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GP Partnerships - How to recruit your perfect practice partner

Choosing a partner can be daunting, but it is worth taking your time, says Richard Banyard.

Although not quite an endangered species, new GP partners are a lot less common than they used to be - mainly because of the steady increase in the number of salaried posts due to the changes brought in by new GMS.

Competition for a partnership appointment can be quite intense as a result.

Whether you have a lot of applicants or just a few, omitting steps in the partner recruitment process could be a mistake if the GP appointed is the cause of a messy and expensive partnership dispute.

Step by step approach
Practices often struggle when recruiting a partner because it is an infrequent occurrence. Ideally your recruitment process should have seven consecutive steps (see box below, right).

Before you advertise, ensure that the existing partners have agreed a strategy for the practice's development. Deciding to search for a partner is an ideal time to consider the practice's future over the next five to 10 years. Areas you might look at include: local demographic and health needs; whether the demands placed on the practice by patients and the government are likely to change; whether any of the GPs need to develop specialist clinical interests; and the adequacy of your premises.

Some practices recruit new partners and salaried doctors without external help. However there are specialist advisory agencies that may ease the workload involved and may also lessen the risk of appointing someone not suited to your practice.

Avoiding clones
One pitfall is trying to appoint someone with a personality and views akin to a departing partner's. A partner clone may not be what the practice needs so, for example, consider whether you need a full-time partner or if two part-time GPs will suffice.

Do not rule out recruiting a salaried GP or alternative health professional such as a nurse practitioner, in case finding the right partner proves very difficult. Once you have considered all this, putting together a job description should be fairly easy.

You also need to compile a person specification. This identifies the qualifications, skills, experience, special and professional interests required. Normally, essential minimum requirements are listed as well as desirable characteristics. Be cautious when drawing this up to avoid falling foul of employment discrimination legislation - relating to disability, colour, creed, sex and more recently, age.

Advertising the post
Traditional channels such as the classified sections of professional journals, such as GP, offer wide circulation. You can also advertise locally and ask the local course organiser to tell GP registrars about the vacancy.

Give plenty of thought to how to make joining your partnership attractive.

Make it clear who is handling enquiries.

Shortlisting and interviewing
When shortlisting candidates for interview, compare all applications to the person specification. The aim is to find someone who is right for your practice rather than to select ostensibly the 'best' candidate - the best qualified, most experienced, etc. Ideally all the partners should be involved in interviewing. Many partnership agreements enable individual partners to veto prospective new partners.

To make best use of partners' time, have a prepared list of questions to put to all interviewees. The traditional 'panel' interview can be inhibiting and does not facilitate in-depth exploration of personal qualities. If yours is a large partnership, breaking up the interview into two or three sessions and rotating the partners present could be easier all round.

When deciding between interviewees, remember that it is all too easy to be swayed by a memorable candidate - but are they the best for the job?

Joining the practice
Providing a thorough induction programme will help the new partner to 'hit the ground running'. Consider what overlap is needed between the new partner joining and any predecessor leaving.

Before the new partner officially joins consider inviting them to routine practice meetings, copy them in on internal documents and include them in social events.

  • Mr Banyard is a senior consultant with Acton Shapiro Ltd, consultancy support provider to GP practices and primary/community care organisations (www.actonshapiro.co.uk)
  • For a copy of GP's 'Best Practice Guide to Recruitment' call Amardeep Mangat on (020) 8267 4188

DECIDING WHICH CANDIDATE TO APPOINT

  • Will the person fit in?
  • Do they show the required management and organisational skills?
  • What are their professional interests?
  • How do you rate their sensitivity to patients' needs?
  • How enthusiastic are they both in general and about the practice?
  • Do they appear to conscientious about and keen to pursue continuing professional education?
  • Where do they stand on current medical ethical issues?
  • Do they have good IT and communications skills?
  • Are they likely to respond positively and flexibly to change and new challenges?

 

STEPS TO SUCCESS

  1. Agree a development plan for the practice.
  2. Put together a job description.
  3. Decide the person specification- the characteristics you want the new partner to have.
  4. Advertise the post highlighting the job's and practice's most attractive features.
  5. Shortlist candidates for interview.
  6. Involve all the partners if possible in the interview and appointment process.
  7. Devise a thorough induction programme.

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