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24 Questions to Ask When Evaluating a Healthcare Organization's Culture

May 13, 2016

healthcare-culture.jpgThroughout my career as I have mentored or advised individuals about their careers and potential moves to new positions I have been asked, “You spend a lot of time talking about culture and how important it is to find the right person to fit the culture. Can I reverse it and ask how you read the culture of the organization before taking the job so I know it is a good fit for me?”

I, myself, have asked that question when I have looked at opportunities. There is no magic checklist and no guarantee that you will get it right the first time. There are also parts of the culture that you will not know or see until you have worked at an organization for some time. Here are some thoughts I have for you as you are assessing whether an organization is the right fit for you and your values.

The Feel of the Organization

  1. How does it feel when you walk in the front door? Is it welcoming for patients and families? Are the staff coming in smiling and do they appear to be pleased to be at work?

  2. Is there an energy and “buzz” without being chaotic? Even with lots of activity is there a calm and soothing feeling as you walk around the organization?

  3. Watch for signage. Does it send a “positive” message versus a “punitive” message?

The Search Process

  1. Find out how formal or informal the organization is by considering how they have organized the interviews or visits.

  2. Are you only seeing search committees or higher-ups and not middle managers, frontline staff and members of the medical staff?

  3. Do they encourage you to bring your spouse and family for a visit?

  4. Do they encourage you to walk around the hospital and talk to people and observe?

  5. When asked, will they let you speak with random staff so you can ask them what it is like to work in the organization?

The Staff Focus

  1. You can tell a lot about concern for the staff when there are designated areas to rest and get away from the unit. Are there food service facilities for staff that provide diversity in types of food and appear to recognize that people have differences in what they like to eat? Does it appear that the staff are able to go to the cafeteria or somewhere to eat, away from their work areas?

  2. Are there fitness facilities, classes to deal with stress, mindfulness opportunities, areas for staff to walk, and rooms where staff can get away from the units?

  3. Have they provided you with the results of the staff/physician engagement survey? If they are not able to produce it, or do not want to share this, it could represent a red flag.

  4. Ask about communication. Is there an organization-wide plan? What types of communication are available for staff members? How does the leadership solicit views of the staff and what do they do with this information?

  5. Do the leadership team members, and others working in the organization, appear to respect each other?

The Commitment to Patient and Family Centered Care

  1. Does the organization have multiple Patient and Family Advisory Councils? If so, can they tell you what they have been involved in over the last 1-2 years? Did they involve a member of the Council (s) in the search process?

  2. Do individuals in middle and senior leadership spend time with patients and families? If so, what happens to the information that is gathered – negative or positive?

  3. Ask how the needs of patients and families are factored in decision making.

  4. Ask for communication pieces that are sent to staff, patients, volunteers, and donors. Do they demonstrate a genuine concern for patients and families?

Importance of Community

  1. When asked, can someone identify the community activities supported by the organization? Are members of the management team involved in the community?

  2. Ask to talk to a few volunteers and see what it feels like to be a volunteer in the organization.

  3. Do the individuals with whom you are meeting know about the community needs assessment? Do they know the healthcare priorities and what the organization is focused on to improve health?

The Strategic Point of View

  1. When you talk to leadership and the staff, including physicians, do they say the same thing when asked: what about the organization makes them proud and what concerns them about the future of the organization?

  2. Can someone easily describe how decisions are made from the perspective of the job for which you are interviewing? Who is involved? What steps are required? Is financial return the most important or the only criteria used to make a decision?

  3. Are a variety of data points utilized to make decisions? For example, patient satisfaction data, key human resources metrics, community needs assessment, feedback from staff, safety and quality data?

  4. Is the emphasis on teamwork? Who do staff in departments consider part of their team and do they spend time together?


Obviously, we all go into interviewing for positions with a different perspective based on the organization, the position, our history, and our own values. You may find other questions or observations that are important to you, in addition to these. I hope you find a fit!

Read about the 8 questions a physician should ask you during an interview.

This blog was written by Donna Katen-Bahensky. Donna is the CEO of DKB Consulting and the former President and CEO of University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics, after holding the same title with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

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Donna Katen-Bahensky Donna is the CEO of DKB Consulting and the former President and CEO of University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics, after holding the same title with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.