6 Important Qualities of a Master Physician Scheduler: the Ultimate Diplomat

"Diplomacy is the art of letting someone have your way!"

Why the Ultimate Diplomat? Because, in the words of Daniele Vare, “Diplomacy is the art of letting someone have your way!”

Clinics and medical specialties depend on their schedulers to perform several important functions, including generating the on-call schedule for the Physicians, keeping it current and accurate. A good fit helps bring stability to a Group; a bad fit can result not only in the loss of trust but the loss of a Group’s cold, hard cash in the form of Physicians walking out the door or EMTALA violation fines. What qualities do these Schedulers have that cause Physicians to trust them with this vital part of their business?

We recognize and respect the need for Schedulers and the skills they must poses to survive in the position long-term. Regardless of the scheduling system a Group uses, here are some of the most important qualities in a physician scheduler and why are they important to the position:

1. Great Communication Skills

This includes being a good listener and “first seeking to understand” as Steven Covey would say. Schedulers constantly communicate with Physicians, the Physician’s office staff, other clinics, and possibly the hospital Medical Staff Office or Emergency Department to coordinate the on-call schedule assignments. They are also communicating internally with various managers, office staff, and leaders to ensure on-call and other coverage.

This is truly a position where the person must have a mature, balanced personality with a dose of can-do attitude. Mess up the human-factor, and there goes the cooperation essential to get the job done.

The on-call coverage is always changing; a sort of “never-ending” job. Since the Scheduler is also responsible for noticing potential scheduling issues and communicating them to administrators, he needs to stay on top of the situation. He needs to know the individual Providers, their preferences, and the Group’s scheduling rules extremely well. Getting along with everyone and knowing whom to call for a favor requires more than a “dial and pray” relationship.

2. Flexibility, Tolerance, and Negotiation

A great Scheduler understands how the Group’s overall scheduling process works — whether in block times, templates or another system — and remains flexible after the on-call assignments are “turned out”.

Physicians understand that as much as they would like assignments to be written in stone when there is a change in the number of Providers or scheduling patterns, the overall schedule will be affected. Depending on the change, even the “core” rules may need to be reviewed.

The Scheduler needs to understand this too, and should be reviewing the scheduling process with the Physicians at least annually and when a new Physician is recruited.

Master Schedulers know the most efficient way to cover a schedule “shuffle” with a minimum amount of “pain” to get it done. “S@*#t” happens, and the On-Call Scheduler needs to step into the breach with grace, sometimes taking the heat of distressed Providers.

3. Positive and Proactive Attitude

The best Schedulers are really great “sales” people who build and maintain vital relationships over time. Since Master Schedulers are on the front-line of communication with Physician offices, their relationship with other physician office staff will have an impact on cooperation in getting on-call coverage. They need to build rapport with the other Clinics and other physician office schedulers.

On-Call Schedulers also need to be familiar with acceptable lead times for collecting information that precludes scheduling On-Call assignments, so they can work efficiently. They need to be comfortable with gently confronting other professionals who may be Physicians or Managers “above their pay-grade”. Keeping the on-call scheduled covered may mean saying “No” to vacation requests… or calling in favors, not an easy conversation to have!

4. Mature Sense of Responsibility

Physician-owners trust their Schedulers with a vital part of their business. Possible EMTALA violations, family/work-life issues, a sense of fair-play regarding the on-call schedule…  these impact a Physician’s decision to stay or leave the Group. Replacing a disgruntled Physician is costly in time, money, staff patience, and patient satisfaction. This position is really important and while it doesn’t require someone who is great at the computer, it does require someone who understands the high level of responsibility and can take ownership of the position.

5. Compassion for Physicians AND Passion for Healthcare

Physician scheduling is a customer satisfaction issue in my mind. The on-call schedule impacts not only the providers on the schedule, but also the patients they serve. Schedulers deal with internal and external “customers” and need to understand the difference between speaking with internal office staff, external office staff, and Physicians. When discussing the on-call schedule with Providers, Schedulers must also be able to put themselves “in the shoes” of the Providers they are scheduling, be empathetic and generate a “fair” schedule that goes beyond simple numbers by balancing the needs of the Group overall as well as the patients it serves.

6. “Ownership” Attitude vs “Employee” Attitude

There’s no room for “that’s not my job.” Master Schedulers have the ability to lead from the middle, without the title. They possess an attitude of commitment and purpose toward their own unique contribution to the Clinic. There is a sense of pride that calls them to do more than the minimum required of the position. They have a natural curiosity, and perhaps a bit of entrepreneurial spirit that causes them to ask “is there a better way”?

Those who ask “is there a better way” should be encouraged to explore options to improve On-Call schedule results, whether it be reviewing the Group’s rules, taking leadership classes, or investigating on-call software solutions. When properly encouraged, your Master Scheduler can be a real asset in driving the change needed for the successful implementation of agreed-upon improvements.

The overall takeaway is that a Master Scheduler is a vital link to on-call scheduling success that cannot be supplied in a software package. We recognize the importance of schedulers. So, to help you out, check out our physician scheduling software.

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