Many patient access employees at Tampa, FL-based Moffitt Cancer Center are college students. Others are recent graduates. Neither group is inclined to make a career of patient access.

“They have gone to school for a set path for their future. The patient access role is not that type of position due to it being entry level,” says Marion Knott, manager of clinic access. “It is difficult to retain patient access representatives, regardless of my efforts.”

Recently, Knott met with the hospital’s HR department to try to change this. Together, they updated patient access job requirements to include customer service. “We can train people on the medical aspects of the patient access role. But the role is mostly service-oriented,” Knott explains.

Often, patient access applicants have no medical schedule experience. This makes them hesitant to apply for the role. On the other hand, most have lots of customer service experience. “They are smart and eager to learn the duties and make great employees,” Knott says.

By changing the long-standing-but-outdated job requirements, it allows service-oriented applicants to join the department. “We are also recognizing their years of customer service in the pay offer,” Knott adds.

Patient access has become highly service-oriented, but the previous job requirements did not reflect this. “By taking into account their past customer service when figuring a starting pay, it helps retain those service-trained individuals a little longer,” Knott reports.

Of course, slightly higher compensation does not always make people choose patient access as a long-term career. However, it does cause some good registrars to put off leaving, at least for a little while. “It allows people to stay with me a bit longer before seeking other departments,” Knott notes. Previously, patient access employees frequently left for other hospital departments due to even slightly higher compensation. “When other departments’ pay ranges are higher than mine, it’s hard to compete,” Knott laments.

It is simply not possible for patient access leaders to double everyone’s pay. Many times, even compensation that reflects the complexity of the job is not feasible. That does not stop smart leaders from providing other perks. “I have monthly lunches with up to a dozen people to provide more face time with me on a different level,” Knott says.

Both leaders and employees learn about each other. This informal camaraderie extends into their work relationships. “When I visit their clinic, it helps them identify with me as a person and not just as their manager,” Knott says. It also allows registrars from different clinics to get to know each other, establish a contact, and put a face with a name. These meetings are held at a central location during lunch time so registrars do not have to travel or use their personal time to attend. Everyone brings a lunch, but Knott provides the dessert of choice: cupcakes. The topic of discussion varies. “We can talk about whatever they want. I allow them to set the tone,” Knott says.

Sometimes, participants bring up work-related questions or topics. “But for the most part, it is more social,” Knott says. “We all talk as a group and enjoy each other’s company.”

The department also created an Employee of the Quarter award. One person is nominated from each patient access area who really represents what it means to be a team player. This registrar receives an award to display on their desk, a certificate, and some candy. “It’s a little something to demonstrate our gratitude,” Knott adds.

The department does not forget Patient Access Week, established in 1982 by the National Association of Healthcare Access Management (in 2019, held from March 31-April 6). “We plan a great week full of fun and treats,” Knott says. Each day, employees are celebrated in a different way. Breakfast is served one day, lunch the next, and small tokens are offered on the remaining days. “Staff like that — we take the time to do something each day of the week for them,” Knott adds.

At Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, patient access staff are treated to box lunches, given tote bags and mugs, and served ice cream and pretzels. These gestures do not require a huge outlay of time or financial investment. Still, it sends an important message.

June Parks, patient access supervisor of outpatient registration, says, “My staff seems to appreciate the fact that we recognize their hard work and commitment, both to the department and to our patients.”