A Match Made in Heaven - Hiring the Perfect Candidate

For the health and success of your practice, you must have a high quality and motivated staff. Someone not suited to your practice can create a negative impression among your patients and cause the morale of your staff to decline. With today's tight health care labor market and competition from hospitals and other professions that offer higher salaries with more benefits, finding the right employee is even more difficult.  Also the cost of employee turnover can be thousands of dollars in lost revenue plus a cost of energy and time it takes to replace and train a new employee.

In spite of other opportunities, job seekers still seem to find the idea of working in a medical practice attractive. A position with a private practice offers status as well as the gratification and enjoyment that comes from helping others.

The best way to find your candidates is word of mouth. Advertising in the newspaper can be risky, but do take advantage of job-listing services at local schools, universities, and professional organizations.

Make it a point to speak to each applicant personally when he or she calls your office the first time. This phone call is too important to be screened by your secretary or office manager. When hiring, I specify the time of day when I can receive calls from applicants or set a time when I will call them back.

Talking with an applicant personally allows you to evaluate (1) the applicant's telephone manners and (2) the applicant's curiosity about you and your practice. You want an active, vibrant individual who exudes enthusiasm. If you don't sense vitality and enthusiasm in a phone conversation with the applicant, your patients won't either.

Next, I suggest you ask the applicant to send a handwritten letter along with his or her resume and application. Suggest a topic for the letter. For example, you might suggest that the letter explain why the applicant wants the job, why the applicant is qualified for the job, or how the applicant could enhance your practice. You might also suggest that the letter address a nonmedical topic, such as the applicant's hobbies, most recent vacation, or last book read.

This letter will serve several functions:

  • It allows you to see how quickly the applicant responds. In most medical practices, a speedy response can often be vital.
  • It allows you to analyze the applicant's writing and spelling skills. (Obviously, you don't want to hire someone who cannot spell correctly or whose handwriting is more illegible than the stereotypical doctor’s penmanship!)
  • Finally, a written letter will frequently reveal something about the applicant that is not available in his or her resume.


  1. Encourage preparation. The interview will be more productive if you allow applicants to prepare. Before an interview, send the applicant job description and information about you and your practice. If you have special area of urologic interest or expertise, you should send information on what you do, what kind of patients, you see, and what they might encounter if you hired the person.  Include some educational material that you give to patients about the various diseases and illnesses that you care for.  I become very impressed if they have read this material.  It’s not a minus if they don’t read it but it sure is a plus if they have taken the time to show an interest by reading the material and asking questions about anything they don’t understand.   If  you have them, send a patient brochure, articles written about you and your practice, articles written by you, and samples of information given to patients. If you have written out a statement of your practice's mission or philosophy-something I believe all practices should have, include it as well.
  2. Make the most of each interviewing session. You can do this in several ways.  The first few minutes of the interview can be used to break the ice. For example, I might tell the candidate about myself,  my practice, and the job description.Provide the candidate with a written list of questions (see below) and allow the candidate to answer the questions while I listen and take notes. I use a written question list so that I can listen(that’s why the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth) more closely andalso can be sure that each candidate is asked the same questions. Using a written list also encourages candidates to do the talking. (Don't forget who is hiring whom. A good rule of thumb is to listen 80 percent of the time and talk 20 percent of the time.)
  3. Interview promising applicants more than once. I have interviewed the top few finalists for a job as many as three times. First impressions are important, certainly, but most couples don't get engaged on their first dates! Many applicants will be eliminated after the phone call or first interview. Those still in the running need a second, third, or even fourth interview before the job offer is made.
  4. Interview applicants in more than one environment, for example, at the hospital as well as at your practice. This provides an opportunity to observe the applicants' behavior in more than one setting.
  5. Ask “curve ball" questions. At least one time during the interview process ask the candidate a difficult-to-answer question. In any medical practice, circumstances will arise that require the staff to think and respond quickly. Failure to react quickly can adversely affect the health of patients and might even lead to litigation. If the candidate has worked in a medical office or has health care experience, I might ask a question such as, "What would you do if a patient called with a medical emergency and the physician couldn't be reached or located immediately?" (Dick, I can provide more “curve ball questions” but I think it is long enough!)
  6.  Give the prospective employee a "homework assignment."   Ipresent each applicant with a more involved problem and allow him or her time to work on solving it after the completion of the interview. For example, I may ask the applicant to propose a solution for a problem at the practice. How quickly the applicant responds to this "homework assignment" tells me a lot about the applicant's creative problem-solving abilities as well as the strength of the applicant's desire to get the job.
  7. Let the applicants ask questions. This allows you to evaluate their level of interest in and curiosity about the job. If an applicant fails to ask any questions, this suggests that the applicant is intimidated by the interview process or is not very curious. If either is the case, you're learning something important. You want to hire people who are both curious and not easily intimidated. For instance, if an applicant's only question is about the salary or vacation pay, that would tell me about their priorities and  I would probably begin to lose interest. If an applicant asked about furthering skills through seminars, night school, and so on, I would start to consider putting this applicant on the short list.
  8. Get good references. However, getting good, honest references can often be difficult because of this unwritten rule: Don't give references out, but don't hire without them.  Today many previous employers will give out a name and job title but will not provide the important information because they are fearful of a lawsuit. This situation can be avoided by asking the applicants to sign release-of-information letters and mailing them to their previous employers before you call.
  9. Applicants won't give you names of references unless they expect them to respond favorably. To get around this hurdle, ask applicants for additional references during later interviews. The length of time it takes them to respond will tell you something about the quality of the references.
  10. Have your existing staff members interview each applicant. They will let you know whether or not that person will be a team player.
  11. Pay attention to follow-up. Did the applicants return your phone calls promptly? Did they send you thank-you notes after their interviews? Few applicants will do this but if one does you know you have a winner!  Remember that the way they handle the business of looking for work now is how they will handle the business of working for you tomorrow.  But more importantly, the courtesies and manners they extend to you will be a barometer of how they will treat your patientsAlthough the hiring process is time-consuming and stressful, it is essential for creating an excellent practice. It costs much less than the costs of high employee turnover.

Bottom line: Hire right the first time.  It’s not a process that you want to repeat more than once. Nothing can be more beneficial to the success and enjoyment of your practice than to have the right staff who do the right things at the right time. 

  1. Name
  2. what are your strengths.?
  3. what are your weaknesses?
  4. why are you interested in changing jobs?
  5. what was your best job? Your worst?
  6. Tell me about your best boss.
  7. Tell me about your worst boss.
  8. what do you think your references will say when I call to inquire about your past employment?
  9. what do you want to be doing one year from now? Five years from now?
  10. (optional) If you could be any cartoon character who would you be and why?