10 tips to become a super tech

May 23, 2016
Sherry Malone, BA, COA

Sherry Malone is clinical manager of Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston.

Take a walk through a busy eye clinic. You will see technicians moving rapidly from one highly technical task to the next. In order to comply with increasingly stringent federal requirements and regulations, technicians are required to take on greater responsibilities requiring larger skill sets than ever before.

Take a walk through a busy eye clinic. You will see technicians moving rapidly from one highly technical task to the next. In order to comply with increasingly stringent federal requirements and regulations, technicians are required to take on greater responsibilities requiring larger skill sets than ever before. Highly skilled and organized technicians free up eyecare providers to focus on the patient in front of them and the important decision-making process to best help that patient.  

Every office seems to have that one technician who can walk into your exam lane when a computer is malfunctioning, hit a couple of keys on the keyboard, and suddenly everything works again. When four people are standing around a piece of equipment that is not working properly, this is the person who can walk in, push on a wire, and the problem is solved. When a clinical question comes up and information is needed, she can calmly pop her head in and supply the answer. These people are fast and accurate, they know where to find the answers, and they make it look easy. It̢۪s as if they have a magic wand and a mind-reading antenna.

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Doctors seek these technicians out for their teams. These are the ophthalmic assistants who fill in for a sick call, and at the end of the day, the doctor requests that they join his team. I am going to call them â€Å“super techs.â€Â

How does one become a super tech?

You don’t need to be a college graduate to excel in this field. The key to acquiring super skills is already in your possession: it is a mindset. Just like the passage in Frank Baum’s book, The Wizard of Oz, when Glenda the Good Witch says, â€Å“You’ve always had the power… you just had to believe it.â€Â

You, too, can become a magic-wand holding, mind-reading super tech, if you have:

̢ۢ Physical ability to perform the tasks required of the job or can do so with reasonable accommodation

̢ۢ Compassion and the desire to help other people in need of your services

̢ۢ Belief that you can do anything you really put your mind to

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The key to being highly efficient with a minimum amount of stress is a matter of using a basic set of organizational skills as if you were pulling them from a toolbox. Not only do you need all the right tools, you need to know how to use the right tool for the right job and locate it quickly. If you were going to paint a mansion, you wouldn̢۪t use a watercolor brush. If you were going to hammer a nail into a wall to hang a picture, you wouldn̢۪t use a screwdriver.

Here are 10 tips to help you become the super tech in your office.

Next: Get organized


1. Get organized.

Organization is the key to this entire concept. To use a cliché, work smarter, not harder.

Are there programs on your PC you use every day? Add them to your task bar (usually along the bottom of your desktop screen). Go to your Start menu, locate the program, click and drag it down to the task bar along the bottom of your screen, and you will see the option pop up to â€Å“pin to the task bar.â€Â That icon will now be visible at the bottom of your screen any time you are logged onto that computer. It will now require only one click to access the program. If you right-click that icon, it will show you the last five documents you used in the program.

Add frequently used websites to your â€Å“quick access tool barâ€Â (a narrow ribbon of small icons across the top of your browser) or your favorites menu (usually depicted by a star icon) in the corner. To do this, when you are in a website, right click. You will get an option to â€Å“add to quick access tool barâ€Â or â€Å“add to favorites.â€Â Choose one of these and the next time you need to access that web application or site, click the small icon on the ribbon across the top and access it with one click, or the star and from a drop down menu

Make short cuts to your favorite video, image, and information search engines. By right-clicking in your browser when the site is open, you can add it to your tool bar as above, or make a shortcut to your desktop (also accomplished by right-clicking and choosing that option).

Video search engines like YouTube are great for quick visual tutorials on tasks you will be required to perform but are not regularly assigned. During my first eight years on the technician floor, I worked for a retina practice and rarely, if ever, had to perform a refraction. When I changed employers, I became more versatile and branched into other subspecialties that required this skill. Anyone learning refraction knows that although the steps are the same, every technician develops a slight variation in technique and style. If you get your information from more than one source, which is always a good idea, it can be confusing in the beginning.

