Stepping Back to Lead

Time to step back from patient care and step up to practice management.

By Chris Wilson, PT, DPT

Most of us became physical therapists to help people and to change lives. We are “doers”, so we chose to “do” physical therapy; however, our vision for how we would change lives can vary vastly. For some, the vision was to open one’s own practice from the beginning. For others, the vision grew while observing areas of practice on which they could improve. The challenge rests with how we define “doing” and staying true to our “why”—changing lives, not our “how”–being a clinician. The challenge is stepping back to lead.

Finding and Keeping Great Employees

Understanding the basic principles of human resource management.

By Kim Stamp, PPS Certified Administrator

Success in private practice, in many ways, depends on your ability to recruit and retain the best employees to participate in your company’s mission. Here are a few strategies for recruitment, staffing, and the onboarding process, as well as employee engagement tools that you can implement in your clinic to help you flourish for years to come.

One of today’s hottest topics in human resources (HR) is how to recruit desirable candidates. In my work with the Washington State Physical Therapy Managers Association, we frequently talk about how difficult it is to attract good candidates. Here are a few suggestions that I gleaned from speaking to our HR director:

  • Stress your brand: Stand out from the competition by clearly defining your mission as a company. People want to feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Effectively branding yourself may entice others to join your team. Part of your branding process might be allowing new hires to have some input regarding their schedules. Millennials, in particular, have a high desire for work-life balance, and the ability to be flexible with their schedules will go a long way in your negotiations.
  • Offer creative compensation: Look beyond the salary you offer and consider offering an attractive benefits package that includes ample time off, health care benefits, and some sort of profit sharing. Virtually every new physical therapy graduate asks about loan repayment programs. Consider offering a cash payment toward a student loan in 3-, 5-, and 10-year increments.
  • Capitalize on technology to target ideal candidates: Take the time to write a compelling ad for any opening you might have, and then utilize several outlets to publish it. LinkedIn,, and even Facebook are great places to start.

Now that you’ve recruited your dream candidate, it’s crucial that you have a positive and thorough onboarding process. This process is much more than making sure your new employee knows how to get into your electronic medical record (EMR) system, and what their schedule is; it is your best opportunity to orient them to your company’s values, internal marketing strategies, and your expectations of them. I actually begin talking about these things in the interview process so there are no surprises down the road. We want our new staff members to feel like part of the team, and we want to minimize any unnecessary stress that arises when we are unclear about expectations and culture.

I would encourage you to have an onboarding checklist that includes everything from ordering business cards and laptops to how to request vacation and the payday schedule. Most of our onboarding paperwork is completed online, but I usually spend about an hour going through all of these details with a new employee before I transition them to their clinic director for orientation. One of the things I emphasize is the importance we place on the patient experience at every point during the treatment continuum.

The biggest threat to a great onboarding experience is our busy schedules. You absolutely must place a high value on the process and carve out time in your schedule to do it successfully. If your new people feel valued on their first day, they will be more likely to begin engaging immediately and will also be more likely to ensure that your patients are well cared for. I would encourage doing a 90-day review with all new hires. This gives you the opportunity to address any concerns and allows the employee time to ask questions. After the 90 days, schedule annual reviews with your employees to assess their performance.

Employees tend to stay in a job where they feel positively engaged. There is so much to consider when talking about how to engage employees, but if it is important to you to retain your best employees, you absolutely must care for your employees in ways that matter to them (note that I did not say “to you”). To be an effective manager, you need to get to know your employees and understand what motivates them, what inspires them, and what demonstrates value to them.

Millennials, for instance, like the excitement of new challenges. If you have a lot of younger people on your staff, look for ways to change things up for them; for example, asking them to create a new program for patients or to represent your company at a job fair. Consider motivating your staff with incentives for reaching measurable goals.

The success of our clinics depends on our ability to find, and keep, excellent employees. Take some time to evaluate your current process, from advertising an opening to providing a thorough onboarding experience, and find ways to improve your company’s ability to succeed by taking care of your greatest resource—your people.

Kim Stamp is the regional business manager for South Sound Physical & Hand Therapy in Olympia and Tacoma, and the president for the Washington State Physical Therapy Managers Association. She can be reached at

When in Doubt, Don’t Hire

Hiring the right person for a physical therapy practice is the most important task for an owner.

By Harold S. Dahlstrand, Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois

Over my 40-plus years in the corporate world, management consulting, and academia, I believe the most important responsibility of a manager/leader is to hire the right people. Training, mentoring, coaching, and performance management are also important tasks, but if you hire the wrong person to start with, they will never work out and your job will be more difficult. In my career as an executive vice president of human resources for a $3 billion company, I interviewed and hired thousands of people. Whenever I shortcut the process or felt that the person that I made the offer to was “good enough,” I found out that good enough was not good enough. In Jim Collins’s excellent book on leadership, Good to Great,1 he strongly emphasizes this point: “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seat.” He goes on to say, “People are not your most important asset but the right people are” and “When in doubt, don’t hire, keep looking.”

