What should you do in your first six months of a new consultant job?
Soak up as much information as you can, both formal and informal, about your department and the hospital.
The formal side is to get all the numbers and understand the workings of your department and its effectivenss in providing medical care.
- Patient hospital admissions - GP referral, emergency admissions, elective admissions
- Patient out patient consultations - referral source
- Procedures and investigations performed - numbers, types of procedures
- Treatment - effectiveness of treatments used
- Average length of hospital admission
The informal side is to work out who are the key players, how the communication networks work, who is effective and who isn’t. This is just as important as the formal side, and takes longer to understand.
Part of being a good sponge is to do plenty of wandering about and seeing what really goes on, talking to the ‘real’ people at the front line (they’ll tell you the truth when they get to know you and when they see that you are a genuine listener with their future at heart).
If you can fix a couple of small obvious “quick wins” while in the sponge phase that would be great – otherwise it might look as if you are doing nothing.
Another good idea is to speak to some of the GPs who are the biggest patient referrers and find out what they think of the department and what they would like changed.Is the communication timely and effective, do they feel involved in the patient management, are they getting a good service and do they have recommendations for improvement?
As a consultant, you are a leader of a team, and leaders are expected to come with a vision. However it is difficult to develp an effective vision without understanding the department and hospital where you are working and so the vision is one thing you need to evolve during your first few months.
It will be based on your previous experience combined with really understanding the issues of the department right now. It needs to be exciting, and simple enough to communicate, and later it needs to have a plan of how you’ll get there, so that everyone can see what their part will be to achieve it.
It is a good idea to consult with your team members in the creation and clarification of this vision as this improves their buy in which will be essential to the success of the action plan.
Define goals which are critical to obtaining your vision, make a plan of action and implement it. Make sure that you take decisive actions towards the end of your first six months. If you don't then you are finished. Observers (and that’s everyone!) will conclude that you are weak, or have no vision, and that nothing is going to change. Forces will start to strengthen against you. The honeymoon is over and problems are beginning to be your fault now, and yet you have done nothing to put them right.
Don’t do step 3 before several months of step 1, however tempting it may be, because you’ll probably get it wrong. Make sure your actions are based on both the formal and the informal information you have gathered.
Goals should be SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely - and have some Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure progress.
Maximum and endless communication with all team members and stakeholders is essential to motivate people and get them to understand their role.
Changes might be to people and/or processes, and should be targeted, and in line with your goals, not just a big reorganisation for the sake of it.
We hope this helps both those who are asked this at an interview, and those who are actually doing it. Good luck!