Finding the perfect partner: References and negotiations

September 1, 2005

By checking references, you will find out if the prospective partner is a good fit for you and your group.

Why are references so important when selecting a new partner?

Even the most experienced interviewer and human resource expert can be fooled during an interview for a new partner. These men and women are on their best behavior during the interview process. You are looking for a long-term partner, one who will stay with you and your practice for years. By checking references, you will find out if the prospective partner is a good fit for you and your group.

Three is a minimum number of reference checks to make per candidate, but it is better to double that number to six Bishop advises. For a physician already in practice who may relocate to your practice, he recommends contacting the administrator of the hospital where they have had privileges and at least two to three current referring physicians. For urologists finishing their training, he suggests contacting the head of the residency or fellowship program. Other suggestions include contacting the head of the operating room of their current hospital and calling their previous partners.

Try to have references from the most recent work experience of the prospective new partner, Bishop suggests. This information will be much more accurate than from references 3 to 5 years ago.

Ask the right questions

To make your conversation with a reference productive, we suggest that you determine what questions you are going to ask and then submit these questions to the reference prior to calling. For example, if you are speaking to the hospital administrator about an established physician, you might want to ask about the dollar amount of their annual productivity over the past 3 to 5 years. For a urologist, you might ask the number of hospital admissions, the number of surgical procedures performed, and the dollar amount of revenue generated for the hospital. Most administrators will give you a range of income, and that can be a barometer of the productivity of the physician that you can expect when he or she moves to your practice.

Develop a list of criteria that you feel are important for a new hire, Bishop recommends. Examples include patient care, bedside manner, or how the prospective new hire is viewed by referring physicians. It is permissible to ask about clinical skills, patient satisfaction, and the candidate's best assets and areas that may need improvement. You cannot ask about personal information such as martial status, religion, age, sex, or political affiliation, Bishop cautions. Finally, you might ask the reference to rate the doctor from 1 to 10, as this can be a somewhat objective measurement for comparing candidates.

The reference conversation should always be done over the phone, Bishop suggests. You don't want to have anything in writing.