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You'll get the best content from The Profitable Practice and leading insights on practice management from around the web—delivered straight to your inbox. I spoke with experts on the subject to discover how your primary care practice can hire the right office manager.
The amount and type of experience and education required for success as an office manager will vary somewhat from practice to practice. The necessary level of education will also depend partially on the size of the practice, says Brian White, managing partner of Competitive Solutions, a consultancy that helps grow physician practices.
Even more important than education is a candidate’s work experience, says Tom Ferkovic, managing director of consulting firm SS&G Healthcare.
In addition to experience with finances and a degree of business acumen, Linda Ryan, a registered nurse (RN) who ran a busy medical practice for 15 years, looks for something extra in an office manager: they, too, should be an RN. In addition to their degree or years of experience, there are some important qualitative and behavioral characteristics the office manager you hire should possess. Your manager must also be an effective negotiator who can quickly mediate and resolve conflicts, says Mull.
Ferkovic also notes that your office manager must have an excellent eye for detail, with a strong follow-up to ensure things get done. To help surface the qualities you seek in an office manager, there are some key questions you can ask candidates during the interview process.
Another important question Ryan asks is, “What hours do you want to work?” The right answer: “What hours do you need me to work?” She wants to hear that candidates are willing to work a variety of shifts, including evenings and weekends, so that they get a chance to work with all members of the staff.
Ferkovic advises asking open-ended questions and “listening for decisive, yet thoughtful, answers.” Have candidates provide examples of the biggest surprises they encountered on the job, the hardest decisions they had to make, what sorts of choices they made and why, he says. If there are specific qualitative characteristics you’re looking for, says Mull, you can simply ask candidates to tell you about a time when they displayed that characteristic.
Mull also notes that, rather than listening for a specific response, you should read between the lines to understand the motivation behind a candidate’s answer. Just as there are important skills and characteristics you want to look for when screening candidates, there are some red flags you want to look out for, as well. When a candidate speaks negatively about the doctors or staff they worked with in a previous job, that’s a huge red flag, Ryan says—especially if the candidate was in a managerial position.
Mull notes that a lack of awareness for the human element of the office manager position is another major warning sign.
Administering a test to office manager candidates can be an effective screening tool, says Mull. Administering a test can be an effective way to screen internal candidates as well as external ones.
Ryan says that while her practice gave tests to clinical job applicants, for the office manager position, she came to rely on a much less quantitative type of assessment: gut instinct. Finding the right office manager isn’t easy—but you can make the process simpler and more effective. By following these guidelines, you can hire the right medical office manager for your primary care practice.

Software Advice is the leading provider of detailed reviews, comparisons, and research for software buyers. Physicians are busy caring for patients, and many lack formal training in hiring and human resources—yet hiring decisions can be key determinants in the success level of your practice. Here are top characteristics to look for, warning signs to look out for and questions to ask to identify the best candidates for the job. All candidates should have at least a high school diploma; in most cases, a college degree (or beyond) is best. He notes that most practices require their candidates to have either higher education or equivalent experience working in the healthcare industry (or some combination of both). Small to midsize practices may not require (or be able to afford) a manager with an advanced degree, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
The person you hire must be able to handle operations, staff, bookkeeping, billing and finances—and the level of business-savvy they need will depend on the experience of the physician(s) in charge.
I could give a shot, I could do a physical, I could do a hearing test—I [had] all those skills. Your office manager, he says, must lead the way in meeting daily patient care responsibilities while also completing all necessary administrative work. Medical offices are high-stress environments, and it’s not uncommon for, say, a patient who has spent a long time in the waiting room to become irate. However, a good office manager is “able to see the job as more than just schedules, reports and other operational responsibilities,” says Mull.
How the candidate answers these questions can be an important indication of how they would perform in the role. The questions you ask, he says, should cover: “What leadership roles have they been involved in? These answers can shed light on what sort of leader they would be, and how they might handle difficult choices and situations as your manager. These warning signs can help you spot potential weaknesses and weed out problem candidates before they make it to the offer stage. Salary questions aren’t appropriate, she says, until the candidate has seen the office, met the staff and understood exactly what the position will entail—because a great medical office job isn’t primarily about the money. The material covered on the assessment will depend upon the particular needs of your practice and the specific knowledge or experience you want to ascertain in applicants. Some practices may want to promote internally to fill an office manager position—but they must ensure that internal candidates have the knowledge and skill required. After hiring two office managers based on good-looking resumes who ended up not working out, Ryan says she learned to trust her own impressions more than just what she saw on paper. Before you begin screening candidates, decide what sort of education and experience is necessary for the role. Her work has appeared on many notable sites, including The New York Times, PRNews and oDesk. In addition to keeping the office running smoothly, the manager has to supervise practice staff, handle patient complaints and oversee bookkeeping and finances. However, “For a large practice of 10-15 physicians, you should be expecting someone who is an MBA-level, and can handle the strategic decision-making… of the practice,” White says.

And that’s really helpful when you’re short-staffed or inundated with patients.” This, she adds, puts the manager more in touch with the practice’s clinical staff, and fosters respect for the manager amongst the team. They must have excellent people skills, and be able to communicate effectively with everyone who passes through the office: physicians, clinical and administrative staff, patients, drug company representatives and other clients or partners. They need to help streamline routine processes and effectively motivate practice staff to work more efficiently.
The manager you hire, Ferkovic says, must be unafraid of stepping in to help resolve issues amongst staff, physicians and patients. They also indicate that the candidate understands and appreciates the fast-paced, fluid nature of medical office work.
They should’ve been able to spot those characteristics in people during the hiring process, or deal with those problems once they became evident. Team dynamics are integral to any medical office, and your manager must be a team player who is capable of assigning the right tasks to the right people so that the practice can operate efficiently. White cautions that a track record of success in a lower-level position isn’t necessarily a predictor of a candidate’s success in a managerial role. During the interview process, look and listen for the qualities and characteristics that are important for success at your practice, and be on alert for red flags and warning signs.
She has also contributed to works on top-tier publications such as Entrepreneur, the Wall Street Journal and Business Insider. Your manager should also be empathetic towards everyone in the office, and should enjoy talking with, listening to and helping others.
And, of course, all good leaders know when it’s best to handle things themselves, and when it’s best to delegate.
Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a highly-charged emotional situation at work,” he says.
Administer a test if you want to check for specific skills or knowledge—and when in doubt, go with your gut. When listening to their answers, Mull adds, ask yourself, “Did their response demonstrate the skills, knowledge or behaviors you are looking for?
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