Having a video resource removes the discomfort of having to repeatedly ask others for help once you have the basics down. You can watch anything from a refraction to heart surgery on these sites.

Image banks like Google images provide lightning- fast image collections to help you identify just about anything that can be photographed or diagramed. Type in any topic, and you will be rewarded with hundreds of visuals to assist you in your search.

For example, a scrub tech pops her head out of the laser room and asks you to run for an instrument called a femto flap lifter. Most likely, your first thought would be, â€Å“What is that!?â€Â Click your image search short cut, type the name of the instrument into the search box, hit enter, and in less than a second, you will see multiple images of the tool you are looking for.  Armed with this information, you run to the instrument cabinet and return with it in under three minutes, and you are the hero. No knocking on doors or rummaging through supply catalogues required.

Information search engines like Yahoo, PubMed, or Wikipedia among many, will supply quick basic answers to general questions that arise. For example, you have a patient in your chair who has a medication on his med list called â€Å“lesonaprel.â€Â In this situation, you would probably make a few assumptions, but we can’t do that. You ask him what it is used for and he tells you it’s for his blood pressure. You can type it into your search box as written and often it will come back with the incorrectly spelled word, the correctly spelled word, and a clear definition of what it is. I typed â€Å“lesonaprelâ€Â into a search box.

My results were as follows:

About 8,900,000 results (0.22 seconds) Showing results for lisinopril, No results found for lesonaprel.

ï‚· Lisinopril

Prescription drug

Consult a doctor if you have a medical concern.

ï‚· This medicine is an ACE inhibitor that treats high blood pressure and heart failure.

ï‚· Brand names: Prinivil, Zestril

ï‚· Pregnancy risk: Category D (Positive evidence of risk)

ï‚· May treat: High blood pressure, Heart failure

ï‚· Drug class: angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor activity

ï‚· Other drugs in same class: Enalapril, Ramipril, Captopril, More

ï‚· May prevent: Diabetic nephropathy, Left ventricular hypertrophy, Left Ventricular Systolic Dysfunction

Double-checking this result, you type lisinopril into your image search box, and you are rewarded with images of the drug itself in different forms and dosages, retail and sample packaging, as well as generics. Chances are your patient will recognize the drug and or the packaging and both of you will feel better that you have the correct information.

Make a how-to folder.

This is an especially handy tool for rarely used but necessary tasks. Create a folder on your desktop or in your files that contains short, bulleted, step-by-step instructions in your own words on tasks that you need to know but do so infrequently that you find them difficult to remember. Not only will this help you when you need it, but will also come in handy if another tech asks if you have this information. Rather than a long list of instructions and note taking, you can say, â€Å“Yes I do, I’ll send you a how-to.â€Â Jump onto your email, and send as an attachment. Done.

Learn your keyboard.

Keyboard shortcuts make you fast. We all love a mouse, clicking, and choosing from drop-down menus to do simple tasks such as cutting, pasting, saving, printing, and opening new documents or blank emails can take an extra 30 seconds out of your life. Cut those 30 seconds to one second, 50 times a day, and you can see how the time quickly adds up. In this example, you have saved yourself 25 minutes freeing you up for other important tasks.

Next: Find your blind spots


2. Find your blind spots.

Most programs have small icon buttons across the ribbon (along the top) designed by geniuses who spent years perfecting them. These buttons do amazing things like changing the font to sentence case when you have accidentally typed in ALL CAPS, removing the need to retype. Learn about these icons, and use them! If you hover your mouse over each one, a pop-up will appear that tells you exactly what it does. Look for them one by one and test them. Also, don̢۪t ignore quick start guides and help menus. These are often designed by those same geniuses and contain loads of valuable information.

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3. Education.

