Medical practice administrators play a crucial role in ensuring that the business of care delivery is managed efficiently, allowing physicians to devote most of their time to patient care.
Beyond being an effective communicator, having a knack for resolving conflicts and remaining even-keeled and approachable, there are many other qualities and skills practice administrators need to be successful.
With more than 25 years of experience in medical practice administration, longtime MGMA member Lucien Roberts, III, MHA, FACMPE, administrator, Gastrointestinal Specialists Inc., Richmond, Va., shares what he feels students should know about being a practice administrator.
Become a steward for the organization
Most important, practice administrators set the tone for the organization. “Even as a bureaucrat, we play a major role in patient perception,” Roberts says. Although patients may not know each physician, they recognize and appreciate altruism.
Therefore, it’s vital for practice administrators to not only show how much they care about their patients, but also make sure that everyone in the practice is pointed in the same direction. In other words, as Roberts states, “the administrator is the glue for the organization.”
Recognize the importance of culture
For practice administrators, developing and sustaining a healthy culture is of the utmost importance, but it’s also necessary to recognize how they fit into that culture. “As a new leader, they [staff] are drawing cues from you on how you treat other people, just as they do from the doctors,” Roberts says. “So you want to lead by example in creating a culture of whatever you want it to be.”
Roberts emphasizes that it’s helpful to look to successful practices and ask them about their secret sauce. “We’re a community and a family, so ask others what they have done to effect change,” Roberts says.
In addition, Roberts suggests that new practice administrators assess their practice’s culture before jumping in headfirst. “Don’t rock the boat quickly,” Roberts says. “Make sure you understand what kind of boat you are navigating before you change course. You need to be aligned with the physicians as to the direction you are going to take the ship.”
Know the type of people you want to hire
Practice administrators are tasked with hiring staff, which is why it’s imperative that they identify the type of employees who fit the practice culture and can excel on the job. “I follow the bright sunshine philosophy,” Roberts says. “I hire for personality; I want people who wake up happy.”
But he also hires bright individuals who can handle working with practice management systems and EHRs. “If you hire bright sunshine, it leads into being able to care for people and getting the processes down consistently,” Roberts says.
Be prepared to wear many hats
Particularly when they work for smaller practices, practice administrators handle a wide range of daily tasks. That’s why they need to be good multi-taskers.
“The smaller the medical practice, the more hats you are going to wear, be it finance, operations, whatever it is,” Roberts says. “During a typical day, I may be involved in staffing questions in terms of coverage, recruitment of a new provider, construction of a new office or looking at a lease.” For practice administrators, every day presents its own challenges and rewards.
Understand the challenges of the job
Practice administration has changed a lot over the years, according to Roberts, so it’s critical for those who want to get into the field to recognize the demands. “There’s more to do and less hours in a day. There’s never an offseason,” Roberts says.
“I enjoy the variety of things. What I don’t enjoy – and I’m probably better now at what I do than I’ve ever been – is that at times I feel more overwhelmed because there are simply too many tasks coming from too many directions.” Specifically, Roberts points to staffing challenges due to turnover, physician credentialing and the uncertainty of the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).
Roberts also stresses the need for ongoing self-assessment and self-improvement. For example, he suggests taking online courses to improve time management, delegation and prioritization skills. “We never master what we do, so we need to make learning part of our job descriptions,” Roberts says.
Find mentors and consider board certification
Becoming a Certified Medical Practice Executive (CMPE) can set you apart from the competition during the hiring process. But before considering certification, take time to obtain information about the CMPE process. Then feel free to contact MGMA with specific questions.
It’s also a good idea to find CMPEs in your area and ask them about the certification process and their experience in medical practice administration. “I would recommend that you do that in a variety of venues, not just in private practice but people who work for health systems,” Roberts says. “Get as much exposure you can to get a feel for something you might like.”
Take advantage of MGMA resources
Beyond gathering information from CMPEs, take advantage of all the benefits your MGMA Student Membership offers and connect with fellow MGMA members. Roberts recommends becoming an active MGMA member at both the state and national level and attending conferences and other networking events.
“You will build a support network and family who will be with you throughout your career. I can’t understate the value of that,” Roberts notes. “I have people I have seen once a year for 10 years whom I could call today … and they would provide unconditional support. That makes us very different.”
As you get started in your career, it’s essential to take advantage of the abundance of resources at your fingertips. By doing so, you will be better prepared to succeed.