Visionaries and Educators

Practice gets personal

Tips on having and hiring a great team.

It’s a universal theme. Regardless of the business, it’s hard to find good people and even harder to keep them. I owned six retail stores before I became a physician. In that capacity I learned through my own mistakes about hiring, trying to retain good employees and being an effective leader. This worn adage is critical: People are your most valuable asset. It’s true in retail, and especially true in medicine.

Here’s what I learned about finding and holding onto the right ones.


Start by identifying the culture you have and what values you want to promote in your practice. Communicate your practice’s values with your employees and in your interviews. Common values are important to the success of any practice.

Seek out those qualities during your interviews. Things don’t happen by chance. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to say, “If you aim at nothing, you hit it every time.” Three qualities I look for in hiring are: gratitude, passion, or “hunger,” and emotional awareness, or kindness, toward others.

Gratitude is understanding that our opportunities come through others, and thinking of others before yourself. Being hungry or passionate is the desire to do more. People are more productive when they care about outcomes. Passion is so key in creating success that I will hire a person who is hungry and passionate over educated and skilled every time.

Lastly, I want the candidate to have an emotional awareness of others and know how to make others feel important.


My family moved to Las Vegas when I was nine because my father became marketing manager of a large hotel there. I went to work with him a lot. The culture at the hotel emanated from the CEO. Humility means nothing is beneath you, he stressed; even the CEO needs to be willing to sweep the floors.

So, when turn-over time in my OR is slow, I help sweep the floors. When I assist in hiring an office manager, technician, front-desk staff, resident or another colleague, I too stress that nothing is beneath them.

I also want candidates who are willing to learn new skills. I explain that many positions are cross-trained: managers and other team members learn how to scribe, make appointments, and provide contact lens instruction and refract.

My staff aren’t switching positions all the time; what is important here, I tell candidates, is the willingness to perform these essential tasks.


In my retail stores people would ask me, “How do you find such great employees?” The answer is, they already work for you. It starts with being a good leader.

So, ask yourself, are you leading in a way that brings out the best in others? Do staff like who they are when they are being led by you?

Invest time in your team. That means you know their dreams, their kid’s names. If someone’s family member passes away, send flowers; check on them. We get so transactional and busy that we don’t stop to invest emotion into our largest investment. When you treat people like units of production, they don’t perform as well, they don’t stay as long and they’re not loyal.


I find we are not good at hiring; we need to try something different. Try interviewing candidates in a group, instead of one on one. Finding team players requires a team approach. Involving staff shows them that you value them and allows you to get helpful insight from others.

Another tip: Try conducting the interview outside the office. Take the candidate on an errand or go shopping. You can see how he or she interacts in nontraditional environments. I once asked a candidate to meet me at a surgery center where I was operating that day. When the person felt put off and said she preferred to meet in the office, I knew she wouldn’t be a good fit.

When conducting the actual interview, if you feel unsure that the person possesses a quality you seek, ask questions more than once. Keep asking in different ways. Don’t stop until you have clarity.

Once I interviewed someone and had a gut instinct that he would be difficult interpersonally. I asked him how he dealt with conflict. He replied, “No issues, I deal with that well.” Later in the interview I tried again: “How do you deal with getting into an argument with a friend?” He said, “I don’t have any issues with that, either.”

Still not convinced, toward the end of the interview I said, “If I asked your wife, would she say you hold grudges?” He replied, “Oh yeah, she’d say I’m a huge grudge holder.” I knew then I couldn’t hire him.

At the end of an interview, if you like the person but are still unsure if he or she is a good fit, you can always try scaring with sincerity. Say something like, “I appreciate you going through this, and I think you could add value to our team, but I want you to know that we are very intentional about building a practice that is hard-working and caring. If being aware of others’ feelings or being challenged to learn and do more bothers you, you’re not going to like it here, and it will be painful for you and for us. But if being with others who are grateful, passionate and kind is for you, I can see this being an amazing partnership.”

You might be thinking, who has time to do all this? What if I need a position filled right away? The truth is you can’t afford not to make the effort. It is so costly to your practice to bring on the wrong person; it kills morale and productivity. Take the time to do it right.


Your best recruiters are your employees. Tell staff that if they meet other people like themselves, talk to them about the practice. Such people can learn the technical skills if they have the right character.

My husband, also a physician, told me about a line cook at the hospital cafeteria who always seemed grateful and positive. Everyone liked him so much they would wait in the longer line just to say hello to him. Without any medical background, he was offered the opportunity to train to be the lead scrub tech in the operating room. He was a great hire.

I recall a pterygium surgery patient. She was humble, hungry and nice — exactly the type of person I wanted to hire. At one of her postop appointments, I told her how great I thought she was and asked her if she wanted a job. She did.


People are motivated by incentives. I recommend putting employees on an additional incentive plan such as salary plus commission, profit sharing and so on. Incentives send the message that winning is rewarding. When the company wins, that needs to translate to individual team members for the practice to grow. Reward the behaviors you want duplicated.

Create a culture that embraces team effort and brings out the best in them. OM