Every clinician in Private Practice needs a great team around them, in order for the Practice to flourish.
But what is life like from the point view of the medical PA? And as clinicians, what can we learn from our PA colleagues, that would help us in our Private Practice journey?
I asked Chloe Barker, an independent medical practice manager to share the low-down on Private Practice, and her advice for consultants.
I began working in the medical field for a small health clinic in the City. I then quickly moved to a Bupa health clinic where I was trained as a medical secretary and then went onto the Cromwell Hospital. I began working for surgeons and loved the PA aspect of this (arranging patients, procedures, typing). There was lots to learn and my time was easily filled.
After working in other various hospitals, I began working independently in March 2016 when pregnant with my second child. I then took the plunge and accepted my first client who was someone I already knew. It wasn’t smooth sailing as just before my second invoice was due, he decided he wasn’t going to pay me and moved on. This was devastating but with support I continued. I found another consultant and over the coming years I have built a nice range of clients whilst working from my home.
My first and biggest issue surrounding working as a freelancer in the field is the part surrounding exclusivity. Doctors tend to want their PAs to themselves but don’t want to pay for it.
I think freelance PAs are sometimes nervous about taking on new work, then potentially losing contracts if a client finds out you work for others – which comes back to the idea that some consultants want you exclusively for themselves, but may not need you full-time. If you work for more than one person, they may question whose work are you doing during the hours of 9-5, etc?
The trick is to be extremely efficient. My clients all get an amazing service and wouldn’t even realise I work for more than one person.
Value your PA, and your Private Practice will grow
To me, it’s all about being a team. Working with a PA needs to be seen as working alongside each other. It is often seen as a boss/employee relationship without the label to avoid certain expenses and responsibilities. When a relationship is similar to a partnership, the PA feels valued and is more inclined to dedicate themselves to the practice and when a PA is passionate about the practice and knows the ins and outs of the procedures, your fees, availability etc, it then reflects on the consultant.
The PA is the face of the Practice. The first voice that the patients here. If the phone is answered on the first call or voicemails are returned. How quickly emails are responded to and whether the secretary is evasive regarding quotes (lots of patients email for quotes on their desired procedure to ascertain whether they can afford it before embarking on the journey).
What could consultants do better?
Aside from treating a PA as though they are a valuable member of your team, remunerating them suitably for the time and effort that goes into a Practice, which often overlaps into evenings and sometimes weekends.
It is also important that a consultant respects boundaries. Whilst we are working together, there are still boundaries to be respected. It is important that an agreement is signed which stipulates working days/hours. Consultants may work 24/7 on their practice, it’s their baby, we understand, but that doesn’t mean that we need to be chained to our desk at all hours.
My clients are really great and respect that I am a Mum to two small children and therefore I partake in the school runs, swimming lessons etc and there are no qualms about this, but I have seen colleagues really suffering with being able to manage everything effectively. I’m not saying that secretaries can get paid and never be available but it is flexible working to a degree and if there is a happy relationship there with your PA, it will reflect on how she works and the commitment she gives to you.
The worst thing for a consultant is to constantly change their PA. It is unsettling for the Practice, the consultant and the patients. From a PA’s point of view, is very difficult to pick up a new practice and learn about the hospitals they work in, the procedures they perform, anaesthetists used, codes us etc. Once you have a good PA, it is much easier to keep a good relationship than it is to find a replacement.
My guidance for new consultants:
Find a good practice manager. Maybe consultants you know could suggest someone. I would always suggest finding someone independent with some good references. They are likely to charge reasonably, and you will get someone who will build a relationship with you and your Practice.
Consider what you want to pay someone and discuss the fees from the start. Allow room for negotiation and also for annual reviews etc. Pay is important because your PA needs to feel valued and if they are underpaid, they are less inclined to go the extra mile, which I feel is always important to do.
Find a good Practice Management System. There are lots of new and upcoming web-based practice management systems and they are really important for allowing you to keep everything in one place and somewhere both the consultant and PA can access.
Connect with Chloe at firstname.lastname@example.org
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