I was initially quite scathing of the Tory Leadership selection process, but when I looked back critically at the way that I chose members of practice staff, I thought better of it. "You'll Do" How NOT To Choose Practice Staff By @DentistGoneBadd
Probably like most people who watched the BBC’s ‘Our Next Prime Minister’ debate last week, I had no idea why. Not being a Tory and certainly not being a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party I’d be unable to influence the outcome, but I still watched right to the bitter end, mesmerised by the voluminous drivel coming out of the mouths of the five participants who were lined up like they were at a Sushi restaurant but someone had removed the conveyor belt without them noticing.
On the futility of the debate, one wag wrote on Twitter: “We can’t actually vote on any of this. This is like a torturer describing at length how they’re going to f**k you up with a bone saw whilst you say “no thanks please I really don’t like bone saws” before they nip off to fetch the bone saw.”
Boris Johnson when asked whether words have consequences, looked like a practice boss being tripped up by a CQC inspector asking about Gillick Competency, while Jeremy Hunt sat there hoping nobody would ask him if he was proud of his spell as Health Secretary. Michael Gove gave the sheepishly confident air of a dentist being asked “So how many successful root-fillings have you done?” only to reply “I’ve never done one myself but I know someone who has.” Sajid Javid came across as being the most assured – like a new graduate getting the other older dentists to agree that the practice really needs an apex locator, while Rory Stewart, the man from MI6, looked like he was nervously considering defecting to the Eastern bloc province of Goveinsky.
Watching the debate and realising it didn’t matter one iota what most of the nation or I thought of the candidates (our next Prime Minister will be decided by only about 160,000 voting members of the Conservative Party), it made me think about the pointlessly tortuous Tory selection process and its comparison to the selection process for staff members I used when I ran my own dental practice.
My eventual system was simple. If I liked the look and sound of the candidate, I took them on. In the main, it worked, but it took a lot of time before I alighted on an ALMOST infallible method of choosing staff.
The first ever interview I carried out was for a dental associate. I had never even sat in on the interview of any job applicant previously and I found it a bit daunting – not least because it was ME interviewing another dentist. By the time I became a practice owner, I’d only been qualified six years and by the time of the interview, I’d only been ‘running’ the practice for about six months. I use the term ‘running’ loosely – it was more like rolling a cheese down a rocky hill.
I think Chloe (‘twas not her name) sensed I was a novice as soon as she strode in. I have to admit that I didn’t look over her CV that closely. All I gleaned was that she had been in practice for about ten years and by extension, probably had two hands. That’s all I was looking for really. After she strode in like Fulton Mackay about to carry out a cell inspection in ‘Porridge,’ I took a quick glance at the A4 sheet in my hand and noticed that she had been Captain Chloe in the Royal Engineers prior to moving to general practice 40 or so miles away. Within a few minutes I realised I was the one actually being interrogated and all hope of me taking control of the interview flew out of the window with speed of a ground to air missile being guided by a four year-old in the middle of a sugar rush.
Before I knew where I was, Chloe had told me when she could start and the split she wanted on pay and laboratory bills. In a daze, I forgot to ask her about references. (There was no CQC about in those days and CRB checks were a few years away). I pencilled her projected starting date in the diary and she stayed in the practice for about 13 years. Chloe wasn’t the easiest person to get on with. I only survived by having very little to do with her and in consequence of my failure to woman-manage properly, she saw off three nurses by being a real Jekyll and Hyde character. Mondays were the most dangerous day of the week in general, when nurses would come in and tell me about her latest moans, and woe-betide anyone who worked with her when the swimming pool cleaner hadn’t called in at her house over the weekend (she had a quite well-off husband). Eventually, at her attempt to get rid of another nurse, I finally exploded after supressing a simmering volcano for years. By the end of the week she had handed her notice in and within a week of that, I had engaged another dentist who turned out to be an absolute disaster on a Trumpian scale.
Terry had been a dentist I had worked with at one of my first practices after I graduated. The two owners of the practice (a husband and wife) were horrible creatures who wouldn’t spit in your mouth if your teeth were on fire. They certainly wouldn’t help a new graduate who needed guidance, but Terry, their longstanding associate, was an absolute gent. We were about the same age but he had been in practice ten years longer than me and he never hesitated for a moment if I went up to ask him for advice. Normally the ‘advice’ was giving an effective ID block and he always seemed an unruffled chap, always happy to help. When Chloe handed in her notice, I gave him a ring. He was still an associate and I’d heard he wasn’t getting on with the new husband and wife team who had bought the practice off the old diabolical duo. I pretty much abandoned the idea of holding an interview, offering Terry a job on the phone and invited him over to see the practice. To my surprise, he accepted my offer like a shot and to my even greater surprise, he was able to start almost straight away.
