Mentorship: Tools for Attaining Great Talent
Effective approaches for this tight labor market
By Yvonne Swanson, PT, DPT, and Kayleigh Melroy PT, DPT
As business owners, we must manage multiple aspects of growing a successful practice, all of which require our attention. Of these, it is likely that one area that is top of mind these days is talent acquisition and retention, especially in this year’s market and environment. So, what can help make a good practice great at attracting talent and supporting the current fleet’s growth? There are quite a few great answers to this question. This article focuses on a key one: a great mentorship program.
Think back to when you were a new graduate looking for the perfect job that supported your desire to dive in and grow as a professional right from the start. The first step in a career, or simply a new position, can often feel overwhelming, as if drinking through a fire hose, as you try to absorb all the setting-specific workflows and apply the many clinical skills learned along the way. The list of things to absorb and do well is quite large — new electronic medical record navigation for efficient documentation and accurate coding, home exercise and patient engagement software, referral and third-party payer correspondence and outreach, specialist referrals, new colleagues, schedule and patient caseload management, clinical skill refinement and practicing at the top of the license — the list goes on and on. How do we ensure our brand-new team members (front desk, therapists, and support staff) are making the best decisions for our precious practices and patients, hard-earned referral sources, and payer contracts every day? Yes, training and onboarding are key, but the real value comes from a great mentorship program.
Now more than ever, a formal mentorship program is extremely attractive to new hires. They are looking for clinical support, professional growth, and practice management as they consider which practice is right for them. Early investment in these new team members yields a long-term culture of giving back and develops a collaborative environment and mind-set. This can result in faster and higher staff confidence levels with clinical care decisions, practice management, and engagement and, in turn, happier staff.
Is the investment in time and staff resources and potential loss of revenue up front worth it? I would argue, absolutely! The juice is worth the squeeze. Most practices have onboarding, but what happens when that is over?
Potential hires are looking for longer-term support and mentorship and having a formalized program for that is often a differentiator in attracting talent. Developing and sustaining a mentorship the right way takes time, dedication, resources, and a motivated person to lead the mentorship initiative. Yes, there may be a loss in revenue in the short term due to time away from patient care. However, if mentoring is done right, it yields a more independent clinician who can manage their caseload well and maximize revenue faster. Specifically, the up-front investment is paid forward over and over through more informed decisions for patient care, better coding and documentation, and improved confidence with difficult clinical situations and follow-through. (For example, mentoring can result in improved confidence in making those first dreaded physician phone calls as a new graduate.) Lastly, many mentees collaborate more within the clinical team and as a result are more engaged employees.
How can we enhance staff retention and growth through mentorship? Certification programs. A mentor certification is an excellent way to provide professional growth opportunities to interested team members. It can be a stepping-stone for up-and-coming leaders and supports a practice’s reputation of being an educational institution. Mentorship certification should be kept simple and typically teaches the structure and function of the program and how to be a good mentor. Over time, mentees can then become future mentors, supporting and giving back to the very program they benefited from. The program becomes self-fulfilling.
How can you develop a great mentorship program?
- Establish consistent and clear structure. For example, 12 weeks of 1:1 mentoring followed by 12 weeks of in-formal check-ins.
- Create an environment that fosters communication between mentor, mentee, and clinic director.
- Use a learning management system to create the curriculum and keep it organized.
- For the first few weeks, start with the basics, such as laying out expectations, time management, EMR system training, scheduling, and documentation skills.
- Then move on to other soft skills, such as how to work well with support staff and physical therapy assistants, how to communicate with physicians, and the best methods for practicing telehealth.
- Incorporate clinical skills practice throughout the curriculum, including manual skills and case-based discussions based off the new hire’s caseload.
- Be open to feedback. Incorporate surveys at six weeks and 12 weeks to gain feedback to help guide changes to the curriculum.
- As a practice owner or clinic manager, check in with the mentor periodically to make sure they are not burning out. Workload ebbs and flows, and if you keep a pulse on that, the mentor will feel supported.
- Finally, celebrate wins, big or small, to enforce a positive practice environment.
When the above is done well, it should yield a self-sufficient and confident therapist who reaches expectations and goals faster. Ultimately, mentees are set up for success in the clinic and can eventually become future mentors ready to bestow their knowledge and skills for the next generations of new hires.
Three things you can do to get started on creating a mentorship program:
- People: Identify your practice’s strengths and one or two team members interested in growth opportunities to own it.
- Structure: A must-have for a successful program. Design the structure of your program’s length, content, and meeting schedule to ensure it is repeatable for the next group of mentors.
- Process: Create a shared space for goals and hold those involved responsible for keeping the meetings and discussing goals.
There is no better time than the present to start a great mentorship program, especially in this hiring environment. New staff members want and need ongoing support. Current staff members want opportunities to grow and develop within the company. Why not establish a program that gives back and creates a culture of excellence through teaching and paying it forward? With a little work up front, the sky’s the limit.
Yvonne Swanson, PT, DPT, is a APTA Private Practice member and compliance officer and partner at Performance Physical Therapy in Rhode Island. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kayleigh Melroy, DPT, is a physical therapist working at Performance Physical Therapy. She graduated from Ithaca College in 2012 with a doctorate of physical therapy as well as a minor in dance. She then opened up and served as the clinic director for the Performance Physical Therapy office in Middletown, RI up until 2021 then transitioned to the role of Mentorship Coordinator for the company. In addition, she is a founding faculty member of the new Performance Physical Therapy Orthopedic Residency Program. She also serves as the company physical therapist for Island Moving Company, Newport’s professional contemporary ballet company.