There are many low or no-cost options for furthering your ophthalmic education. Most practices recognize the value in educating their staff and are very willing to subsidize educational ventures such as conventions, workshops, and continuing education classes to enhance an employee̢۪s skill set. You can move through progressive levels of ophthalmic certification by passing a series of written and practical exams. A self-starting individual can progress quickly up the certification ladder if properly motivated, organized, and prepared.

Next: Define your learning style


4. Define your learning style.

Everyone learns differently. Discovering and taking advantage of what works best for you will greatly enhance the speed at which you can acquire the skills you desire. Below are examples of the three major learning styles and how to recognize which works best for you.

• The visual learner: â€Å“I need to see it.â€Â

Can you watch someone else do a task and repeat what you saw? Can you look at a map and visualize where you are in relation to a landmark? If so, you most likely are a visual learner. You would benefit most from watching videos, using color-coded flash cards, and shadowing others performing the task you want to learn.

• The audio learner: â€Å“I need to hear it.â€Â

Can you listen to a song once or twice and sing the choruses back without thinking about it? Can you repeat a conversation you heard a few days ago? If so, you are most likely an audio learner. You would probably benefit most from going to lectures from the experts, listening to audio textbooks, or recording what you want to learn into your phone then playing it back while you are doing mindless things like driving, jogging, or doing dishes.

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• The kinesthetic learner: â€Å“I need to do it.â€Â

Do you play a musical instrument? Can you type quickly without looking at your hands? If so, you are probably a kinesthetic learner. You are the person who might benefit most from having your hands on the controls as you are instructed on how to use them. You are a person who should play with the equipment and use your coworkers as test patients until your hands get used to working with every knob and button. A kinesthetic learner is the person who learns by doing, then lets muscle memory take over.

Decide which learning method works best for you and supplement it with the other two. Why bother with the other two? You may find yourself in a situation in which the person teaching you has a teaching style that does not match your learning style. Recognizing this and being able to adapt is important.

Next: See the big picture


5. See the big picture.

Consider your workplace as a chess game. Where are you within the scheme of the game? Are you a pawn? Rook? Knight? Queen? Ask yourself, â€Å“Where do I want to be, and what is my motivation?â€Â

Are you doing this job as:

̢ۢ Stepping stone: Did you just get accepted to medical school and need something clinical to wrap your head around until the big work begins?

̢ۢ Position: Do you have a position in mind such as diagnostician, manager, or director?

• Money: Is this an, â€Å“I just need to pay my rent and put food on the tableâ€Â situation?

No one motivation is necessarily better than another, but you may find that what started out as a simple means to pay the rent turns into a rewarding lifelong career. Keep a positive vision of your future in mind, and don̢۪t be afraid to reset your motivation as needed.

6. Learn the art of multitasking.

Group mindless tasks together. Anything that requires little or no thought, do all at once. While your computer is booting up, wipe down your equipment with disinfectant. While that is drying, stock your lab coat pockets with alcohol wipes, penlight, writing utensil, and a pack of Post-It notes. Be sure all your drops, occluder, and other necessary items are out, clean, and ready to go. Get all needed programs up, running, and minimized for quick access.

While welcoming and seating patients, wash your hands and bring up their records as they remove coats and get situated. You can also take care of greetings and introductions and start recapping the patient̢۪s last visit as you arrange his current prescription in the phoropter. Doing these things one at a time takes more time than you have. Seconds and minutes add up.

Next: Learn one new thing every day


7. Learn one new thing every day.

In a perfect clinical world, this one new thing would be something about eye care. But even if it isn’t, get your brain in the habit of constantly learning new things. Any time you do learn something new, consciously acknowledge it by telling yourself out loud, â€Å“I just learned something.â€Â This will help to keep you from falling into ruts and avoid the â€Å“can’t teach an old dog new tricksâ€Â phenomenon. It will also help build up your skill set and general depth of broad knowledge at a surprisingly quick rate.

