By Michael W. Weiss, M.D.
Today, I worked with Vicki.
Vicki is an experienced orthopedic assistant who used to be assigned frequently to this office, which is our original site and my home base. When our practice added providers and locations, Vicki joined the team of one of our newer physicians, Josh Szabo, elsewhere in our geography. She occasionally circulates back to cover for vacations.
This morning, I found her standing in the clinical area where one of my regular orthopedic techs, Melana, stands when she’s not on a cruise.
I like Vicki. I like my daughters, too. That never stopped me from wondering what parent-instilled life lessons they unlearned while they were away at college and removed from the daily influence of their Mom and me.
As I scanned my patient list, I thought, “Will Vicki remember that I complete my own surgical scheduling face sheets or confuse me with Josh, who doesn’t?”
I’m the “no variation guy” in the practice. Employees who work with me soon learn that, although I’m adventurous when it comes to fishing and adopting new technology, I am 100 percent consistent when it comes to office hours.
Any departure sends me off rhythm.
If a physician is the computing power behind the day, the clinical support staff functions like the operating system, running tasks and processes to maintain a productive routine.
On my team, Melana is the ortho tech equivalent of a Mac OS X Snow Leopard. She knows my patients so well and can sort through dynamic information so quickly that I scarcely detect her toggling among programs as she helps to manage the day.
The result is predictability and efficiency. Another upside to having Melana by my side for 15 years: Friendship and trust have developed between us, too. The combination of productivity and familiarity makes office hours pleasurable on good days and generates the emotional capital needed to power the team smoothly through the not-so-good.
“Will Vicki,” I wondered on that note, “find my sarcasm endearing and fuss over the latest pictures of my dog?”
Vicki is the equivalent of Josh’s Windows 7.
During Josh’s office hours, she works just as hard as Melana and with just as much processing speed. She’s a competent, caring tech who happens to be assigned to a physician who sees a different category of patients than I do – he’s sports and shoulder, I’m joints and general orthopedics – and manages his schedule different from the way I manage mine.
This morning, my concern was that Vicki is so much a Windows 7 that only a complete wipe out of her hard drive would convert her to an OS X Snow Leopard.
I looked at my watch. The Genius Bar at the Apple Store wouldn’t open for an hour and a half. Too late. Our waiting room was full.
One casualty of our practice’s growth has been the confidence that I used to find in our consistency not just within teams, but also across them. Fewer physicians, subspecialties and locations meant fewer variations in practice style. Our tech staff was more interchangeable then.
My wife says that, when someone is too rigid and narrow-minded, he misses opportunities to gain new insights and experience the richness of meeting diverse people.
She’s right again.
Growth has an upside, too. For example, it brought us Holly, one of our newer orthopedic techs who also recently covered for Melana. Holly, I quickly realized, is a natural-born OS X Snow Leopard. She can sub on my team any time.
I’ve also come to realize that at least one Windows 7 in our practice can capably run two operating systems simultaneously.
Vicki and I didn’t need the Genius Bar today.
Dr. Weiss is an orthopedic surgeon with Tri Rivers Surgical Associates. His column appears quarterly in Hospital News. You can contact him at (412) 367-0600 or email@example.com.