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Dr. Steve Vargo | 12/22/2017

Your schedule has gotten busier and you’ve hired an associate OD. While you would like to keep the associate’s schedule filled most of the time, it’s not uncommon for an associate to have some gaps in his or her schedule – at least in the beginning. This often leads to some resentment by the owner. “I want him to build his patient base, but he just sits in his room when there’s no patients to see!”

On more than one occasion an owner asked me if I thought it was ok to ask an associate to perform work for the practice during slow times when there was no patients to see. My answer is a resounding Yes! For some reason, the expectation has been set for many associates that if there’s no patients to see, there’s no work to do. That’s probably never the official policy, but becomes one by default when other expectations have not been set. Does it bother you that your associate OD is checking his Facebook feed or getting caught up on his favorite Netflix series because it’s a slow day at the office? I don’t know of too many other 6-figure jobs where employees are allowed this luxury. In a more extreme example, an employer told me his salaried associate asked if she had to come in to the office if there were no patients scheduled.

Below are a few suggestions for delegating additional responsibilities to an associate OD:

  • Set expectations upon hire. To repeat, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to require employed associates to perform work beyond patient care, but that must be clarified and agreed to at the onset of employment. Fair or not, my observation has been most employers do not assign job responsibilities to their associates outside of patient care. Try to tack on additional responsibilities 6 months into employment and you’ll likely get an adamant “That’s not my job!”

  • Get the associate’s buy-in. I’m not suggesting you ask your associate to clean bathrooms and shovel the parking lot when it snows (unless they want to). Start by asking the OD for his or her ideas. Perhaps they have an interest or background in marketing, finance or web design?  If he or she does not have ideas, suggest some job duties that would be aligned with their professional strengths and interests. For example, launching a contact lens specialty, coaching the staff on how to discuss medical conditions with patients, getting involved with community events or creating short educational videos for patients. What other ways can you think of where an associate could add value to the practice when they were not seeing patients?

  • Carve out time. Similar to carving out your own time to focus on managing the practice, you may have to do the same for your associate. If the associate’s schedule is not filled but appointments are evenly scattered, it’s likely the associate will use the gaps between patients as down time. If you block out, let’s say two hours during a typically slow time for the associate to focus on other projects or responsibilities, it’s more likely they will execute.

  • Consider a different job title. The title “Associate OD” implies the doctor will be hired to examine patients. What if their title was something that implied or encompassed expended responsibilities? For example, “Clinical Director” or “Director of Operations”. Under this title would be clear job responsibilities. No longer could the associate say, “That’s not my job!”. Actually, it is.

Ultimately, providing patient care is the best use of an associate OD’s time and knowledge and we want to continue increasing their patient demand. You can certainly reduce these additional responsibilities as patient load increases. But for the new associate who has a lot of down time, consider alternative ways to fill that down time with productive activities.

Dr. Steve Vargo
Practice Management Consultant
Steve Vargo, OD, MBA is a 1998 graduate of Illinois College of Optometry. After working in a clinical optometric practice for several years, Dr. Vargo pursued his passion for practice management by earning his Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Phoenix in 2008. A published author and speaker with 15 years of clinical experience, he serves as IDOC’s Optometric Practice Management Consultant and advises members in all areas of practice management and optometric office operations. Steve and his wife Melanie have two sons, Lucas and Ryan. In his spare time, he enjoys running, cycling, sports and music. A native Chicagoan, he is an avid fan of the Cubs, live music and deep-dish pizza.
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