practice management

Training Non-Pediatric Staff for Pediatrics

Staffing and office management are perennial concerns of the independent pediatric practice, so when you’re facing a candidate from across the table (or laptop camera), which factors do you weigh most heavily? You look at their prior experience, goals, and whether they’ll fit your office culture. How about if your candidate has a great resume and work ethic, but no pediatric experience?  In this post from the PCC blog, we explore how practices can transition non-pediatric staff and providers into a successful, joyous career in pediatrics.

Candidates with no prior experience in pediatrics can be successful employees and, regardless of previous experience, may even find pediatrics to be their calling. While the patient care side can be relatively straightforward for physicians, NPs, and nurses to adapt to, the logistics of caring for whole child health, communicating with patients and families, and interacting as part of a close-knit healthcare team could prove challenging. Paired with the fact that pediatric practices are often integrated into communities more closely than a hospital might be, your new employees will need some support navigating the social boundaries of their new role.

Logistics: Staff needs proper pediatric orientation to serve families.

A good orientation is a tool that you can rely on for any new hire, but it will need a few adaptations for training staff unfamiliar with pediatrics. Providers may be familiar with working with children if they worked previously in family medicine, were a hospitalist, or at the very least, from their residency rotations. Stepping into pediatrics full-time will require a few basic lessons during orientation, which you can offer by taking a renewed look at your process.

Lean into the specifics of pediatrics during orientation. A candidate experienced in other specialties will need to check their training and habits to ensure a fit for pediatric patients. During orientation, ask the new employee to speak up about how their experience differs from how you’re introducing your practice. Follow up on any questions.

Community engagement is often a factor in independent practices. Even if your candidate is familiar with the locale, prepare them to get to know familiar families, local customs and holidays, local resources from schools or child-centered businesses, and even being recognized in public! 

Depending on the situation, you could choose to spend less time on policies such as reporting time off, parking, and absenteeism, and spend more time on topics like difficult patient situations, vaccine hesitancy discussions, and treating siblings. 

Remember: residency is usually not enough to prepare a physician, nurse practitioner, or RN for pediatrics in practice. Part of welcoming your new staff member will involve supporting them long past orientation as they navigate working with children and families full-time.

Empathy and patience are required to engage with children.

What sort of training can you provide staff new to pediatrics? One tool that PAK Pediatrics of Pittsburgh, PA, uses is an orientation on handling difficult patient situations. It’s easy to imagine that a former hospitalist is familiar with difficult situations such as an irate, resistant, non-compliant, or anxious patient, but obviously, the appropriate response is a little different for a patient of three years instead of thirty.

Patience and empathy are required to connect with children and teens, and the success of various responses will depend on the development stage and personality. At their core, all responses that provide empathy, comfort, and distraction can work for any age. Here are some examples for those not used to engaging with children:

  • Offers of comfort from parents, stuffed animals, or physical touch. Holding a child’s hand, offering a seat with a parent during an anxious moment, or offering verbal reassurance.
  • Distraction can come in the form of conversation, jokes, or for smaller children, toys or items of interest. Staff should get familiar with popular topics among kids: from Star Wars to Bluey and princesses to fast cars, there is always something fun to talk about!
  • Help staff develop an arsenal of age-appropriate explanations and reasonings for patients. These become easier with practice.
  • Just as with distractions and reassurance, engaging with patients using humor requires a different lineup of jokes than for adults.
  • Staff will need to know how to soothe a child and their caregivers concurrently. Reassuring adults should never come at the cost of disregarding the child in the room.

The most valuable training tool available for new staff is the experience of their colleagues. When training someone new to pediatrics, make sure during the interview process that they’re open to learning from everyone’s experience – and make sure the rest of the team is on board to share tips, tricks, and recommendations.

Hiring residents is cost-effective, but hiring experienced providers could be even better.

All candidates come with their own beliefs, motivations, and experiences that could qualify them as a great choice to join your team. When considering your hiring pool, from a business standpoint, it makes sense to hire a physician or NP fresh from residency, as this is a more cost-effective hire (depending on your compensation plan) than hiring a more experienced provider.

Experienced physicians, NPs, or nurses come with a wealth of outside experience that could also be helpful for your practice. Their experience in working in adult medicine could help them engage more easily with adolescents or with parents, and their networks could make transitioning teens from pediatric to adult care easier. There’s also another possibility – candidates burnt out from the hospital system or from working in adult medicine could find the new drive in their choice to work in pediatrics. A motivated, fulfilled, and the experienced candidate could have the potential to grow their career at your practice for many years to come.

Whether you choose to precept residents in pediatrics, hire an experienced nurse looking for a change in their career, or are considering a front desk candidate with no medical experience but excellent customer service, there are plenty of benefits to hiring outside of the “traditional” pool of pediatric candidates. The foundations of care and the rewards of a fulfilling career remain the same. Even if the route to pediatrics is outside the norm, with the right support from practice managers and colleagues, your new hire could discover they were really meant for pediatrics all along.

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.