I’ll admit it. I like reality TV. In fact, one of my favorite reality TV shows is Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team. It shows what it takes to become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader (DCC). Why am I talking about cheerleading in a health care blog? Because the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders put more effort into hiring cheerleaders than most health care organizations do in hiring doctors. If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know I spend a lot of my time training doctors on specific things they can do to improve the patient experience. Physician training is a common tactic in health care, but when those efforts fail, health systems spend a lot of resources trying to help their habitually low performing doctors. Lately, I’ve been thinking we should try a different approach. Why not focus more attention on hiring for the patient experience from the start?
How does this relate to the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders? In health care, we aspire to hire the best. The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders are one of the country’s best professional cheerleading teams, but they didn’t gain this distinction by solely focusing on dance skills. Instead, they have created an audition process that ensures they select cheerleaders who embody the mission and values of the organization. I think health care should follow their lead.
3 hiring tips, taken straight from the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders
1. Redesign your hiring process to produce the results you want.
- DCC: To become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, you must be able to do more than just dance. The interview process puts applicants through a variety of situations, all designed to ensure candidates have what it takes to uphold the values and vision of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.
- Health care: In health care, we are often understaffed, so we fall into the trap of hiring the first competent physician who applies for the job. The problem with this approach is we really don’t know how well they communicate with patients, if they are empathetic, or if they connect well with others. Health care needs doctors who are excellent clinicians and patient experience advocates. Unfortunately, we’re really good at assessing technical competence, but we’re lousy at assessing the more subtle qualities that make or break a patient’s experience.
2. Focus on your core values.
- DCC: In order to become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, you have to repeatedly show the judges that you posses the values and characteristics they desire. Because the interview process spans several weeks, it’s easy to know who is genuine and who is simply faking it.
- Health care: We all have a code of conduct we want our doctors to adhere to and we all have a set of core values we expect them to possess. However, few health care systems have a reliable way to gauge during the interview process if a doctor can or will live up to these standards. Even when we ask, we take the doctor’s word for it without ever verifying if his or her prior actions demonstrate hostility towards improving the patient experience.
3. Assess communication skills.
- DCC: To become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, you must demonstrate that you are a good communicator by performing well in a Q&A interview session. If an applicant fails to communicate effectively, she gets cut.
- Health care: In health care, our interview process does assess general communication skills. However, communicating to an interviewer is entirely different than the communication that is required for effective patient care. Being able to communicate things in a way patients understand is critical for providing a good patient experience, and health care currently does little to evaluate this skill when hiring.
Now that I’ve mentioned some of what’s missing from health care’s current hiring process, let me explain what I think we should do to change it. Yet again, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders have already figured out the solution.
Assess applicants’ skills before offering the job
What does it take to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader? Their website outlines the following steps: 1) complete the application, 2) preliminary audition, 3) semi-final audition, 4) personal interview, 5) written test, 6) final talent auditions, and 7) complete training camp. Notice how many steps I listed: seven! The last step alone takes several weeks. In health care, most interviews last 1 to 2 days max, and although applicants speak with several interviewers, they are rarely asked to demonstrate one of the most important things: their commitment to the patient experience.
3 ways to assess patient experience skills before offering the job
1. Review prior patient experience survey results . Virtually every health care organization measures the patient experience. Review your applicant’s prior results. If you’re planning to hire a physician who consistently scored at the bottom of his or her peer group, or who consistently had more patient complaints, consider hiring someone else.
2. Focus on the patient experience throughout the hiring process. This should begin as soon as a physician submits an application. For example, put a video on your website explaining your organizations’ commitment to the patient experience, and require applicants to review it before they can submit an application. Likewise, the patient experience should be discussed throughout the interview process.
3. Interact with patients. Before you make an offer to a new doctor, observe his or her interactions with patients. You can work with your legal department to use real patients under the direct supervision of a staff physician. You can use volunteers, members from a patient advisory council, or paid secret shoppers. The point isn’t to judge the doctor’s diagnostic or technical skills, but to observe their body language, emotional intelligence, and communication skills.
In the end, not every physician will be a good fit for your organization. By learning to hire better, you can hire physicians who embrace your organization’s commitment to the patient experience. This is much easier than trying to correct behavior after the fact. What do you think?
Trina E. Dorrah is an internal medicine physician and the author of Physician’s Guide to Surviving CGCAHPS & HCAHPS.