By Clay Dubberly, Intern
The Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group (NMPG) may have solved the problem of low medical assistant (MA) retention.
After experiencing an MA turnover rate which reached a high of 38%, they realized something had to change. In a detailed study, they described how frustration and dissatisfaction led them to implement a variety of practices which decreased their MA turnover rate from 32-38% in 2007/2008 to 16-17% in 2009/2010.
Many MAs were unsatisfied with a low salary and lack of opportunity for advancement. These were some of the main reasons that NMPG reported a high MA turnover rate. Other physicians say that bureaucracy, heavy government regulations, and a negative work environment contributed as well.
What did NMPG do to boost MA retention?
Cindy Davis, Director of Human Resources for NMPG stated, “We are recognizing that the MA is in a critical role (i.e., a vital piece of the puzzle to delivering collaborated, organized, and efficient patient care); it only makes sense that we nurture and develop them and make sure that they are and remain engaged; to help them grow within the organization as much as they can within the role.”
Here’s how NMPG managed to cut their turnover rate in half in only three years:
1. They gave MAs a pay increase
NMPG raised MA pay by 2%, which saved money in the long term. According to HR consultants, the cost to recruit, train and a hire a new MA averages $9,000, which is less than the 2% increase.
2. MAs received customer service training
Customer service can make or break any organization. In response to comments from patients like, “Why do you hire people that never smile?” they instituted a customer service training program which produced immediate results.
3. Cross-training was given to MAs
MAs were taught to fulfill other roles, like working the front desk, laboratory, or medical records. This enabled them to cover for other employees and to better understand the relation of other roles to their role, making them more valuable.
4. They were given incentives
Based on an annual performance review, MAs were given the opportunity for a raise.
5. Staff recognition was promoted
Public praise is perhaps one of the most important aspects of promoting a healthy work environment and pushing your employees to excel. In a survey, Psychology Today discovered that 83% of respondents believe that “recognition for contributions was more fulfilling than rewards or gifts.” NMPG capitalized on this when they launched a program which allowed patients and employees to nominate an exceptional employee each quarter.
6. MAs were granted a chance to participate in the clinical career ladder
NMPG created a clinical career ladder that offers three levels: MA, MA I and MA II. Each level can be attained by completing requirements for clinical ladder projects. Because of this, some MAs reported greater satisfaction and searched for additional education to increase their value to NMPG. According to NMPG, the clinical career ladder program “allows MAs to participate in career exploration and make positive contributions to their divisions.”
While NMPG hasn’t advertised their system to any other organizations, they say that it can be easily replicated elsewhere.