Hiring Right Makes a Hospital Special

Hiring right, is at the best of times a tricky proposition, more so if one is attempting to hire people to work in a hospitals. This becomes even more difficult if one is hiring people in managerial roles in non-medical areas, folks such as the Front Office Executives, Case Managers, Service Line Managers or Sales Managers.

This is primarily because healthcare services are unlike any other service industry. The customers here are both patients and customers, they are unwell, they don’t want to be there but circumstances have forced them to seek the services of the hospital and the expenses incurred unlike say that of a restaurant or an amusement park are an unforeseen burden. Many a times, they have been compelled to travel far away from home and they are alone amongst strangers, who will have an immense amount of power over them. And to make things a lot worse is the lingering uncertainty about the medical outcomes, indeed about life and death.

People working in hospitals must understand these factors well. Medical folks because of the virtue of their training and  knowledge comprehend these facts instinctively. However service personnel, who have moved to healthcare services from say the hospitality sector are often caught by surprise and are left wondering about the interplay between patients, customers and hospital staff.

Thus, a hospital must be very careful in hiring the right people and then training them in handling customers and patients. Here is a small checklist of what I look for when hiring people in a hospital.

Empathy:

This is the single most important characteristic that I look for in an individual. It is absolutely essential that those who work in hospitals have empathy for patients and their attendants. Many years ago I heard a doctor say that she always tries to remember that it is not a tumour that she is treating, but a human being. Anyone who works in the hospital would do well to remember that. In a hospital I would like to hire people, who can connect with those in distress and interact with a measure of understanding and compassion.They must treat every patient and his problems as the only one that they have to handle that day.

Patience and Maturity:

It is imperative that a hospital hires mature people with loads of patience. This will help in managing patients, who are generally impatient-to see the doctor, get the tests done, lay their hands on that elusive report and get the hell out of the hospital. Since most people find it hard to understand matters related to their illnesses and treatment options, it is best that we have people who can explain these things patiently, without losing their cool and without showing the slightest signs of indifference.

Hunger for Knowledge:

It is a myth that in a hospital, medical knowledge should remain restricted to the medical folks and it is only they who need it. I have seen patients asking questions from patient care executives about arcane surgical procedures, about diagnostic tests prescribed by the doctors and even about their prognosis. To my mind, every individual working in a hospital should aim to acquire and benefit from basic medical knowledge. For me, part of the charm of working in a hospital has always been the immense amount of knowledge I gain by interacting with medical colleagues. In conversation with doctor colleagues, if I find myself lost, I never hesitate to ask them to stop and explain things to me in terms that I can understand. It always helps, when I am required to explain a procedure to let us say a foreign patient contemplating travel to our hospitals in Delhi.

Ability to Get Along with Doctors

It takes a special kind of skill to work with busy doctors, who are always short on time and stressed out. One needs to adapt to their work schedules and understand their pressures to put things in the right perspective. Also, one must remember that they are trained as doctors and not as professional managers, thus often their understanding of a manager’s world is not the same as that of another professional manager. In my experience it is best to always try to understand, where they might be coming from rather than articulating management dogma, which they may not understand well or may find obnoxious.

Optimistic and Cheerful Disposition:

Those blessed with an optimistic and cheerful world view do well in a hospital. A hospital needs loads of people with a sunny disposition, who always look at the brighter side of things and who are hard to put down. These are individuals, who are eager to help, who go out of their way, do that bit extra to make someone happy, because that is what makes them happy.

Rigorous training and an organisational culture based on openness and trust helps these people become good to great and transform the hospital into a wonderful place of healing and caring.

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Nursing-The Big Differentiator

If someone was to ask me what truly differentiates one hospital from the other, I would unhesitatingly answer that it really has to be the quality of nursing. Yet most hospital managers pay scant time and attention to what is perhaps one of the most critical functions in the hospital. In India, nursing is perhaps one of the most under rated professions and in a hospital senior managers, who are busy driving patient volumes and revenue and focusing on delivering cutting edge medicine often forget that it is Nursing, which truly is the back bone of  hospital operations.

The last few months for me have been nothing less than traumatic. My father lost his battle with cancer and he continued to be in and out of hospitals virtually all of November and pretty much most of December. While, he gradually deteriorated and my worries and frustrations of doing battle with as implacable a foe as cancer, mounted I could clearly see the wonderful role nursing played in delivering round the clock care to him. My admiration for the profession has since multiplied many folds and it also led me to reflect on how we need to acknowledge and appreciate the role Nursing plays in the life of a patient and indeed that of the hospital.

If a hospital is about ”care”, truly speaking it is the Nursing, which is the face of the hospital. While a patient who is admitted in the hospital sees his doctor, usually twice in the day, (when the doctor is on his rounds), he sees nurses all through the day. While, the doctors have the largest role to play in achieving a cure, it is the nurses who deliver care and comfort in a hospital. Their role gets magnified many times, when the doctors know that they do not have a cure or sometimes when hope is in short supply, it is the brisk efficiency and the caring hand of a nurse, which makes a big difference. As my father grew progressively weaker and his condition deteriorated, we became more and more dependent on the nurses. We needed them to give him medicines, control his infusions, give him feeds, rub his back, sponge him, draw samples for tests, help him turn in the bed, decipher his almost incoherent speech and comfort him. Often, they bore the brunt of his ire – many a times he was petulant like an ill-mannered child, difficult to reason and get along with, yet those nurses never flinched, they never once walked out of the room in anger or said anything, which might be hurtful.

I watched all this and more play out in front of my eyes every day for several weeks over the last few months. The more I saw, the more ashamed I felt of how senior hospital managers like me treat nurses in the hospital. The doctors usually take them for granted, order them around, some pull them up for even small infarction, hospital managers just do not have time for them, they are just there, pretty much like hospital furniture.

Is this because the nurses that we have come from a socio-economic milieu, which is very different from our own? Is it because most nurses in our hospitals can not converse in fluent English, which is the undisputed currency of social mobility in our country? Is it because many of these nurses are not as well-educated as the doctors, hospital managers and probably most patients whom they care for slick private hospitals?

Whatever, be the reason we need to introspect about the critical role of nursing in our hospitals. I would surely like to believe that a hospital can easily have a long-lasting and sustainable competitive advantage over its competitors if it gets its nursing right. A bunch of efficient, dedicated and caring nurses are a far more precious asset than fancy equipment, smart doctors and smartly turned out-patient services executives.

Come to think of it, isn’t it strange that a hospital charges a fee for the doctors, there are charges for the use of the OT, the consumables and the medicines and even the hospital bed. Yet, no hospital that I know of charges a patient for nursing care!!!

PS: My father spent his last days at the Max Hospital in Saket in New Delhi

Pic courtesy http://acceleratednursingprograms101.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Accelerated-Nursing-Programs-08.jpg