Physician Susan Thompson standing and smiling
Physician Susan Thompson standing and smiling

6 questions to ask in an interview


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Must-ask questions for your next job interview

FINDING THE RIGHT POSITION REQUIRES tenacity and a penchant for details. Your objective as a job candidate is to see if the opportunity in front of you fits you. So the questions you ask of anyone in the hiring chain are as critical and potentially revealing as the questions asked of you.

Whether you’re landing your first job or are further along in your career, your objective is to shed light on whomever and whatever might shape your opinion of the practice now and help you succeed within it later.

“Investing upfront in really trying to understand the culture, your boss, the team and those opportunities that help you grow, develop and thrive will pay dividends,” says Susan Thompson Hingle, M.D., associate dean at the Center for Human & Organizational Potential at Southern Illinois University Medicine.

Below are six questions to ask in an interview that may help you decide your next practice:

Why are you hiring for this position?

This is your chance to understand why the organization is recruiting and what the job might look like, particularly in terms of staff turnover and stability. It makes a difference, for instance, if the person whose shoes you’d be filling is retiring after a long and satisfying career—leaving an established patient panel—or is moving on after just a few years, leaving a practice to build.

If the latter, how many times has management had to fill the position previously and why? If there’s a revolving door, it could be an indicator of a larger issue (though it’s not unusual to run into turnover).

“If you don’t ask those questions, you could be walking into a dysfunctional practice and in a year or two you’re already looking for the next opportunity too,” says Eric J. Sedwick, MBA, system director for physician and app support services/ recruitment for Dayton, Ohio-based Premier Health.

Whatever the case, you’re not just interested in what the answer says about people sticking around. You need to know what you’re taking on should you take the position. Will you inherit a patient panel, or will you be building from the ground up?

If, for instance, you’re taking over a flourishing practice built by a beloved retiring physician, you may be fortunate that this person is willing to help with the transition. That type of situation, says Michael Belkin, JD, divisional vice president of amn Healthcare/Merritt Hawkins, “is usually a good sign” because there’s already a panel of patients comfortable with the clinic and eager to stay with it. “It will take them a little bit of time to get accustomed to a new provider, but they’re already in the pattern or habit of frequenting this office.”

If, on the other hand, the growth trajectory of the place is so promising that management is either adding this position or service, you want to know if your potential colleagues are good with the move. How are you going to be received?

What does a day in the life of your practice look like?

You not only want to understand the schedule but also anything relevant to workflow and expectations. Don’t make the mistake of thinking, as some candidates do, that it’s relatively the same everywhere when there are plenty of particulars that will define your experience.

Your task is to discover what specific requirements, advantages or constraints are at play and if you’re satisfied with them

For instance, how many patients will you typically see in a day, and what’s the general mix in terms of age, insurance and health issues? More importantly, how large is the panel, if one already exists? Knowing the numbers will give you an inkling as to how long it will take to establish continuity and even bond with them.

Likewise, just how much time will you have for each of those appointments, given scheduling limitations and how services are reimbursed? Your immediate objective is to discover what factors will be at play and if you’re satisfied with them.

As Eleanor Hertzler, recruitment manager, physician relations, for Patient First, notes: “All of those questions are good to ask and will help give a generalized understanding of what to expect on a day-to-day basis.”

Finally, to tie a bow around the workday, ask if the job duties are on paper. Sedwick, for instance, cites one Premier Health group physician who “does an awesome job” of putting together a practice profile for new providers. It lays out various expectations, from the strategic vision of the group to the call schedules they will likely encounter. “It is so transparent,” he says, “that when someone joins this practice there should be no questions.

Why do physicians enjoy working here?

This is your chance to discover what the environment is like beyond just your daily tasks. It’s easy to ask someone to describe the culture of the organization. Who wouldn’t brag that it’s a great place to work? (On the downside, would anyone admit out loud that it’s toxic?) But by focusing interviewers on specifics, you may get a glimpse of what it’s really like to work in this environment.

You may be surprised, for instance, that the day starts early but you don’t have to stay late. Or you can work remotely a few hours each week to concentrate on job tasks that don’t involve seeing patients.

As Hingle notes, “the response will show you whether the culture is one that really adapts well to challenges or sees them as problems versus growth opportunities.”

Likewise, if you focus on why staffers experience longevity, you might learn about the flexibility of working in a family-friendly place.

The answers, says Jessica Lewis McCrary, physician recruiter, for Roanoke, Virginia-based ETS OBGYN, may be very different than the “bells and whistles you usually hear. But you may learn about the personality of the group and what it values. Then you can assess if that’s a good fit for you.”

Indeed, you hope that you garner enough information to determine if you’ll have what Hingle calls “values alignment,” the positive symbiosis with your teammates and team leader.

