Only the best

Annabel McGilvray
Med J Aust
Published online: 29 October 2013

Good staff are the basis of good practice management.
What are the best steps for finding them?

When Canberra’s Althea Wellness Centre advertised online to recruit a practice nurse earlier this year, the multidisciplinary drug and alcohol treatment centre received a healthy 90-plus expressions of interest.

The problem was that many of those expressing interest in the 3-day-a-week position in suburban Canberra were nurses living in India, Africa and the Middle East.

Althea’s clinical director and acting chief executive, Wendy Armstrong, described the response as something of a disaster.

“When we do countrywide advertising we generally get a lot of overseas interest and the problem is that we can’t sponsor anyone to come — we can’t offer them full-time work — so there is just no point.”

At the same time, they were also advertising for a medical receptionist.

There were no international enquiries, but many of the 40 applicants had nothing like the right qualifications.

“I had to email back and say, ‘have a look at the bottom which says you have to respond to the selection criteria’!” Ms Armstrong says.

With a hint of frustration, she says the 4-year-old clinic is learning through experience some of the challenges of staff recruitment.

“We now put a line at the bottom of our advertisements saying, ‘no sponsorship available’.”

Good administration staff can make a big difference to the workings of a practice, from productivity to waiting room wellbeing.

But it can be a hard job to find the right people, with the magic combination of qualifications, skills and personality.

It’s estimated that successfully filling just one position — from writing the advertisement to negotiating the contract — can entail as many as 20 hours’ effort.

So what are the best steps for a successful recruitment campaign? And what roles do social media and old-fashioned word-of-mouth play in modern medical staff appointments?


Job description

Director of Indigo Medical Consulting Bernadette Beach says that whether it is staff for primary care or a specialist clinic, it is best to take a human resources approach and start by preparing detailed position descriptions for all roles in the practice, including those yet to be filled.

“When it comes to recruiting, if there isn’t a position description, then it doesn’t give any clarity about what’s really needed.”

Since 2010, employers have been obliged to provide position descriptions as part of the Fair Work Act but Ms Beach finds only between 10 and 20 per cent of the practices she deals with have them ready and up to date. It’s not hard, she says.

“When drawing up a position description, begin by looking at what skills are needed, which attributes best suit the position, and what personality is required”, she says.

A specialist’s staff requirements begin with a receptionist and a medical secretary although, in practice, these positions are often blurred.

Neither position requires formal qualifications, but a medical secretary should be able to provide a measure of his or her typing skill and have some understanding of hospital liaison.

Both positions require the ability to deal well with patients and other medical professionals, and experience in other practices is valuable when it comes to understanding medical jargon and using practice software.

Familiarity with medical software and terms is also valuable for those working in general practice administration.

But while the requirements for a receptionist are largely the same as in the specialist environment, general practice managers and nurses should have relevant formal qualifications.

Ms Beach says that it is good to involve other staff in drawing up such job descriptions, particularly when they have a more comprehensive idea of the details of the work involved.

“The more detail, the more clarity. Employees want to know what their role is. They want to know what they’re being measured on. It can also give them that little more security and feedback.”


Where to look

With a job description in hand, it is important for a practice to select the right platforms for advertising the role.

There are more options than ever, from word-of-mouth to social media and online classifieds, and different platforms can make a big difference to who will see and potentially respond to the advertisement.

Online websites like provide access to the largest pool of potential candidates but, as demonstrated by the Althea Wellness Centre’s experience — which involved both, a paid site, and, a free classified site — that pool can sometimes be far too large.

Putting more detail into an advertisement — including notices about selection criteria and sponsorship — can reduce the number of unwanted applications, Ms Beach says.

“If your ad is brief you’re going to get every Tom, Dick and Harry applying!”

As an alternative to the mainstream sites, many Medicare Locals provide a free online billboard for local practices to use for job advertisements.

This can narrow the field considerably as those reading the site will be predominantly people from the local region with a medical bent.

It was a notice on the ACT Medicare Local site that eventually produced the successful candidate for Althea’s practice nurse position.

By contrast, traditional newspaper advertisements are expensive, but like the Medicare Local option, a practice can be sure the advertisement will be read by a local audience.

There has also been a move towards recruitment using social media.

Typing “practice manager” and your general location into LinkedIn will bring up a list of names with their experience and skills already on display for the potential employer to choose from.

It’s then a matter of approaching the best people and asking them to consider the position you need to fill. Facebook is another social media platform now being used to seek and find new employees.

But before turning to social media, Ms Beach says practices could try to use their own internal networks, asking existing staff to spread news of the vacancy.

If a staff member can recommend someone they know and who they feel is up to the job, it can remove any need to look further afield.

Word-of-mouth is particularly useful in smaller specialist sectors and communities such as the drug and alcohol treatment area.

“Word-of-mouth is probably the main way we get our staff and nurses”, Wendy Armstrong says. “Like attracts like in a way — particularly in areas like drugs and alcohol.”

In the end, recruiters say it is always good to use more than one platform to reach potential employees.

And with the ideal combination of detail and careful placement, the practice recruitment officer won’t be left sifting through the CVs of people who have worked in the fast food industry and want to be receptionists.

Selection and interview

Selecting and interviewing the best applicants consumes the bulk of the time in any recruitment campaign.

Compare the qualifications of the candidates to the requirements of the job description, pull out the good applications and arrange interviews.

At this point, it doesn’t always work to be too safe in your choices, says Catherine Fantin, general manager of client services at Victoria’s MP Staff medical health care recruitment agency.

“If someone has been using one set of practice software for 15 years, but has never used the one used by your practice, it shouldn’t be an overriding obstacle to their employment, particularly if they shine in other areas.

“It’s not hard to interchange that software and if they’re smart they just pick it up if you show them once.”

But knowing the vocabulary and particular codes for a specific specialty and having medical practice experience can make a big difference.

“If it’s a specialist, ideally you’d like somebody with specialist experience so they have knowledge about theatre bookings and such things”, Ms Fantin says.

The alternative is to consider taking on a younger candidate and mentoring them to be able to work in the field.

It is at the interview that subjective measures such as a candidate’s charisma can be assessed.

“First thing to look for is presentation — the way that they come in”, Ms Fantin says. “Then the way that they speak to you and, finally, how friendly they are.”

Finally, when the choice has been made and the successful candidate is on his or her way to becoming part of your practice team, be sure not to burn your bridges by not replying to those who were unsuccessful.

“Down the track you may want to approach somebody again”, Ms Beach says.

Keep the resumes of the promising candidates on file for future use. It may make the next recruitment all that much cheaper
and easier.

Time for recruitment

Step 1. Write advertisement (1 hour)

Step 2. Post advertisement on and other relevant sites (2 hours)

Step 3. Process advertisement enquiries (2 hours)

Step 4. Field and sort applications (3 hours)

Step 5. Select and notify appropriate candidates (2 hours)

Step 6. Book interviews (1 hour)

Step 7. Interviews and skills tests (4 hours)

Step 8. Reference checks (2 hours)

Step 9. Prepare and send letter of offer (1 hour)

Step 10. Negotiation of contract (1 hour)

(Courtesy: MP Staff)

  • Annabel McGilvray



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