I was more than happy to have Terry in the practice initially. He was more experienced than me and he was the first male I had worked with for 15 years or so and it was good to have a chat about football over a half after work. The patients loved him - his relaxed attitude went down well, particularly with the anxious.
After a few months, I had a deputation from my nurses, expressing concern over Terry’s work, or more accurately, lack of it. His favourite expression, apparently repeated ad nauseum to patients was: “I think I’m going to sit on the fence about this one.” That covered all situations from refraining from carrying out RCT to monitoring lesions as they advanced towards the pulp. One Bank Holiday weekend I ended up visiting a tearful Terry at his home, asking if he needed help or a reduction in his workload or if there was anything I could do to help him avoid a complaint. In the main I was concerned that he was suffering burnout or pre-burnout stress. He denied there was any problem and he said “I will pull my socks up.”
Terry had taken over my departed colleague’s not outlandishly large capitation-based private list and NHS patients, mainly children. This was in the days pre-UDA contracts and one day we had a Dental Reference Officer in the practice who looked over our records and examined a few of our patients. This was a routine visit I was told, but on the day of the planned visit, Terry called in sick. The DRO still examined some of Terry’s patients. We appeared to have a clean bill of health other than I had mislaid a waste transfer notice somewhere in the practice and there was a tiny ledge on an amalgam I had done on a patient a month or so earlier. Despite the fact we ‘got away with it’, I was a bit suspicious of Terry’s failure to appear for a couple of days.
A few weeks later, something really bizarre occurred. I received an anonymous call at the practice from someone who clearly knew me or knew of me, advising me that if I didn’t ‘report’ Terry to the authorities, they would take him to the General Dental Council themselves. It was clear that the caller was a dentist and it sounded like he was a dentist with some authority. To this day I have no idea who it was. In those days, there was a much more supportive network for dentists in distress and so I took advice from the local FPC and they put me in touch with a body that could potentially help Terry without him getting into trouble with the GDC. (I forget what that organisation was called, but we still need something like it). I told Terry what had happened and he resigned immediately. He never came to the practice again. I lost contact despite my attempts to get touch. I later heard that Terry had subsequently turned down help and had refused to undertake some retraining. I later heard he had removed himself from the dental register. That would teach me not to carry out interviews and collect references. Had it been in the days after the CQC came in, I would have been compelled to. I would have more than likely learned that Terry had in fact been sacked by his previous practice for a serious incident that I was never able to get to the bottom of.
Nursing candidates were a different kettle of fish.
I had one potential nurse who walked out of the waiting room without a word a minute or so before she was due to be called in, and I had another candidate who looked at her watch every few seconds during the interview and kept asking if she would get overtime pay or bonuses for good attendance. We said we’d let her know.
Another potential trainee nurse was a carer in a nursing home. She was in her mid-thirties and I asked why she had decided to leave her current position. She explained that she had been very fond of a lot of the people she cared for and she had been particularly distressed at witnessing the recent death of one of the residents. “And it was at that point that I said to myself, I don’t want to work with people EVER AGAIN.” After that sank in, my practice manager pointed out that dental nursing did involve a LOT of working with people. The candidate thought for a bit and said “Oh yeah. I hadn’t thought of that.” She stood up, thanked us for our time, and left.
After lousing up on the dentist appointments, I decided not to interview alone any more and so I drafted in my practice manager. Yes, I know this is a bit like a Channel 4 or BBC led hustings type of arrangement, but be both came to the conclusion that the best way of choosing a candidate was to try and assess who would fit in and go on our gut feelings. Actually, it was more my practice manager decided that since I had cocked up on the dentists so badly, she felt I needed watching. One day we had a trained nurse who came in and within a few minutes broke down in tears. My practice manager and I both felt she REALLY wanted the job and we took her on. She stayed for 16 years until I sold the practice.
I fear that I may have given you the impression at the start of this article, that I had the answer to selecting the right candidates and that I eventually found the right selection method. I hadn’t.
A year or so before I sold my practice, I interviewed a dental therapist with my practice manager, who seemed ideal. She had all the references and our guts said “She’s a no-brainer. Snap her up, quick!!!”
We did. A year or so later, she was in magistrates court, having robbed me of £1600 in cash plus forging and cashing practice cheques.
On reflection, I think the Tories are probably on the right track.