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.