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    Good help in terms of employment is hard to find

    Help wanted: Everyone who wants to do a good job in a a good job

    Peter J. McDonnell, MD
    It's a bummer these days to read the newspaper or watch television news. Terrible jobs reports, high unemployment, states running out of tax monies to spend because income and property tax revenues are down, long lines at job fairs and in unemployment offices . . . .

    "One hundred applicants for every job opening," is what one reporter recently described.

    Recently in a grocery store, I encountered a young acquaintance who had graduated from college last spring. She had attended one of those prestigious, academically rigorous colleges, where fathers like me pony up about $50,000 annually to have our children experience the enlightenment that comes from a high-quality liberal arts education. I happen to know she was a great student in high school (straight As) and a solid student in college (As and Bs).

    "So, what are you doing now?" I inquired.

    "Hanging out at home with the parents," she answered. "I'm just another one of many college grads without a job."

    Good help is hard to find

    The disconnect for me is that my department is advertising great jobs, but is simply not getting many qualified applicants. Perhaps like your practice, our practice in Maryland is experiencing the demand associated with the so-called demographic tidal wave of aging Americans who need eye care. With double-digit annual growth, we are struggling to meet the needs of customers.

    While we have added doctors, we are constantly dealing with a shortage of technicians. We will hire an inexperienced, but motivated individual who likes working with and helping people, train him or her to be an ophthalmic technician, pay for the certification exam, and reward the person with a bonus upon passing the exam. But we constantly are trying to find good candidates willing to let us get them started in a career with great job security (something the news media tell us is rare during this "Great Recession" of ours) and the opportunity to work with ophthalmologists all day (a treat by anyone's definition).

    Another position we are constantly looking to fill is that of our telephone receptionists. With 120 faculty—many of whom are extremely subspecialized—spread out across multiple clinical practice locations, it is no trivial task to give every patient who calls a prompt and convenient appointment with the right faculty member or in the appropriate teaching clinic. Thus, we have hired and trained a cadre of individuals who can listen to the patient's complaints or referring doctor's concerns and efficiently triage the call or schedule the patient's appointment quickly and correctly. And as our practice expands, our faculty increases in size and the number of phone calls grows month after month, we are constantly looking for good people to hire.

    I accept that a lot of people do not have the skill set to become good ophthalmic technicians. They have to be friendly, caring, manually dexterous, intelligent, and able to work with doctors and patients. Similarly, working in our scheduling system, in a department of our size, requires the ability to retain a lot of information about visual complaints and subspecialty care, and the patience to work on the phone with people who may be confused, worried, or discourteous. A fair number of candidates cannot pass the testing we use to identify qualified individuals. But shouldn't it be fairly easy to find good people to take good jobs during this "great recession"?

    My solution for the country's economic crisis? Everyone who wants to do a good job, in a good job, should work for me.

    By Peter J. McDonnell, MD director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times.

    He can be reached at 727 Maumenee Building 600 N. Wolfe St. Baltimore, MD 21287-9278 Phone: 443/287-1511 Fax: 443/287-1514 E-mail:

    Peter J. McDonnell, MD
    He is director of The Wilmer Eye Institute, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of ...

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