Most managers and leaders do not spend enough time and effort on the interviewing process. Whether hiring a front desk person or a senior therapist, you want to select the right person. This process takes time, a lot of preparation, and planning. You will never achieve your organization’s objectives if you don’t hire with care. Does the person that you are planning to hire share your core values, work habits, and ethics? Will the person be a cultural fit? Can you trust them and will they be fully engaged in your organization? If you want to truly be an employer of choice, you need to see your culture as a recruiting asset. A successful physical therapy practice owner is not just looking for the most skilled person who will accept your salary offer. You want people who understand your organization’s mission and values and will add value to make your culture work.

How do you get there? Is your organization known as a great place to work? Are you an “employer of choice”? Do people want to work for you?

It is extremely important that as the owner of a private practice you set up a thorough selection process. This includes:

1. Knowing exactly what the job description is, what you are looking for, and what is expected from the candidate

2. Screening applications and résumés

3. Testing and reviewing work samples

4. Interviewing the candidate in a casual, private setting, allowing sufficient time. If possible, have several employees interview the candidate to ensure a culture fit.

5. Checking references, including talking to faculty and former employers—the past is the best indicator of the future.

6. Making the selection.

If you are not completely convinced at the end of this process that this is the right person, keep looking.

The actual interview is the task that the novice finds most difficult. There are many tips that I found useful. The interview must be planned. Make sure that you set an example by being professional and punctual. It is the interviewer’s responsibility to put the candidate at ease. Working from predetermined questions is helpful. There are many excellent books about interviewing that can help you to develop your own favorite questions. If you are new to interviewing, then I suggest that you practice, practice, and practice.

I encourage all interviewers to use behavioral type questions. “What would you do if . . . ?” Ask open-ended questions: “Why is that?” “How did you do that?” “How did you plan?” Do not start questions with words like: will, should, are, did, etc.

Some of my suggested/favorite questions to ask candidates are the following:

1. What caused you to pursue a career in physical therapy?

2. What were your likes and dislikes at your previous position?

3. What are your most significant accomplishments?

4. What interests you about a position at our clinic?

5. What would you like to tell me about yourself?

6. How would you describe yourself?

7. How would others describe you?

8. What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

9. What motivates you?

10. Tell me about a person(s) who had a major impact on your life.

11. If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?

12. As you look back over your life, tell me about a turning point.

13. It is obvious from our discussions that you have many accomplishments. Tell me about something that you look back on as a “high point” or a point of pride.

14. You have probably also gone through some tough times. Tell me about a time that was particularly low for you emotionally or physically. What got you through that low point?

15. What words of wisdom would you give a younger person if he or she sought your advice? How would you sum up your personal philosophy to him or her in a sentence or two?

16. Who do you have currently who provides encouragement and support and truly believes in you and with whom you can share ideas and thoughts and brainstorm?

During the interview I encourage you to take notes for all candidates, allow for silence, pay attention to visual cues such as body language, eye contact, posture, firmness of handshake, and general attentiveness. Never arrive at your decision during the interview. Gather information and feedback from the staff members the candidate met during their visit. Close the interview gracefully; even if you do not hire the individual, have them leave wishing that they could work for you. And finally, let all applicants know that you have made a decision.

Now you know what questions to ask, but what are you really looking for? Here are some suggested characteristics that you need to evaluate.

1. Skills, experience, and expertise

2. Safety orientation

3. Desire to continue learning

4. Performance effectiveness

5. Assertiveness

6. Adaptability

7. Personal motivation

8. Maturity

9. Client/patient focus

10. Communication

11. Core values

12. Cultural fit

Finally, there are some questions that we are not lawfully allowed to ask. These are found in Figure 1. Many of these questions are permitted after you hire the candidate.

Figure 1: Unlawful questions during an interview

  • National origin/ancestry
  • Age, except to ask if underage
  • Religion or creed
  • Any kind of disability
  • Workers compensation history
  • Race or color
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • record (conviction is okay to ask about)—in California you may not ask about a marijuana conviction from over two years ago.
  • Pregnancy or family plans
  • Credit references
  • Garnishment records
  • Height and weight
  • Marital status
  • Unwed motherhood
  • Welfare
  • Transportation: “How will you get to work?” or “Do you have a car?”
  • Union activity/membership
  • Citizenship status
  • Children, names, ages, how many, child care problems


1. Collins J. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t. New York: Harper Collins Publishers; 2001.

Harold S. Dahlstrand is currently an Executive in Residence and assistant professor of business at Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois. He can be reached at

Finding the Right Fit

Steps to hiring the right person for your private practice clinic.

By Arun Mallikarjunan*
March 2018

I am sure every business owner remembers the day when they had to hire somebody to keep up with an increase in customer inflow. It is a great feeling, one that I can personally attest to. I also remember the feeling of dread that quickly followed. I have to make sure the right candidates find me, then sift through the applicants and hire the right person. Finally, how do I make sure the new person is going to be as committed to helping my business as my current team? I don’t want someone good who will leave after we have spent a lot of energy training them.

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