You’ve no doubt heard the sentiment “everyone’s replaceable.” And yeah, that may technically be true—if the only job requirement is a heartbeat. But any seasoned physician or practice manager will tell you that in today’s market, good ophthalmic techs—or folks with the potential to become good techs—are hard to find.
Physicians want happy patients, consistency with workup, patients to be ready for them on time, and highly-productive employees who work well together, says Sharon Alamalhodaei, COMT, OSC, a presenter at last year’s SECO conference in Atlanta. Capable techs with the right skills and abilities to make those things happen are worth their weight in gold, so don’t underestimate their value, she warns. “Our doctors cannot effectively see patients without [techs],” she explains.
When hiring ophthalmic techs, it can be deceptively difficult to pinpoint exactly what qualities you’re looking for. After all, everyone wants an employee who arrives on time, works hard, and gets along with everyone. So how can you narrow your field of candidates to only the best and brightest?
Alamalhodaei, author of How to Be the Tech Your Doctor Can’t Live Without, surveyed thousands of ophthalmologists and practice administrators and asked them what traits and qualities make certiain ophthalmic techs truly indispensible. Here’s what they said:
“In today’s job market you are putting your job on the line if you have a negative attitude,” says Alamalhodaei.
Most people don’t like to correct other people, Alamalhodaei notes. We do it to foster improvement and success, she explains. “We learn more from the things we do wrong in life than from the things we do right.”
“Initiative is a strong indication of a leader,” points out Alamalhodaei. When bringing a problem to a physician or manager’s attention, the best employees bring a solution, too.
Great History Taker
History taking is one of the most important skills that an indispensable tech must develop, Alamalhodaei says. Why? A significant percentage of a physician’s ability to make an accurate diagnosis is based on the history, she explains. Taking a comprehensive, accurate history requires a combination of documentation skills and people skills.
“Have a thirst for knowledge,” urges Valuable techs want to soak up everything they can find about ophthalmology and/or optometry. They look things up, research, and ask questions, she continues.
To quickly work up patients, you must “learn to walk the tight rope of being friendly and efficient,” says Alamalhodaei. But remember—fast doesn’t trump accurate. Taking a moment at the end of the workup to review it is a great habit.
Patients look to techs as a medical professionals, but techs must stay in their own lanes (pun intended). They shouldn’t offer a medical opinion or attempt to diagnose a patient. And they definitely shouldn’t point out things they think the doctor missed—especially not in front of the patient. At best, these actions confuse the patient, and at worst, they undermine the doctor.
Techs should be careful not to confuse personable with personal. This can be tough, especially when a practice promotes from within. (The person who was a friend and coworker one day might be a supervisor the next, for example) Smart techs know that being friends with a manager doesn’t mean automatically being considered for a promotion or important job.
Good Work Ethic
Responsible techs ask themselves each day “Did I earn my paycheck today?” says Alamalhodaei. If you’re a technician, and you spend five minutes after working up every patient taking a break, you’re going to take your last patient back an hour later than you could have, she points out. Conscientious techs strive to be the most reliable person in the office, and limit unnecessary downtime.
The last thing a busy practice needs is a catty prima donna disrupting the harmony, says Alamalhodaei. “Nothing good ever comes from gossip and drama has no part in a professional workplace,” she emphasizes. Disagreeing is ok—arguing is not.