“Wellbeing comes from feeling valued and doing meaningful work,” Hingle says. “So, working with individuals who value you, your contributions and your continued growth and development is critical to your success and professional fulfillment.”

As to the person at the helm, you won’t know if your boss will always have your back until you’re on the team. But you still want an idea as to this person’s expectations, priorities and style. As Hingle notes, someone who’s eager to support and mentor colleagues “will be most proud of the accomplishments of the team and not of their own accomplishments.”

Who will support me in caring for my patients?

Whether you’re in primary or specialty care, you’ll have crossover relationships with any number of critical players whose services will be key to your patients’ wellbeing and health.

Will that orbit include physicians you can trust, especially when you make a referral or are simply out of the office? As Daniel McCarter, M.D., national director of primary care advancement for ChenMed, notes: “You always want to know who’s taking care of your patients when you’re not available. Are you going to be comfortable taking a day off knowing that they’re going to be coming in?”

Adds Sherri Vaughn, M.D., associate chief medical officer for The University of Kansas Health System: “You’re looking at your job, but then you have to know, ‘How do I broadly take care of patients across a continuum?’”

Obviously, you can’t get the complete picture just by meeting individuals once or twice. But for starters, you want to inquire about the backgrounds and even strengths of those individuals who might share your patients. Also, what is the internal dynamic like? Would you be working in a sea of individualists who like to fly solo or in an ocean of team players who thrive on pulling together?

Whatever the team looks like, you want to gauge if it’s what you need to reduce your stress and, more importantly, help you deliver quality care. For instance, can labs be drawn or even radiology services delivered in or near your office? And what about results? How long does it take to get them?

In any case, you don’t want to be looking back several years down the road and wishing that you had gotten to know your future teammates better, either on a professional or personal level. It’s important to understand if these people respect and know how to work with each other, says ChenMed’s managing director of physician recruiting Marjorie Alexander-Vermeulen, MBA. “It’s all about collaboration, and that’s due to individual contributors.”

What are my opportunities for growth?

This is your chance to see what your future might hold beyond your initial position. It can be tricky to bring up the future when you want to show that you’re gung-ho about the position in front of you. But you sell yourself short if you don’t at least approach the topic.

As Katherine Braun, physician recruiter for New Orleans- based Ochsner Health, points out, clinical work is the absolute passion for many physicians. But you wouldn’t be alone if you come into the job with a business mindset or an eagerness to explore growth opportunities. Yes, you may be hesitant to inquire about the next step. “But it’s important,” she says, “to ask, ‘What can I do long-term?’”

It is perfectly appropriate to get even more specific: “After a successful initial tenure here, what roles or job titles would be available for further advancement?” In either case, do you see in the conversation a trajectory for growth and, more importantly, someone who will be encouraging later when you’re really geared for moving forward?

Your quiver of follow ups should include: “Can you give me some examples of people who’ve been in a similar position and what they’ve gone on to do? What are some of their successes in your eyes?”

Finally, will you be supported in another manner by the nurses and other team members who are encouraged to grow too? Does the organization facilitate them in sharpening their skills or advancing their careers?

What’s your philosophy about work/life balance?

This is your chance to determine if you can have a life outside of work. If you’re determined to protect personal or family time, you want to understand how your future bosses define commitment. Are you expected to stay until you’ve answered every email or text, even after clinic hours? Or do they want you out of the office in time to attend your child’s soccer games, maybe even coach the team?

The interview process is your opportunity to learn first if managers believe in a work/life balance and second, what it looks like if they do. It’s the way the organization conducts business.

“We’re trying to help you confine your work time so that it doesn’t continuously bleed over into your time with family or friends,” Vaughn says of the type of message you should hear and find encouraging. “When you’re on call, you’re on call. When you’re in the clinic, you’re in the clinic. But we’re really trying to help you successfully separate work and life.”

Now is the time to drill down for specifics. If you hear, for instance, that you’ll have speech recognition on your computer or even scribes to help you process entries efficiently, you have a hint that your bosses don’t want you stay after hours. If, however, the message is that everyone’s commitment to patient care is so great that they regularly show up on days off, that means you, too!

“In many organizations, people are still working at night, putting in their notes at 7 or on the weekends,” Alexander-Vermeulen, says, noting, however, that at ChenMed the emphasis is on reasonable schedules staffers can count on. “We want our physicians to be done at 5 to coach their children’s baseball team or do whatever it is that they want to do in their spare time.”

Oschner Health recruiters welcome candidates being honest and realistic about what matters to them. “It gives us an opportunity to share the choices that you’ll have,” Braun says, “and may even give us a chance to think about something that we haven’t thought about.”



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