Patient access departments need creative ways to encourage their best employees to become future leaders. High-performers are:

  • given specific goals to reach;
  • put in charge of special projects;
  • invited on a multi-day retreat.

High-performing patient access employees at Children’s Mercy Kansas City (MO) attend a four-day retreat, and emerge as future leaders of the department.

“We wanted to invest in exceptional employees and encourage them to cultivate their career, specifically within our department,” says Patient Access Manager Ashley Howard.

The retreat was created in response to a fiscal year goal for the department. “At the time, we had no idea this project would grow into a four-day retreat that we would still be facilitating five years later,” Howard says. The first step was to survey staff. “We had many follow-up conversations to ensure we were understanding what our employees were wanting,” Howard notes. It soon became very clear: Employees wanted advice, information, and resources. They were interested in anything that could help them advance in the department. “This is what we kept front of mind as we vetted through various ideas,” Howard explains.

The decision was made to offer a retreat to nurture future leaders, and allow employees to apply for it. The application process was an unexpected challenge. “We wanted it to be as fair as possible while still providing opportunities for coaching,” Howard adds. Leaders wanted participants to be selected based on merit, not just reputation. This is the process on which the team decided:

1. Employees submit an application to their supervisor.

“This is the first ‘check point’ in the process,” Howard says. The supervisor either supports the application, or uses it as a coaching opportunity to discuss what the employee needs to improve.

2. If the supervisor believes the employee would be an ideal candidate for the retreat, the application is made anonymous. It is then sent to the management team.

3. Each manager votes for the top three applications, and a point system determines the top five applicants.

“We felt it was important to make it anonymous, so that biases or pre-impressions did not play a part in the voting,” Howard says.

The employees selected are always very eager to participate, aware of the keen competition involved in the selection process.

“We decided to only take five participants each time so that it would feel like a prestigious opportunity,” says Patient Access Manager Heather Sloan.

One of the biggest indicators of the success of this program: The disappointment shown by those not selected for the retreat.

“This gives them additional motivation to continue to strive to be better in their positions,” Sloan says. It also was challenging to develop all the “rules” surrounding the retreat. Two important questions: How often would it be held? And, how many participants would be taken each time?

“Often times, initiatives such as this can fizzle, but we have only seen continued successes,” Sloan notes.

One reason for this is that the curriculum targets skills that patient access staff could develop and use right away in their current roles. These include writing evaluations, interviewing, and public speaking. “We did not want to focus too heavily on aspects that they could not develop yet,” Sloan explains.

However, the curriculum touches on some of these skills, such as coaching team members, running high-level reports, and auditing. This gives insight into leadership’s current practices. “Since these are the elite of our team, they likely have not encountered too many coaching or counseling sessions with their leadership,” Sloan offers. Staff can see how these interactions are handled.

To be sure the material is still relevant, participants complete a survey after each retreat.

“We have updated our content, added a whole new session, and changed some classroom formats, based on the feedback we’ve gotten,” Sloan says. Once team members complete the retreat, they return to the department with a true understanding of what leadership contends with on a daily basis. “These participants have become advocates for accuracy and accountability,” Sloan reports.