At the onset of the pandemic, all of us were forced to slow down and think about how we were going to reshape our practices. While we recognized it would take time for patients to feel confident and safe enough to venture out of their homes and come to our clinics bustling with other patients, many of us did not fully comprehend the impact that the pandemic would take on the service industry and the healthcare sector in particular.
To our dismay, healthcare and social assistance job quits increased to 23.8% higher than they had been before the pandemic.1 Thus, after the pandemic’s “Great Resignation,” ophthalmic practices struggled to find ways to hold on to and attract reliable employees.
Putting this dilemma into perspective, at the end of March 2022, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics showed a record high of 11.5 million job openings. And as 30% of US workers plan to leave their job in the next year,2 there’s good reason to believe attrition will continue. These numbers tell the story of a quitting epidemic that just hasn’t subsided.
Ophthalmic practices utilize a wide variety of technologies and devices that require a level of expertise to operate. They provide us with diagnostic information that allows us to make multi-layered observations that are crucial in determining the necessary interventions needed to achieve the best outcomes for our patients.
We all share the common goal to radically impact and make tangible differences in patients’ quality of life. Similar to our vocation, we have the opportunity to make tangible differences in our practices’ work culture, patient care and success; however, these effective measures rely on our further insight into finding, training and retaining our talented technicians.
FINDING TALENT: GARNER VISIBILITY
One major change in hiring that has become quite evident is the lack of qualified staff and technicians available to fill open positions. Gone are the days of placing an ad in the “Help Wanted” section of the local newspaper and receiving a flood of qualified applications. Steep competition in hiring, particularly for the tight supply of technicians and eye-care staff, has made finding top-notch candidates challenging. We now must anticipate the time to hire — recruiting, interviewing and onboarding quality talent requires significant time. The presence of your employer brand through patient-facing websites, online reviews and online presence in social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) shouldn’t be overlooked in this digital age.
To be proactive, practices can follow these steps to establish a presence before left with vacant spots.
- Have an updated web presence. At a minimum, your website should be professional and up to date. Ideally, your website should also showcase work culture, presenting photos of doctors/staff and patient testimonials.
- Track and encourage positive reviews. The new word-of-mouth is online reviews. Sites such as Yelp and Google My Business allow patients to rank their experience, while Glassdoor allows current and former employees to review their employers’ work culture
- Engage in social media. Social media provides potential employees insight into your practice’s environment. This is great opportunity to promote why it’s so great to work alongside your team as well as your practice’s values and community. Listing job openings on LinkedIn can also help in connecting directly with candidates.
Some extra digital options include industry-specific boards (Eyes on Eyecare, ARVO Jobs, Zip Recruiter, PracticeMatch Ophthalmology, ASOA, etc) and Career Services pages on ophthalmology school websites.
Using every resource is crucial. The more visibility your brand and job listings gain in relevant communities, the more efforts can be spent on onboarding, training and retaining.
When scouting reliable talent assess whether the candidate’s career and personal goals align with your practice. It is often helpful to facilitate an opportunity to tour the office and gain an introduction. This gives you the chance to see how candidates interact with your practice and gives the candidates better insight on how your team operates, the leadership style and patient flow.
TURNING ATTRITION INTO ATTRACTION
First impressions matter. As such, onboarding is more than just an orientation into your team’s practice; it is an important part of employee development and retention. A negative onboarding experience can lead to new hires who quickly decide not to return or look for a new job as soon as they have a bit of free time.
Strong company culture, personalized onboarding training, a sense of community and learning and development opportunities are increasingly becoming more important to the workforce than many employers realize. Research suggests that the top reasons employees quit their jobs were not feeling valued by their organizations (54%) or lacking a sense of belonging at work (51%).3
Potential employees are likely to prioritize relational factors over transactional ones. Having a clear company culture that encourages improvement, engagement and collaboration will keep employees loyal, engaged and motivated from day one. Taking time to acknowledge milestones and interact outside the workplace can also help new and old team members alike with a sense of identity as part of an extended work family.
We developed Alchemy Vision as an e-learning and skill-development resource for eye-care practices to provide additional opportunity to reinforce their organization’s culture. In addition to signaling a value in education and growth for staff and technicians, Alchemy Vision’s learning resources supplement the knowledge base of existing staff, encourage practices to create a nurturing environment where more employees feel welcome at work and foster a strong connection between doctors and staff.
To build a sense of community from the time of orientation, consider how a peer coach might help and how they could engage with the new hire. For example, daily training check-ins between their peer coach not only encourage new hires to ask more questions and provide feedback, they also make them feel like part of the team.