8. Learn the difference between action and reaction.

When under pressure, do you act or react?

• Do you react like a child?: â€Å“Wahhh! Every time Mrs. Difficult comes in, I end up working her up! It’s not fair! Why me?!â€Â

• Do you react like a scolding parent?: â€Å“John! Mrs. Difficult has returned again for the third time this month! Didn’t you instruct her correctly the first two times?!â€Â

• Do you act like a calm, rational adult?: â€Å“Hey John, Mrs. Difficult is back again for the third time this month with the same complaint. What are our options? What can we do differently to make her happier with her visit this time? Let’s take a minute and talk about it.â€Â

Consciously choose to act, not react. Reacting to a situation is usually an emotional response. Choosing your actions is a conscious response. In most cases, the latter is the better choice. Choose your actions wisely.

Next: Learn to troubleshoot equipment


9. Learn to troubleshoot equipment.

Troubleshooting is an invaluable skill. I can̢۪t tell you how many times I have walked into an exam lane with four techs standing around a piece of equipment scratching their heads. Follow these steps when equipment is malfunctioning:

̢ۢ Start at the wall. Is it plugged in? Not only is it plugged into the wall, but did the other end of the cord get knocked out of the back of the machine?

̢ۢ Power switch. Is it turned on? Funny how often this is the problem!

• Check the bulb. A burned-out bulb will look slightly dark on the inside or the tiny filament might be broken. (Never touch a bulb surface with your fingers—the oils in your skin will damage the bulb.)

̢ۢ Check the battery. Take the battery out and try it in a piece of equipment you know is working.

• Reboot. If a program is not functioning properly, close it, then restart it. If this doesn’t work, restart the computer itself. If that doesn’t work, â€Å“power cycleâ€Â the machine or computer by closing all programs, shutting down the machine (not restart), unplug it from the wall, wait 60-90 seconds, then plug it back in, and reboot. This called power cycling and will often reset the program and clear your problem.

̢ۢ If the above tips don̢۪t work, know whom to call. I have our IT genius and equipment technologist on speed dial.

̢ۢ Lastly, don̢۪t repeat your mistakes. If you tried it the first three times, chances are it will not work the fourth time.

Next: Work the skills you don't possess


10. Work the skill you don̢۪t possess.

Choose your goals one at a time and work towards them in small attainable steps.

For example, your supervisor tells you that a diagnostics tech is going out on leave and you have been chosen to replace her. If you know this is a skill you don̢۪t possess, and you don̢۪t like it and don̢۪t want to do it, ask yourself why.

Usually the reason we don̢۪t like doing something is because we don̢۪t know how or we have been taught how but aren̢۪t experienced at it. Maybe you had to fill in for this task in the past and felt unprepared and stressed. Take it one step at a time from the beginning.

• Look at the equipment you will be using—really look at it.

̢ۢ Find every button, knob, and lever, and figure out what it does.

̢ۢ Check your resources and make a how-to.

̢ۢ Practice on coworkers before patients

̢ۢ Ask the person you will be filling in for to let you try some of the younger, easier patients with less pathology before taking on more difficult cases.

̢ۢ Ask that same person for tips on dealing with difficult situations and add to your how-to.

̢ۢ Play with the machine until your hands learn where to go without searching.

̢ۢ Repeat the process with a new skill

Bonus: Dedicate yourself to a lifestyle of responsibility.

Responsible techs:

̢ۢ Do what needs to be done

̢ۢ When it needs to be done

̢ۢ Every time

̢ۢ Whether you want to or not

̢ۢ And do it now if the moment is available.

If you plan to take care of it on Tuesday at noon, chances are Mr. Difficult will limp into the clinic at that moment as an urgent walk-in with a bagful of eyeglasses. Your plans fly out the window, leaving you with a longer to-do list. Any time you can take care of a task immediately, you should.

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