I’m sure you’ve been waiting with bated breath…well, here it is. Three months ago I told you I was searching for the perfect new associate to join me in the practice I nurtured from infancy to adolescence. The search is complete and my perfect little Mini Me joins me twice weekly to help bring the unruly teenager to heel. The transition, which I had anticipated to be extremely painful for a self-avowed control freak, has been surprisingly smooth. I expected bumps and glitches but thus far, I have been pleasantly surprised at my dumb luck. I, therefore, feel it my duty to share with you the details of the 12-step search process. It went like this:

  1. Admitted I had a problem: My name is Viola and I am becoming a cranky, middle-aged optometrist who is working too many hours to be able to wear 3-inch heels any longer.
  2. Admitted that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity and allow me to buy more shoes: Even control freaks and micromanagers like myself must eventually relinquish control and admit that a younger OD may indeed bring value and fresh ideas to my practice.
  3. Made a decision to seek help in the search process: I called colleagues to ask for their interview techniques and to share their associates’ contracts, my attorney to help draft an employment agreement, other medical professionals to see how they implemented non-compete clauses, my accountant to see if I could take a loss for several years in order to pay the associate a competitive salary. I posted ads across social media, called industry reps for recommendations, talked to an employment agency, went to local CE and networking events at my alma mater, and called my favorite professors of old to see if they had any favorite students they needed to get rid of.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of my needs, desires, and weaknesses. This included taking a long hard look at what I thought made my practice successful, where we were falling short, what services we had an overabundance of, and what areas needed boosting.
  5. Admitted to God, to myself and to another human being (my endlessly patient and tolerant spouse) the exact nature of my wrongs. This step is crucial. Welcoming a new doctor into your practice means you will have a new friend, a new family member, a new business partner – all wrapped up into one. If you think for one minute that you are going to be successful in this endeavor by ordering the new associate around or conversely, by taking off the minute they walk in the door and relinquishing all the reins, you will be doomed to failure from the get-go. Like a family member, you need to accept that you cannot change the personality of your new associate, so you’d better pick someone you really like and admire. You must be willing to offer both guidance and respect. You must take advice as well as give it. You must be able to laugh together and stand by each other when the going gets tough. Sound like picking a spouse? Absolutely, if you do it right!
  6. Readied myself to relinquish control. Mental preparation is key. If you choose your associate carefully, you should wind up with someone you respect and trust. If you respect and trust them, you must allow them to make clinical decisions without looking over their shoulder. You must ask for their advice and consult with them on challenging cases. 25 years of solo practice does not exactly engender a cooperative spirit in a doctor. Finally, you must allow your staff to have a voice in this crucial decision. They will work closely with the new doctor and must not be made to feel like a young stranger is now able to boss them around. On the other hand, they too must look up to and respect the new Doc. After all, if they are not confident in the new doctor’s training and demeanor, they will not put patients on her schedule. If your staff is worth anything at all, they probably have as much pride vested in the practice as do you. Their participation in the hiring process is crucial.
  7. Humbly asked my staff to make sure they told me if I was acting like an ass or making the new associate feel inferior in any way. I tried very hard to remember how I felt when I took my first job and what I hated about the interview process and the way my employer treated me. Thankfully, I had the foresight to keep a little black book all those long years ago, chronicling every insult and indignity hurled my way. My new employee’s contract had specific clauses to make sure I never revisited those indignities nor made her feel thus abused.
  8. Made a list of interview questions which I thought would cover both my expectations, my patients’ needs, and my staff’s concerns, and started whittling down the candidate list in earnest. Cover letters with grammatical errors and poor syntax and spelling errors went into the trash immediately. While this may seem harsh, it was not a skill I was willing to teach extensively to a doctor who would need to spend years communicating with patients, writing referral letters, and possibly journal articles. These are skills I was willing to hone but not teach from scratch.
  9. Invited a few selected prospects to visit my practice and shadow for a day or a few hours before they applied for the position. This was an interesting process. Several candidates I thought were interesting on paper, did not promptly answer emails. A few canceled at the last minute and asked to reschedule on facebook messenger without apparent reason. We all know I have a wee facebook addiction myself, but I expect a professional to pick up a phone and call my office if they cannot arrive as scheduled for an appointment. Call me old-fashioned but that was one nicety I was unwilling to relinquish. One showed up in yoga pants and a sweatshirt. One proceeded to politely catalog every defect he would immediately fix in my operation as he saw it. Lest you think this annoyed me, let me assure you I rather enjoyed it. It was a very simple way of weeding out poor fits and allowing my staff to make the decision for me. Saved me a lot of money too, as I planned to take my interviewees to Tavern on The Green for lunch.
  10. Scheduled a lunch interview with the FINAL FEW. This was fun. FOR ME. The poor unsuspecting young doctors met me with fear and trepidation in their eyes and proceeded to try and swallow their fancy salads while I walked them through mock patient scenarios taken from Canadian Med School interviews. Was I trying to be mean? Not really. I already knew the people I asked for lunch had a professional demeanor and excellent credentials. I now needed to know how they hold up under stress. Could they walk and talk and chew all at the same time without choking? That is what my practice is like. We don’t always stop for lunch. No matter how obnoxious or difficult your patient is being, you have to be able to smile, keep your cool, and control the situation, all while exhibiting manners worthy of high tea with the Queen.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to divine which of my two favorite game show contestants would be asked to sign the offer letter. Yes, there were two. Two amazing finalists and I could absolutely not make up my mind. So I started calling references. I interviewed the references on the phone. This sounds crazy but I had no choice. I could not, unfortunately, afford to hire both on the salary I thought they deserved. I made a chart. Happily, my candidates had several references in common. It was interesting to hear their professors and former employers talk about them in glowing but subtly different terms. Did I make the right decision? I think honestly, that I could not have made a wrong one. As a matter of fact, having begged pardon from the one not chosen, I asked to keep her name in reserve should I be so fortunate as to still find her available in a few years when candidate one became so successful that we would need to expand yet again.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, I try to carry this message to alcoholics…oops, optometrists….everywhere and to practice these principles in all my affairs.