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Medical office interview: questions and process

Medical office interview: questions and process

Doctors and dentists go through rigorous coursework and exams before they can practice medicine. Unfortunately, in between their courses on endodontic therapy and musculoskeletal pathophysiology, they probably weren’t offered any classes on how to hire office staff, which, perhaps more than anything else, could be one key to their success.

Accomplished entrepreneurs devote time and resources to a hiring strategy. Without one, even talented clinicians will fail. “Physicians are trained in medicine; they don’t study how to run a business,” says Henry Schnierer, executive vice president at Comforce Staffing Services in Paramus, New Jersey.

So whether you’re starting up a practice or replacing a worker, you need a hiring strategy so you can find the best staff and have time to do what you do best. Good dental and medical office interview questions are an important part of that strategy.

Don’t give hiring the short shrift

Here’s the $64,000 question: What can go wrong if you hire office staff who are incompetent or only in it for the steady salary? Answer: lost income, lost patients, and lost lawsuits, to name a just few.

When the pressure is on to open the doors or replace a soon-to-depart receptionist or scheduler, you’ll be tempted to rush. But you’ve got strong reasons to avoid that temptation and hire the right candidate.

“I used to hire the first warm body that walked into the building,” says Brian Nylaan, DDS, who has a solo practice in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I just wanted to end the stress of having a position vacant.” After enduring the frustrations and loss of patients caused in part by some “clock punchers” on his staff, Dr. Nylaan decided to reinvest in his hiring process.

“In the last three years, I’ve initiated more staff changes than in the previous 22 years,” he says. “I defined for myself what I need in terms of teammates. My team takes things personally, say when a patient misses an appointment, because they are motivated to help people be healthier.”

Take time to define and detail each position before advertising and inviting applicants to come in for a dental or medical office interview. Receptionists, for example, need to know much more than how to say hello and handle a multi-line phone. “Receptionists should be customer-service oriented and be able to handle patients who are under stress due to their medical problems,” says Schnierer. “A good receptionist makes patients feel at ease, helps them fill out forms, and handles computer work.”

In putting together a job description for a medical secretary, for example, consider where to advertise. You may find lots of local people with secretarial skills if you’re near corporate centers or other professional spaces, but you may want to look farther to find medical secretaries near hospitals or other medical offices.

Check and test the first cut of candidates

To limit the time that you and fellow clinicians spend on the hiring process, test the pool of candidates who appear to be qualified. “It’s essential that you check the credentials of candidates,” says Rhonda Buckholtz, a vice president at the American Academy of Professional Coders. Medical coders, for example, can be checked on AAPC’s credentials verification page.

Depending on the office position you’re filling, you might order a criminal background check, credentials and licensing checks, and professional and personal references. References can be hard to track down, but they are indispensable. An applicant who can’t name three friends or colleagues to give positive references is a questionable hire.

Create a deliberate, thorough interviewing process

Once you’ve qualified a smaller group of candidates, it’s time to hone your interview skills. Dental and medical office interview questions should be job-specific. “We have a standardized interview process,” says Schnierer. “We ask what were the candidate’s last three professional accomplishments, and we assess how they come across as individuals.”

Dr. Nylaan has delegated initial stages of the hiring process to his office administrator, who is also a dental assistant, and who receives the resumes, does preliminary interviews, and narrows the initial pool of candidates down to four or five. When it’s his turn to interview, Dr. Nylaan asks questions like:

  • Why are you in this business?
  • How have you handled difficult patient situations?
  • How have you streamlined workflows, such as scheduling?
  • What did you like the most and the least about your most recent job?

“I try to evaluate what type of workloads they can handle,” says Buckholtz. “In health care, you need someone who can multitask without getting overwhelmed.” Whatever you do, don’t ask questions that can lead to legal problems. For example, stay away from interview questions about a candidate’s physical or mental disabilities, pregnancy, religion, or national origin.

Hire office staff for the long term

What should be the guiding light of your hiring process? Long-term thinking. Hiring the first candidate who will accept your salary offer is not really a cost-saving practice, especially if the new hire fails to maximize your charge capture or wastes clinicians’ time due to poor management skills.

Turnover may be even more costly to a small dental or medical practice than it is in the corporate world. “There’s nothing worse for your practice than revolving-door staff,” says Buckholtz. “If the office is in turmoil, patients will be too.”

Still searching for the right office staff? Monster can help

Having the right staff is like having the right equipment. That’s why medical office interview questions are so important. When you have the right people and the right strategy on how to use them effectively, you can accomplish your goals. Get expert recruiting knowledge and the latest insights into hiring trends by subscribing to Monster Hiring Solutions.