Same-Day Surgery Manager

Want to make patients, staff, and surgeons happy?

By Stephen W. Earnhart, MS
Earnhart & Associates
Austin, TX

Do you really want to know how to make people happy at your facility? I mean, do you really want to know? I will step up and be honest; sometimes I don't know! Sometimes I really don't care and want someone to make me happy.

Making people happy at their job takes work and money. Sometimes we just want to bury our heads in the sand and not deal with the effort.

Making our patients happy is not just providing quality care. Oh, no. That is an entirely different level of stress-producing effort. But patients are not the only masters we have, although they do seem to be at the epicenter of our activity. But how much effort is directed at making sure they have a . . . pleasant experience?

How many efforts do we direct to the surgeons? They tend to play a fairly strong role in the process. The staff? It's difficult to make it happen without them. Let's not forget anesthesia.

How can we serve all these masters without opening a vein? And what about your happiness in this process?

My observations with patients tend to come down to a few salient points. One, make sure they have a bathroom close by. Surgical patients tend to focus on their elimination needs. Second, don't make them wait in one area for too long (unless it is a bathroom). Kneel or sit down when you are talking to them. Uncomfortable thought it may be, it increases their sense of control. Give them something they can take with them when they leave, such as a notepad with the surgery center's information on it. We shouldn't be in the gift-giving business, but apparently it is expected. Smile at them. It erases a world of errors and dissatisfaction.

Now, what about the staff? Recognition for effort still works. Praise in front of other staff members works even better except for the audience that now hates you for not including them. I think that one-on-one acknowledgments are best. Slipping them a $50 bill is effective as well. At the end of the day, money, recognition, and a non-hassle environment seems to be the best motivators for most staff members.

Our surgeons! Ahh, always a challenge. Their prevailing issue seems to be, "but what have you done for me today?" It used to be they wanted better turnover times. Now we get the "look" because we are too fast and they don't have time to do . . . whatever! Keys to success here seem to focus on dedicated scrubs (who, by the way, are not allowed to take vacations or be sick). Starting their case on time helps. Patronizing though it may be, "Have you been working out?" still goes a long way to soothe missing paperwork. Giving them a second room for back-to-back cases is nirvana.

Anesthesia. Cleaning up after them has been known to crack a smile on some faces, while "Stop messing up my stuff!" is still the predominate response to such efforts. One thing that has worked for me is to simply ask them, "What can we do to make your day here better?" Of course, you can expect some of them to reply with, "Your demise." Don't take that personally though. Letting them play an active role in "running the board" will charm most of their hearts. I have always maintained that no surgical department can be effective or efficient without a great anesthesia staff. The more they are included in the operations, generally the better things run.

That leaves you. What about you?! You need to focus on your own needs as well as others. Because I tend to be selfish and self-centered at times, what makes me happiest is a sense of personal fulfillment. I leave work feeling better when I feel I have made a difference in whatever it was I was involved with that day. Look inward to see what makes you tick and then wind it up. I have learned that making a difference — makes a difference in me.

(Editor's note: Earnhart & Associates is an ambulatory surgery consulting firm specializing in all aspects of surgery center development and management. Contact Earnhart at e-mail: Web: