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10 must-have qualities for ASC administrators

Publish Date: 10/23/2013
The position of ambulatory surgery center (ASC) administrator is highly sought after, and justifiably so. Not only does it present exciting professional challenges, the salary isn't too shabby: ASC administrators earn an average of more than $100,000 annually, according to data from the ASC Association's "2012 ASC Employee Salary & Benefits Survey." In addition, administrator salaries have strong growth potential: They saw a nice increase in 2012, rising 5 percent.

But with great salary comes great responsibility. ASC administrators need to possess many qualities to be successful in their role and keep their employers — the physician-owners and board of directors — satisfied with their performance.

Here are 10 qualities an ASC administrator must possess as identified by three people with a good perspective on the position: Lawrence Kosinski, MD, MBA, a gastroenterologist and owner of two ASCs in Illinois; Michael Redler, MD, orthopedic surgeon and president of the medical staff at Surgery Center of Fairfield County in Trumbull, Conn., an affiliate of Surgical Care Affiliates; and Amy Mowles, president and CEO of ASC management firm Mowles Medical Practice Management in Edgewater, Md., and a former administrator of two ASCs.

1. Ability to handle multiple responsibilities. "Today's administrator in the ASC environment has to be able to wear multiple hats," Dr. Redler says. "The administrator needs to be able to do many more functions — and do them all well — than someone who is overseeing an OR in a hospital-type setting."

2. Corporate mindset. It's very important that an ASC administrator have a predominantly corporate mindset, says Dr. Kosinski. "While they have to be sensitive to the employees and focused on human resources, the administrator needs to act as an extension of the board of directors," he says. "The board has to know that the administrator is their representative who will be implementing what they request."

3. Never play favorites. Every physician — both owners and non-owners — needs to know the administrator feels their case volume and specific preferences are important, Dr. Redler says. "You never want to create a class system where some surgeons feel they are not as important as someone else," he says. "Being able to appeal to all of the different physicians, whether they are bringing five cases a month or 35 cases a month, requires an administrator to take a unique perspective. You need to make sure that equal appreciation is demonstrated in every fashion. You have to have evenhandedness and communicate both with your words and your actions how important each of those individual physicians are to you and your surgical center."

4. Understand and respond to data. ASC administrators must have the ability to analyze their ASC's clinical and financial data, and adjust operations accordingly, Dr. Redler says. "They need to know what their volume is going to be to appropriately address staff and supply needs. They need to be able to have a very good understanding of their payor and surgeon mix. One of the things they always need to look for is how to optimize every case. They must know exactly what to anticipate for a given surgeon: how long a case is going to take, and what supplies and personnel are needed. These all factor into running an efficient, profitable operation."

5. Strong communicator. An administrator will likely need to make ongoing changes to staffing to ensure an ASC remains financially viable, and having the ability to communicate the reasons why are critical. "You want your staff be happy, you want your staff to have full-time employment, but on the other hand, you don't want to be to the point where you're overstaffed or understaffed," Dr. Redler says. "To do that well and be able to maintain great morale amongst the staff requires the ability to communicate well, be empathetic and, frankly, to be creative. Those are all qualities needed are far as human resources skills to keep staff happy."

"An administrator absolutely must have people skills," Dr. Kosinski adds.

6. Highly organized. "There are a lot of details that go with overseeing an ASC, and an administrator needs to be able to keep them organized and up in the air," Dr. Kosinski says. "Great organizational skills are a must for an administrator. When someone has these skills, it allows me to relegate authority and responsibility so that I don't have to micromanage, which I shouldn't have to do."

7. Willingness to do anything for the ASC. "ASC staff members appreciates and respond positively to administrators who aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and do tasks that might otherwise seem menial and below them," Dr. Redler says. "That can help improve morale greatly.

"I remember having an administrator years ago who couldn't walk in the OR because they would come close to passing out at the sight of blood or the smell of the room," he continues. "The inability of this administrator to be in that environment was not creating an ideal example for the staff. On the other hand, our current administrator, who is doing a fabulous job, has been seen wheeling patients in a wheelchair down to their ride home after surgery. She pitches in, and no job that will help the surgical center function smoothly is below her."

8. Effective forecaster. While no one has a crystal ball in today's healthcare market, one thing is certain, notes Dr. Redler: The healthcare market is clearly changing. "ASC administrators need to have the ability to look down the road in some fashion and start making plans for how their ASC will remain successful in this changing environment," he says. "If more surgeons are going to be aligned with hospitals, making them less likely to be part of a freestanding center, what does the ASC need to do in response? Are there going to be networks that may shut out the ASC? How will the ASC respond? Is it time for the administrator to look into opportunities for greater interaction or co-marketing with a local hospital? An ASC administrator needs to be a forecaster."

9. & 10. Curiosity and respect. To Mowles, the qualities an ASC administrator needs can be broken down into two parts. "Eighty-five percent is having the intellectual curiosity to find the answers and the desire to do the job," she says. "The other 15 percent is the ability to lead and manage with respect. Short but true!"

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