Insights
A Day in the life of Gillie Atkins, our Head of HR & Operations

Written By MPM Team

What is your role within MPM?

I manage the growing PA team, from interviewing through to onboarding them. 

Once they are signed up with us, the next stage is the very important decision in matching them with the appropriate roles for their skillsets.

On application, all prospective PAs are also required to complete a questionnaire in addition to providing their CV. This breaks down their experience with different systems and specialities so that we can get a very thorough overview of their full experience prior to meeting them at interview. 

Once we have interviewed a PA, if we want to progress to the next steps, as with any job, we do of course also require fantastic references.  

We also make sure that they are comfortable using audio files and VOIP apps.  

What Support is offered?

My background is as a Medical PA. This is crucial for my role as I can relate to their experiences, I know what they are dealing with on a day to day basis and understand that having that support structure is hugely beneficial. 

My fantastic HR Administrator (and right hand woman!) Carol and I organise cover for the team if a PA is off sick or on holiday, as well as liaising with them all week to week and having a monthly Zoom meeting or call with each one. This is an opportunity for them to let me know about anything they like, good or bad. The idea is that they see me as a support, not someone checking on them. I’m always happy to help them with any issues. 

There is an MPM WhatsApp group for all of the PAs which means they can let me know if they need cover or have any other concerns. It’s also a place to ask questions and help each other should they have issues.   We also advertise new roles internally here if appropriate.

I support Annabel our Managing Director when urgent enquiries come in. There are situations when a PA is needed as soon as possible so between us we can fast track the process. Ideally we like to have around 10 working days or more to onboard a new client and place a PA in a practice however due to unforeseen circumstances it isn’t that unusual for a clinician to call up requesting a PA a lot sooner than that.

What is the process for finding and interviewing PAs?

As well as always looking for PAs recommended by our current team, perhaps someone they used to work with or a friend, we have a rolling advertisement across social media and recruiting sites.

On reviewing a PA’s cv, ideally he or she would have worked in private practice for at least five years and have fantastic communication skills, alongside administration. We provide shortlisted applicants with a Questionnaire to complete which drills down a little further on their specific experience. After looking through both their cv and their Questionnaire should they seem promising they move to the interview process.

During the interview, as well as finding out more about them and what they are looking for I explain a lot about MPM and how we work here. We chat about the day to day running of a private practice and I am very focused on the practice management systems (PMS) the PA has experience with. There are a broad range, but there are some core systems that we frequently deal with. I always ask about their experience with medical billing, are they comfortable with debt chasing, chasing patients and have they managed an entire practice before?

We will go through the tasks the consultants may request, asking how the PA would go about dealing with them. It is a really good opportunity to see how much they understand about each and every aspect of the Medical PA role. 

I will always make clear to each prospective PA that the service we want to be able to deliver is first class. We just do not take on PAs who are half hearted, there is a lot to being a Medical PA. Dealing with patients who can be anxious is very different to a PA role. Our PAs really do need to be empathetic, professional and always look to go the extra mile. 

How do you go through the process of matching a new PA with a role?

Most of our PAs will have more than one role, but we are extremely careful we don’t overload anybody with lots of consultants. It only works long term if the PA is happy and doing a good job, if they are too busy this causes stress and something has to give. 

We look at the speciality of the doctor, for example Oncology, Dermatology, Ophthalmology, we will then look at the experience of the PA and match accordingly. As well as experience with the specialty I will take into account how busy they are with other role(s) and whether their character and experience will match the practice we are looking at. 

It is key we give the client a PA that we know can efficiently run their practice, dealing with specific systems and a wide range of tasks whilst staying organised and prioritising.  

How do you make sure a PA isn’t overloaded?

Each PA will have a certain number of hours per week, we will always start a new PA in a smaller role, so that we can assess their capabilities and ensure they are competent. Once they have gained our trust, and them ours, they are very welcome to ask for more work, at which point, if we have fantastic feedback from the doctor they are working for, we are happy to provide it. 

We continually monitor and manage work levels to make sure our PAs are not overwhelmed Keeping standards at a high level for our clients is paramount while maintaining a happy team.

How do you support the PAs dealing with stress?

I can usually sense if there is something going on. I try to uncover if there are any issues, if there are any obvious points of stress that can be adjusted and help with advice on coping strategies. I would like to feel the PAs see me as a support and can speak with me openly. Generally this is the case, if not I have to delve a little deeper. We always work it out in the end!

Most PAs do come quickly and ask for help if they need it. Occasionally it is the consultant that comes to us with an issue, it is very important lines of communication are at a high level in all areas to continue with a first-class service. Annabel communicates with the clients continually and requests feedback, I do the same with the PAs and we meet to discuss anything which needs to be talked through, this system does seem to work as we tend to iron out any small issues before they escalate. 

Remote vs in-person

In today’s world remote working has soared.  It’s here to stay and that’s because it works. It is just as efficient running a practice without being on-site, most in-house secretaries rarely see their consultants. Shifting from that environment to working from home is very straightforward. It’s also great for the doctor as they pay only for the hours they actually need, save money on tax, holiday pay, maternity leave, desk space, the list goes on – everybody is happy. 

With remote versus in-person, of course we are not in an office environment, however we do not need to watch over the PAs every five minutes; we need high levels of experience and trust. The trust builds from day one with the PA, as mentioned they build on their roles with us. 

Regardless of the amount of time they work with the consultant, they are responsible for answering the phone 9-5pm, five days a week. So even if a practice is looking for just half an hour a day (10 hours per month in a four week month) the phones are answered 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.  

Supporting each other

The support we offer within the team is paramount, the PAs are mainly situated in the London and the South East; some are a further afield; it works very well and it is important they feel welcomed and valued. At MPM we spend a large amount of time ensuring the PA team feel supported and respected. 

The PAs are hugely important to us, we want them to be working in a positive environment so we strive to provide that in any way we can.