be completely honest. If they deserve a raise, give them one. Ignore it and staff will turn resentful with declining performance. If you give a raise even though you feel they don’t deserve it, not only will you will resent it, but it can have serious legal repercussions if you decide to terminate employment and state underperformance as the reason. How will you justify giving them a raise and firing them a short time later? The more appropriate thing to do is provide additional training and re-evaluate in 30 days, offering them an opportunity for improvement.

If times are tough and temporary financial hardship prohibits wage increases or if they’ve reached a reasonable salary “cap” (hopefully you inform them of this at the time of their hire), you might consider not locking yourself into a monetary base wage increase by offering alternate stimuli. For instance, include them in an incentive-type bonus system, whereby their own motivation to help grow practice revenue directly drives the amount of the reward. It’s a win for them and a win for the practice. Other options might be more flexible hours, more paid time off, health insurance, gym membership, birthdays/work anniversaries off, tickets to a play or dinner or even a paid weekend away bonus.

There are various types of incentive-based programs to consider but it does require you knowing a little bit about your staff’s needs and personality to know what would best suit them. Involving them in the discussion is always best.

Finally, for a more positive spin, shift their focus away from that static base wage number to an overall picture of their total compensation by completing a compensation worksheet and reviewing it with them. Sharing an itemized calculation of their base wages along with required taxes, contributions, paid time off and other employee benefits will reveal (in dollars and cents) just how much the practice is willing to invest in them and keep them on as a cherished member of the team. This will help them understand that their value is not rooted in base wages alone, but in a much more comprehensive package.

A copy of the compensation worksheet is available to you by emailing lynn@soshms.com .

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