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Margo Twohig and Jennifer Schipper

Picking your staff: Let patients help

A Conversation with patient and family advisor Margo Twohig and Chief of Communications and Patient Partnering, Jennifer Schipper

Margo Twohig: I am totally supportive of the idea of patients being involved in the hiring practices at health care organizations. Patients should be involved in the hiring at all levels – those cleaning the building at night, working in the pharmacy, at the bedside, on the senior team – because everyone is part of the delivery of care of the organization.

Jennifer Schipper: There is surprisingly little data assessing the benefits of involving patients or family members on selection committees making staffing decisions in health care organizations. What published evidence does exist has been very positive. One of the only available Canadian studies was published in the Patient Experience Journal in 2015 and comes from researchers from Providence Health Care in B.C. An assessment was conducted with 30 candidates who were interviewed in a process that involved patient interviewers. The assessment also involved health-care leaders at Providence and patients and family members who participated in the process. The researchers concluded involving patients in the interview process had a positive impact.

An evaluation of patient-centred care strategies in 2012 singled out Kingston General Hospital as an organization that had included patient advisors on hiring committees and noted that the patient was the first to speak during selection interviews. CEO Leslee Thompson said the intent was to convey upfront to a prospective employee that if they got the job they would be working for patients.

Margo Twohig: Patients reflect the community and involving them shows the organization’s commitment to being transparent. It also signals to the candidates that patient-centred care is important to the organization and that patients as partners are key to the organization’s DNA. It’s also just the right thing to do. It helps to ensure the final candidate is truly someone who understands what it means to work with patients and family members as partners in delivering quality care.

When I have sat on search committees listening to an interviewee’s responses – hearing their vision for working with patients and families as advisors - it gave me a chance to see if the candidate was not just talking the talk but if they could walk the talk too. Involving a patient in hiring is a great way to see and feel if the candidate truly gets it.

To make it a valuable experience for all, patients need an outline of what the expectations are as a member of the search committee and some training too – what the questions will look like, what to look for in candidates, etc. And to be meaningful, patients need to be involved throughout the hiring process from setting the hiring criteria and being involved in the initial screening to the final interviews. You must be there right from the get-go. If you just come in at the end, you feel like you are part of a ‘show and tell’. You’re not contributing to the whole process where important criteria are being determined about the candidate that you are looking for.

Jennifer Schipper: And why stop at hospitals or other direct care organizations? For the same reasons, a good case can be made for involving patients or family members on search committees at medical schools and other training institutions too. While not as common a practice, it is happening at medical schools like the School of Medical Sciences, University of Manchester in the UK and I expect could be seen with more frequency in the future.

Margo Twohig: I agree – and not only in the hiring of faculty members, but also in the choosing of future students. It sends a message that it’s about teaching and practicing in a patient-centred way. A few years ago, a doctor said to me that the conversation changes when a patient is in the room. If a patient is involved in the interview process of a future medical student, it highlights how important patient-centred care is and that getting into medical school involves far more than just getting high marks.

Margo Twohig is a Patient and Family Advisor and 2017 Patient, Family and Caregiver winner of the Minister’s Medal Honouring Excellence in Health Quality and Safety. Jennifer Schipper is Chief, Communications and Patient Partnering for Health Quality Ontario.


8 comments on article "Picking your staff: Let patients help"

Calvin Young

I am very happy to report that we do include patients in hiring at various levels of our Hospital and Organization. I am involved with hiring of directors and have been part of this process for over two years now. Even at our board level we have patients of our board at various levels as well.

F. H. Kim Krenz

As a patient in hospital at St. Josepj's at Fleming, I have a

close-up view of what is involved in patient care. It is most

important for the care giver to be knowledgeable about the

patients views and understanding. Unfortunately, with a large number of patients per staff-member, this is not always possible. At St. Joe's staff go our of their way to accommodate patient needs and choices, but with a large

number of patients per staff member this is sometimes not

posible. This is a situation which will become serious as the general patient population grows each year. Yet we see little of this recognized in the programs that are put foreward. Yours is an example.

Helen Robert

This is a wonderful step forward, and as an HR Professional I can't help wondering if there is an opportunity to actually search out patients with advanced interviewing skills and knowledge of behavioural competencies who could in fact enhance the interview process and perhaps even train the hiring panel on best practices and innovative approaches. As a patient partner on the National Women's Heart Health Alliance, it is important to me that I can provide value to my working group and committees, and I'm not someone that has to be "trained up" all the time. When there is a chance to apply my business/organizational or analytical expertise to an initiative or topic, I feel so much more confident and useful, and I feel more like a true partner than a peripheral team member. Just something to consider as the next step if we can target the recruitment of patients to try and marry their backgrounds and skills to the project at hand they can add even more value to the partnership.

Sue Johnson

I was pleased to be part of an interview team at the Ottawa Hospital hiring for a replacement housekeeping manager. My former position prior to retirement was in Human Resources so I found it very enjoyable to be included in this process. Comments from other staff on the panel indicated they valued my views on the candidates as I was bringing a different perspective as a patient and non bias not knowing any of the candidates being interviewed.

Matthew Cole

In our supportive housing program at Carleton University, the students with disabilities have been involved with hiring the PSW staff for more than two decades. The clients become empowered, the staff - even prior to hiring understand that it is the students with disabilities that are most important, and the clients on the hiring board are very accommodating with new staff since they selected them.

Anna De Hart

Great discussion. As a former 'out-patient', hospitalized patient, and day-surgery patient as well as a former healthcare worker, caregiver and HR professional - glad to see such perspectives coming to the forefront in healthcare. Looking forward to such new perspectives being applied to eldercare.

Kumail Syed

Thats awesome. I was part of Rapid Ideas Generation (RIG) event at a hospital in Toronto and emphasized 2 key concepts about patient and families involvement:

1. Performance evaluation of all levels of healthcare professionals including physicians, executive leadership with the inclusion of Patients Family Partners (having some role!)

2. Training and coaching of all levels of employees with the direct involvement of patients and families such as Orientation program for staff, students, physicians, etc.

Think of a patient or a family member coaching and guiding and evaluating healthcare professionals.

All the best

Kumail Syed

Patient Family Partner

Certified Patient Safety Hero - Johns Hopkins

Toronto -

Charles Ketter

I have had the pleasure and excitement of being involved at HSN in several hiring interviews across the spectrum, including the Chief of Staff and several key manages. As a Patient Advisor I have been privileged to be involved in, not only the hiring of several staff, but to be a presenter in an accredited event on Advance Care Plans. Several staff from different levels have commented on the fact that the conversation takes a different road when one of us is present. HSN has committed to including us and our liaison is charged with ensuring that one of us is included in the many events.

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