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Learning to Understand: How Teaching Helped Me Become a Better Manager
As general manager for Prest & Associates, I have a lot of responsibilities, the primary of which is to ensure high-quality service to our clients. In a previous job, I also was tasked with meeting the needs of those for whom I was responsible. In that case, though, it was middle schoolers in Honduras.
Located in Central America, Honduras is home to almost 10 million people. It’s a low and middle-income country, with approximately 60% of its residents living below the poverty line and 36.2 percent experiencing extreme poverty.
Living and teaching in Honduras for nearly 20 years, I witnessed firsthand that type of poverty and felt my perspective change. I became more empathetic and more aware of different ways of life compared to the one I was accustomed to in the United States. I learned how to look at other people, try to understand more about them and educate myself on their culture.
That empathy is not only valuable for a teacher living in Central America – it’s valuable in most any business, including health care. For example, developing sensitivity toward other people, cultures and life situations is an important element of medical necessity review. So is understanding, another teaching skill I’ve been able to use in my role at Prest, and one I utilize almost every day.
Recognizing, understanding and supporting an employee who doesn’t know something or has had a difficult time with a certain piece of work helps to put him or her in a better position to succeed. It can be as simple as explaining something in a different way to that employee or giving him or her another method to go about their work or just offering another point of view.
Working My Way Up in the Family Business
While I was living and teaching in Central America, my mother Susan started Prest & Associates in 1991 with my stepfather, Dr. James Prest. Dr. Prest was the sole reviewer, and my mother did everything else. She was there at the beginning when managed care emerged on the health care scene, and was a longtime key player in the industry.
My mother began a tradition of family members joining the business. I have a niece who works on our staff, and one of my sisters and some nieces used to be employed here, as well. So, when I moved back to the U.S., Susan asked if I wanted to learn the ropes of the family business and see how I liked it.
When I started at Prest & Associates in 2007, I initially was mostly doing medical transcription. Our company is one of the few independent review organizations (IROs) that still offers a transcription to our physician reviewers. In addition to helping us and the doctors be more efficient, this enables us to give a detailed final report to our clients, even when they request a quick turnaround.
Fast forward to 2017, the year my mother retired, and her senior vice president decided not to stay on with our company, I was next in line and moved into the GM position I’m in today.
Maintaining the Company Culture
It was really important for us not to lose the tight-knit family business feel that had been cultivated by Dr. James and Susan Prest.
Our clients, especially those who have been with us for a long time, know us and who we are. They know we’re extremely approachable and they can contact us anytime to update us on a project or ask for our advice on a specific topic or situation. When someone calls Prest & Associates, a person will always answer the phone – no dialing 1 for the regulatory department or listening to a sales pitch while on hold.
Another element I’ve strived to keep at Prest is our low employee turnover. Some of our team members have been with the company far longer than me. This helps create a close-knit team that works well together and fully understands the medical review business. Each staff member is always willing to jump in and help when and where needed to contribute to our success and the high level of customer service our clients have come to expect.
Encountering Industry Changes
The health care industry continues to evolve, and we at Prest are at the forefront of some of those changes.
Most of our clients also expect a faster turnaround from us than in years past, from days to hours. We’ve always provided quality work, so being able to accomplish this more rapidly has meant improving our workflows and creating a support network that enables our physician reviewers to do their job while we maintain a thorough quality assurance process.
One thing I’ve realized going from teaching to managing is there are many crossover skills, whether you’re managing employees or students, organizing a company or organizing a classroom. Education is more similar to business than you’d think – how you work and interact with people, how you train, listen and relate to them, giving them the right tools and opportunities to be successful. I learned all that as a teacher and have carried those same skills with me at Prest. Teaching, and understanding people, is still a part of what I do every single day.