practice management

3 Ways to Strengthen Your Pediatric Practice’s Cultural Foundations

In a previous post, we discussed why clear, thoughtful communication at your practice is so important, but this is only one part of the foundation your pediatric practice rests on. The larger cornerstone of communication is practice culture. To build a solid, consistent culture that meets expectations and builds trust is to ensure that your colleagues, employees, parents, and patients are getting the messages you want them to hear.

Why Culture is Your Bedrock

“You as pediatricians routinely lecture your parents about how their behavior is a model for their children’s behavior. Well, your behavior as owners of the business is a model for employees of the business -- all of whom are models for your parents, all of whom are models for your children. The culture that you provide is really, really important, and a lot of people don’t slow down to think about it.” -- Chip Hart

PCC’s Director of Pediatric Solutions, Chip Hart, covers practice culture and why it’s so crucial to running a successful practice in his UC2020 course, “Practice Culture”. Presented to PCC clients but applicable to all independent pediatricians, Chip focuses on how culture is tied to your office’s performance, reputation, and engagement with your patients. Read on for some of Chip’s most important points, or watch the complete course below.

First, Chip cautions that many practices may experience a disconnect between the culture that practice owners desire to have or say they have and the culture that truly exists. This disconnect could appear in many ways, but can be most visible when physicians and staff are having trouble managing expectations. Some examples include:

  • Expectation: The office closes at 5pm to account for employees’ time with friends and family. 
    • Reality: Staff stay longer or feel pressured to stay because the pediatrician stays late.
  • Expectation: Actions that go against office policy are addressed with proper disciplinary action.
    • Reality: Chances are extended past their limits and are no longer effective at managing expectations.
  • Expectation: All opinions and ideas to improve the practice are valued.
    • Reality: Management meetings and/or decisions don’t account for everyone’s time, questions, or ideas. Alternatively, decisions made in everyone’s best interests aren’t well met, simply because they are not properly explained to staff and patients.

If your practice is experiencing these or similar mismanaged expectations, a check on your office culture can help you come together as a stronger, happier team. Here’s how you can start evaluating your practice’s culture.

Why Are You Here?

Believe it or not, Chip says that to begin to question and to build your pediatric practice’s culture, it pays to question why you came to be a pediatrician or to work in pediatrics in the first place. “You have to anchor your decision, here, about how you’re going to form your culture,” Chip says. “‘What motivates me? What makes me excited about coming to the office? Why do I want to do this work?’”

Some pediatricians like to interact with babies, while others enjoy working with teens full of potential. Still more enjoy being a community leader or working to expand access to opportunities for kids who might not find them elsewhere. No matter what your anchor point is, it is the basis of your office’s culture. This culture allows staff to understand what motivates the practice in its practice of medicine and the care of children. When your team is on the same page, it becomes not only easier to provide care, but more rewarding.

According to the AAP, defining culture within the office and in your patient populations can help pediatricians to better understand the populations they serve, as diverse families will arrive with a variety of needs. With a solid understanding of your practice’s culture, you can address the needs of patients’ you’re best able to fill, as well as coordinate efforts as a team. The AAP explicitly states that team-based care is founded on a “culture of trust”.

Chip says this anchoring point can even help you hire employees: a candidate who also loves playing with babies will be a better match for someone who really enjoys connecting with athletes.

How to Improve Practice Culture: Values, Vision, and Mission

Define Your Values

A value or mission statement may seem like an obvious thing if you don’t have one already -- you want to provide excellent care to patients. But according to Chip, defining who you are and what you care about as a practice opens up the room to ideas you might have missed otherwise, and can lead you towards more concrete action, and therefore a solid culture. As he points out, the AAP has sample statements to get you started that include tenets like service, quality, integrity, and compassion.

Selecting values for your mission statement isn’t only a matter of listing what you are. It’s just as important to define what your practice is not. Trim down your list of values to the top 5 to 7, or a number that works for you. “The whole point of the exercise is to drive it down and say ‘When push comes to shove, what are the values we have that we could not live without?’” Chip says.

Define Your Practice’s Vision

What would you like your practice to become? What would it feel like to work there if it were “perfect”? It’s okay to reach for the skies here, and in fact it’s encouraged. Using the values you defined with your team, write a sentence or two that defines your vision for your practice. Some examples could include:

  • We want to provide excellent, comprehensive sports medicine to all student athletes.
  • We want to be caring, compassionate partners in to parents, educators, and children.
  • We want to be a welcoming, safe, and understanding place for children and teens of all races, genders, and identities.

Define Your Mission

Your mission should be what actions you’ll take to follow your vision and values. For example:

  • “We will provide excellent, comprehensive care for all children from birth to age 21.”
  • “We will nurture long-term relationships with our patients through listening and trust.”
  • “We will care for patients as a team to ensure excellent care for each patient.”

Starting Fresh

Once you’ve taken the time and committed to fleshing out your team’s and your own ideas on paper or screen, it’s time to take a fresh look at your office. Culture is presented as much by pediatricians and management as it is by staff and employees. What habits are in place that could contradict your mission or values? What are your staff or colleagues saying that aren’t a match with your vision? Where could you make such ideas clearer, more easily understood for everyone?

Chip reminds practices that deciding these things and taking such action is not a matter of a lunch break or single staff meeting, but a series of talks, actions, and corrections over a long time. The payoffs are great, including reduced employee stress, and according to the Harvard Business Review, increased productivity. Check out the Harvard Business Review’s guide to creating culture, including 8 different styles of culture, from caring to enjoyment to results.

In the end, it’s worth it solely for the experience your patients, staff, and colleagues will have once your values are being acted on in your day to day practice of pediatrics. Patients trust a practice that has a unified front and core message; staff enjoy coming to work when their values are acted upon every day. Everyone will end up happier, more engaged and focused, and even more driven to provide the care that your practice values. Even as you make headway towards a larger goal, you’re off to a great start to providing excellent care for your patients.

Don’t forget that the AAP has a great resource page for forming your mission, values, and vision. For more pediatric management courses like Chip Hart’s “Practice Culture,” be sure to visit the entire UC2020 directory for more free courses to help grow your practice and your business.

Visit the UC2020 course directory!

Allie Squires

Allie Squires is PCC's Marketing Content Writer and editor of The Independent Pediatrician. She holds a master's in Professional Writing from NYU.