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8 Traits to Look for When Hiring a Physician Assistant or Nurse Practitioner

September 12, 2018

Many health systems have identified building out their Physician Assistant (PA) and Nurse Practitioner (NP) programs as central to their ability to improving patient access and quality of care. Research shows that patients respond well to PAs and NPs when they are utilized effectively. They add great value to the care delivery system and improve outcomes.

Most systems, though, have been so busy trying to recruit for these roles that they’ve not given much thought to exactly WHAT they are looking for.

Physician Hiring Nurse Practitioner Hiring

This is what our team does – help clients to understand what behavioral skills are important for success in a given role, and then build a selection system that effectively targets those behaviors. When we do it right, we choose candidates more likely to succeed and more likely to stay.

Related: Evidence-Based Hiring: Everything You Need to Know

Recently, we conducted a job analysis on these important roles for a client. Of course, the candidate’s education, training, and clinical skills are important, but the client recognizes that the real differentiator – the variable that determines whether they’ll have truly patient-centered, innovative, service-oriented, outcomes-driven culture – are individual behaviors. Here is a summary of our findings (not inconsistent with similar projects for other clients):

  1. Patient-Focused: The roles of NPs and PAs center around patients and therefore they must deliver quality care in a manner that makes the patients feel comfortable. They need to be approachable and display compassionate care for patients. Overall, a positive attitude is critical.

  2. Teamwork: NPs and PAs work in a team-based environment. They need to have excellent communication skills, be respectful of others, and be willing to work in a collaborative environment.

  3. Adaptability: Individuals in these roles experience a lot of change on the job – with their schedule, with the teams they are assigned to, and with the policies they must adhere to. They need to be flexible in their approach and embrace change.

  4. Decision-Making Ability: NPs and PAs are inundated with patient information. They must be able to sort through information, determine what is relevant and important, and then come to a final conclusion without always needing consultation from the Attending Physician. They often work on complex patient cases and therefore decision-making and critical thinking skills are important.

  5. Ownership: NPs and PAs need to make independent decisions, be autonomous, and take accountability for their actions. They should not blame others for their mistakes that occur. They also need to take initiative and be proactive in their approach.

  6. Time Management & Multi-Tasking: Individuals in these roles have a lot of competing priorities to manage. They must be able to shift focus quickly and prioritize their assignments appropriately. Along these lines, a degree of organization is required so no tasks are left incomplete or delayed significantly.

  7. Leadership: NPs and PAs must be confident in their decisions and be able to direct nursing as necessary. They must display confidence in their abilities and influence others when needed.

  8. Resilience: NPs and PAs need to have the courage to stand up for what they believe in and not be easily offended. They need to think in terms of what is best for patients. Additionally, they must be able to react well to constructive criticism from their leaders and from patients during difficult encounters.

In addition to asking about skills, traits, and behaviors that are important for success, information was gathered regarding what top performers do differently than average or below average performers. Participants indicated the following as being characteristic of “star” performers (outside of some of the characteristics listed above):

What are you doing to target these traits and competencies when you are screening and vetting candidates? Do you have a selection "system" or have you focused all of your attention and energy on just finding candidates? And once you’ve identified the right candidates, what are you doing to develop these important team members?

Related: A Selection System is About More Than Just a Hiring Test

To learn more about evidence-based hiring in healthcare, see our free whitepaper:

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Lindsey Burke Lindsey Burke is a Senior Consultant based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI. She is largely responsible for client support and managing clients in industries including manufacturing, sales, and healthcare. Lindsey completed her M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Xavier University and earned a B.A. and B.S. in Psychology from Kent State University.