Recently, a lawyer and I were on the phone about a case, and he mentioned how lucky he was to have had the same staff over the course of a 25-year career, and he was afraid they’d retire before he did.
I feel the same way. My medical assistant has been with me since day one 18 years ago, my secretary since 2004. I hope they keep putting up with me until I hang up my reflex hammer.
As a basketball fan in the 1980s, I knew by heart the two amazingly talented starting fives that dominated the era. For the Celtics, it was Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, and Danny Ainge. For the Lakers, it was Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, A.C. Green, and Byron Scott. Both teams seemed unstoppable in different years because of a remarkable combination of both gifted players and personal chemistry.
It’s impossible to put a great team together just by talent alone. The chemistry and ability to work together are as critical as talent, if not more so, and are far more intangible and unpredictable.
I’ve been lucky that way. The three of us are cohesive. We try to keep some degree of fun in our work routine as each day goes on. My secretary’s 2-year-old daughter, who comes with her every day, adds to the family atmosphere that many patients notice. It’s not uncommon to be asked if the group of us are related. (We’re not.)
Back when I started out, it was with a large group that saw its people as replaceable, and treated them as such. As a result there was a high turnover rate of medical assistants and front office and clerical staff. This led to problems with work-flow and patient care, as there was always someone new being trained.
My dad was a solo practice attorney for most of his career and always emphasized that when you found the right staff, it was best to keep them happy and appreciated. The money you save by treating them as replaceable will be lost many times over in what you spend to repeatedly train new ones. Over 40 years, I think he only had a handful of secretaries. The last one started with him when I was in high school and typed up my medical school applications. She was still working for him when he retired, and continued to work part-time for him on the side afterward. When he died she came over and grieved with the rest of our extended family and friends.
I can’t imagine having a better team than I have now, and will share this advice with anyone starting a practice: When you get the right people, count yourself lucky and do what you have to do to keep them. They’re worth it.
It’s a lot nicer to work with friends than strangers. It makes the drudgery of the job more interesting, the low points better, and the highs fun.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.