Training and development are essential to any organization. In eyecare specifically, a well-trained staff is needed to run efficiently. Assistants and technicians are the backbone of the office and their roles often stretch beyond aiding physicians in patient care. Triaging, patient callbacks, working the reception desk, billing, and even basic opticianry are parts of the job that management may require them to learn to better serve the office. Further development toward a higher skillset, front end management, and/or becoming an in-office trainer for other technicians benefits the office for obvious reasons but potentially benefits the individual more so.
Before delving into why training and development are important, it is important to know the difference. According to TalentLyft, a human resources and recruitment agency, training is the education an employee receives at the start of their employment or when tasked with a new assignment where development is the continuous, long-term education that employees pro-actively engage in to better themselves within an organization (TalentLyft, n.d.). Training is often a requirement for accurately completing tasks within the job. New staff members who are in the onboarding process or current technicians who are planning to start in a different subspecialty require training. Developing skills and attributes to better communicate, use time effectively, or leading and delegating are soft skills that can prove beneficial at work and at home. Specialized development, like pursuing additional certifications – either specific to one’s current role or those that prime an individual for their next step in their career—is incentive for employees to stay within an organization while strengthening the caliber of staff.
Proper training and development are crucial to a successful business model. Work culture can be improved through morale, motivation, and individual/company pride when staff members are adequately trained and given opportunities to grow (TalentLyft, n.d.). Happy employees rarely leave their jobs. Whereas training helps employees feel capable of performing their duties, developing gives employees the confidence to do better. When techs are proud of what they do and where they do it, the morale in the office improves. Boosted pride and company morale keeps the office strong and increases employee retention, reducing money and time spent on training new hires from scratch.
The act of training and guiding employees to develop their skills can be costly for an organization. Scott Tannenbaum and Gary Yukl penned the “Training and Development in Work Organizations” chapter of the 1992 Annual Review of Psychology in which they reported nationally, businesses spend tens of billions of dollars a year to train talent (Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992, p 432). When a practice quickly runs through assistants, it finds itself burning through resources in constantly onboarding and training. Without a development plan for long-term success in place, techs will continue to wait until they are fully trained to find a new job at a different office. If as much time and attention is spent on nurturing the development of staff after they have been fully trained as the initial training, the practice can expect higher retention rates.
While certain practices may require certain skillsets or certification, there is no minimum knowledge or ability requirement for ophthalmic technicians. That being said, all medical assistants, including those in eyecare, must adhere to rules and regulations for accurate charting. To document certain histories, subjective testing or objective findings, techs need to know the proper way to work patients up. Lying and documenting falsified information can lead to termination and legal repercussions. If the seriousness of these aspects of the job is built into the training regimen for new hires, offices can then focus on helping fully trained staff obtaining their certifications.
In the 2019 official ATPO guidebook Train the Trainer, leaders in the field have outlined methods of identifying trainable candidates, teaching, guiding, and benchmarking development. There are several ways of learning and it is crucial to respect the various learning types for optimal training (Jost, 2019). Clarifying goals versus objectives, creating ideal training environments equipped with the proper tools, and uniformly holding trainees against the same objective rubric establishes a uniform learning environment (Jost, 2019). Perhaps equally important, developing a team of leaders and trainers is important in strengthening the heart of the clinic (Jost, 2019).
Although every field varies in what their specific training and development model looks like, there are basic steps that any organization can use to outline their processes. Arte Nathan, author of the 2016 SHRM article “7 Key Steps for Better Training and Development Programs” outlined key tasks that can lead to a better trained and developed staff; by benchmarking, surveying, aligning training to the organizational brands, streamlining, innovating, measuring and engraining training into the company’s work culture, HR can expect a positive training and development experience with effective results (Nathan, 2016).
In ophthalmology specifically, these steps can be further managed. Visual acuity documentation, refractometry, tonometry, muscle testing, and pupil gauging are some of the technical aspects that employees need to master before seeing patients but understanding why techs have to perform these tests and what to do if a problem arises is also important (Jost, 2019). Once the most important skill requirements have been met, techs can be encouraged to learn more advanced skills relevant to the practice and ophthalmology.
Overlooking employee training and development is would prove disastrous in any field but significantly so in eyecare. Legal and financial aspects of a poorly trained aside, assistants could cause physical harm to patients if not trained properly. An abraded eye from incorrectly applanating or failing to document a medication that could have interactions with certain eye drops is a very real danger. Having techs master a regimented set of technical skills is crucial to having a safe and profitable office. Leading through encouragement is a good first step in the development of staff members but having tools and resources available for employee development can be as important as the training process. When a tech improves his or her own skillsets, they make themselves more valuable within the office as well as the world outside of the practice. Techs who are proud of what they do make for better patient care and a better office.
Jost, A. (2019). Train the trainer. St Paul, MN. Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology.
Nathan, A. (2016, March 10). 7 key steps for better training and development programs. SHRM. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/pages/key-steps-for-better-training-development-programs.aspx
TalentLyft. (n.d.) What is training and development. Retrieved from https://www.talentlyft.com/en/resources/what-is-training-and-development
Tannenbaum, S. & Yukl, G. (1992). Training and development in work organizations. Annual Review of Psychology. 43: 399-441. Retrieved from https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.ps.43.020192.002151