Taking Over for a Senior Partner

By Olugbenga T. Okusanya, MD | February 2, 2022

In the early phases of any career, there may be many challenges, with one of these being taking over a practice for a well-established senior surgeon. Either planned or unplanned, early career surgeons may be thrust into this position. 

Get the Timing Right

Depending on the terms of the departing senior surgeon, you may have a few weeks or even a year to figure out how to transition the practice. Before the senior surgeon departs, it is important to get a sense of what that timing will be and make a plan to be as integrated as possible into the practice. A scramble after a surgeon leaves is the least ideal circumstance. Also, a “practice” includes many things such as patients, referring doctors, workflows, physical space, and resources—all of these may require different timing to capture successfully. 

What’s Happening?

Getting a lay of the land is a great place to start. Figure out the logistics of how the practice works. Who are the primary referring doctors to the practice? What are the norms of the patient pathways? What resources are available as part of practice? Are there administrative roles that you may be asked to fill as part of the clinical practice? Are there new conferences or meetings that you may need to attend? Will you have to travel to new sites? The more of these questions you can answer before the transition happens, the more likely it is that you will be successful. 

Put the Time In

At some point, you’ll likely need to set a time to introduce yourself to the referring doctors, specialists, and administrative team that will help you. It may be challenging to do so once the transition has happened, so I recommend making time for these visits in the weeks before. Also, many patients who may be confused or upset about transitioning their care likely will come to you for follow-up. You and your team should be prepared to put some effort into addressing these concerns. 

The more of these questions you can answer before the transition happens, the more likely it is that you will be successful. 

Olugbenga T. Okusanya, MD

What’s Working?

Perhaps the most crucial output function of this experience is determining the overall aspects of the practice that are working well. The patient workflows, communication, and administrative management may be vastly different and, in some ways, may be better than your current practices. Remember that being an experienced senior surgeon is rarely an accident and as such, some of the systems in place must be working. Gleaning what’s optimized and keeping it working are critical. 

What’s Not?

For any number of reasons, including personal preference, there may be a number of aspects of the practice that don’t work for you. Often simple things such as clinic days can be changed or managed to better suit you, but other issues like operating schedules and staff may require more time and effort. It is unlikely that all of this will be clear on the very first day. However, after a few weeks, reasonable conclusion should become more obvious. It’s also important to remember that you are your own surgeon and person. Have a reasonable expectation that everything done before will not suit you and that’s okay. 

The process of taking over a practice for a senior surgeon takes time and is not without effort. Planning and high levels of emotional intelligence are key pillars to successfully managing the transition.