ENGAGE AND RETAIN
Making the onboarding process engaging — and ensuring employees retain the knowledge — can be a challenge. Even the most diligent employee may be inclined to throw on-board learning materials in a drawer in an attempt to hit the ground running. However, training is a critical foundation, and skipping over it won’t yield anyone the best results.
If untrained technicians lack the foundations, they’re likely to feel discouraged and deliver inconsistent results. These old “sink or swim” and “learn as you go” approaches to training fail to engage our technicians, and stunted training only results in lower practice productivity, job satisfaction and retention. The key to competent staff is transforming training and onboarding systems into a world-class employee experience.
The ROI (return on investment) in upgrading to immersive, efficient learning experiences for employees comes down to whether the cost of training is less than the cost of turnover, and the difference is apparent. Forbes estimates the minimum cost to replace a new employee to be one month of salary, while training new technicians up-to-par with their team’s skillsets lasts several months through in-house training. The benefit to a practice’s investment in digital learning is less turnover and burnout, which in today’s environment, is priceless.
In a world where workers, especially those from younger generations, want to see an obvious path to advancement and growth with the integration of digital tools, it is likely an opportunity many eye-care practices cannot afford to miss.
EMERGE WITH FORWARD-THINKING CHANGE
Getting back to how we got started. At the outset of the pandemic, it became clear to us that there was a systemic problem at the heart of eye-care practices, both large and small. Most practices relied on lead technicians and trainers to provide education to new and existing team members. Unfortunately, in many cases there is no standardization in this process. Furthermore, when these “super techs” move on, there is no one to step into this role.
Since the widespread staffing halt following the pandemic, many of us have shifted our focus on the urgency to enhance our staff’s skillsets, ensure an effective onboarding process and cross-train various positions.
With such limited training resources available, a need to modernize staff training to inspire a sense of contributive purpose was needed. In an effort to find viable solutions, we had talks with Alchemy Vision’s faculty composed of ophthalmologists, optometrists, COAs, COTs and COMTs. Based on these discussions, we spent the better half of a year developing content, beta testing then finally releasing our first product, ENTRY, which is now helping practices across the country onboard, cross-train and fill gaps in our existing technician’s education.
Resolving challenges like patient back flow, staffing shortages, revenue loss and under-motivated staff begins with forward-thinking change. Our goal has been to offer a cost-effective, simple-to-implement and self-paced solution for practices: up-to-date, personalized, digital eye-care staff training. In turn, we have found that staff using ENTRY are more engaged, can anticipate the needs of our ophthalmologists, ophthalmic surgeons and optometrists and they have a better understanding of what we do and how their role impacts patient care.
With 30 to 60 minutes weekly of dedicated learning within ENTRY, technician staff will acquire the skills they need to meet patient and doctor expectations at a high level. ENTRY consists of eight, video-based chapters containing nearly 80 micro-learning lessons on a wide range of topics and skills that serve as a meaning of ongoing education and development. The learning is structured and individualized, as ENTRY’s assessment tools intuitively identify technicians’ target for improvement. Physicians and administrators can track progress and performance, helping ensure staff complete the learning process, which ultimately strengthens our ophthalmic teams.
Through feedback from practices around the country, we recently introduced our latest product, EMERGE, to meet practices’ onboarding needs where it counts. Delivering a seamless onboarding experience, EMERGE sets the pace to attract and train with efficiency. In 3 weeks with EMERGE, practices have been able to evaluate their newly hired staff with tangible measures of accountability, with assignments, quizzes and proficiency check-ins.
With competence comes confidence. These tools provide staff the opportunity to learn the hands-on skills needed to perform their job. Additionally, our courses serve to cross-train entire practice staff and provide them with the foundational skills they need to optimize patient flow when called upon.
The benefits we’ve seen through ENTRY’s engaging learning experience include better commitment and higher contribution rates from eye-care technicians. Their increased job satisfaction leads to a revitalized work system, granting doctors the ability to provide world-class patient care while strengthening their workforce.
The survival of our practices relies on shifting the traditional ways of attracting, training and retaining the future generation of technicians. Short-staffing and turnover rate issues will continue and may get worse before they get better. Yet, this unique moment also represents an opportunity to help our practices and technicians reach their full potential. To seize it, take a step back, listen, learn and make the changes employees want — starting with a focus on the integration of digital learning tools, a collaborative work-environment and the supportive growth technicians have missed the most. OM
- Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker. What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on health employment? https://tinyurl.com/2jtz627d . Accessed Nov. 2, 2022.
- BBC. Why workers just won’t stop quitting. https://tinyurl.com/4bdrcwfd . Accessed Nov. 2, 2022.
- McKinsey and Company. ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours. https://tinyurl.com/yckd2ewf . Accessed Nov. 2, 2022.