Interview by:
Susan Collins

A healthcare leader on how recruiting the right talent is key to helping her build a business.

If you have not heard of RO, you are not alone. They are a healthcare technology company opening opportunities for everyone to receive end to end health care. They have seen patients in all 50 states, plus DC, and have provided care for at least one person in 98% of the healthcare deserts in the United States.  As a nationwide provider network, with proprietary pharmacy distribution centers, they can provide high-quality, affordable healthcare without the need for insurance for all ethnicities, demographics, no matter your socioeconomic status.

I recently sat down with Dr. Melynda Barnes, Chief Medical Officer at RO, to discuss how she thinks about Talent Acquisition, and how she utilizes her TA partners. 

Dr. Barnes has been “insanely curious,” from a young age.  As children, most of us looked away when having blood drawn, but not her – she wanted to know everything about the process and the body leading to her eventual career choice, becoming a Doctor of Otolaryngology.  I think you will find she approaches hiring with the same insatiable curiosity. 

Our hour-long conversation was fascinating and started with a lesson in pronouncing “Otolaryngology,” (ōdōˌlerəNGˈɡäləjē), which still takes a little focus for me to get right.  

When meeting with anyone, my recruiting background leads me to want to understand THE HOOK that was used to get them to consider a new job. Here was Dr. Barnes' answer to why adding business skills to her career journey made sense.

Dr. Barnes: When I got into medicine, I was a little disillusioned early on because I thought: “oh my gosh, we know how to help people, but we can't because of the self-imposed things like insurance, eligibility or pre-existing conditions, to name a few.” I wanted to advocate for the patient, but more than once I have needed to pay for a patient's medications knowing that if they didn't get antibiotics, they would probably end up in the hospital. 

"When I interviewed with Ro, they said: 'healthcare is broken, help us fix it.' Hopefully by having me in the room, the physician voice is present at the table, it gives us the ability to not only advocate for patients and their caregivers, for also for physicians and all lives. I knew it would be worth it to be able to advocate for everyone. 

We think about the complete patient experience, and doctors. Doctors aren't happy, they burn out - the physician suicide rate is high. How can you make physician's lives better? Medical school is 51% female. But, in the medical workforce it's below 50% female. Why? We get penalized, we wait to have kids. Then when you have them you often have to choose: “am I going to go back or am I staying home with my kid?” So how can we offer physicians a different opportunity? And I thought that was just amazing. I thought: 'Okay, we were using technology, and that is the way you actually can make a difference, like look at what the internet did for small businesses for democratizing commerce, getting us out of big box chains, and how can we use that for healthcare?' And so, I was kind of hooked, I thought, this is cool. It's new, I think they have a good idea and I think it can work."

The following is our conversation, edited for clarity and length.

How do you approach hiring?

Dr. Barnes: I was the second person hired, and for a while we did not bring on new employees.  However, in a startup you have to figure out what you need done and who you need to hire to get those things done. I love figuring things out. I went on LinkedIn and started looking at every pharmaceutical company, every health and health tech company that I could find. Then I would look at their people, the job titles of people, their backgrounds, to see if I can back engineer what their org structure looks like. I joined a whole bunch of organizations for healthcare executives and medical affairs.  Then I sat, trying to think about what were the problems that we were trying to solve for, and who did I think could help, along with who would be a compliment to me, filling my knowledge gaps. 

Do you have a recruiting partner or Talent Acquisition team to help?  

Dr. Barnes: I work with our Chief People Officer, Amy Vezzetti, along with our people team. We have about ten people on the team, but I mainly work with five of them.  We would get together to discuss the problems we were trying to solve and the skills they needed to have, along with how they would contribute. We talked a lot about how senior did I think they needed to be since they were coming into a startup, and then how would the team grow. I wanted to leave space for growth.  

What does your recruiting process look like? 

Dr. Barnes: We didn't do this necessarily in the beginning, but our process has evolved with my talent partnership.  Our process usually starts with a kickoff session which includes myself along with a recruiter and a sourcer. We walk through the job description, we then take time to go through LinkedIn profiles, to find at least five to 10 people of varying states in their career and we discuss what they would bring to the table or how they could contribute to our business. Then a week or so later our sourcer comes back with an even longer list of LinkedIn profiles. I'll go through the longer list; I add my thoughts to the spreadsheet and share anything in particular that I want to know about the person.  I usually give them three questions that I would like for them to dig into during the recruiting and screening process begins.  

What are you looking for in your candidates? 

Dr. Barnes: One is just empathy is number one for me - radical empathy. I want anyone on my team, anyone at RO to feel like they have to remember that this is a person. This is their life, this is their quality of life, this is their health, this is their ability to play with their kids or go on vacation or feel wanted and loved in a relationship, and so never losing sight of that is extremely important, especially where you can get caught up with numbers. We’re not selling healthcare, you're really trying to help people achieve their life goals, and we're trying to level the playing field so that their health isn’t what is keeping them from living life.

Secondly – I want problem solvers. They need to be curious and then naturally go one step further, because I think a lot may wonder how something happens, but then they never really investigate or do anything. 

Finally, a desire to execute. I think that it’s those three things that are the trifecta for me. 

What are you listening for during the interview?  

Dr. Barnes: There are a few things I listen for during the interview. When I am trying to determine their empathy, I often ask about a situation they wish went differently with a coworker. 

I also am interested in why they are considering a job with RO.  We have a lot of information in the world about Ro, I want them to be passionate about what we are doing.  

I try to dig into what keeps them going to work in their past roles.  I want to make sure we have what they need to stay motivated.  

Is there anything that surprised you about the corporate interview process?

Dr. Barnes: YES!  Two things surprised me. One, how quickly the process moves, especially in a startup.  As a doctor the interview process could last six to twelve months.  The first time they wanted someone to start in two weeks, I was definitely surprised.

Secondly, doctors usually stay with a hospital system for many years.  I had to get used to the idea that it was okay for people to move around from career opportunities.  Not only was It okay, but it was also normal. Even expected.

Okay - so your title is Senior Vice President, Medical Affairs and Research. But what do you really do, what does that title mean in your organization? What do you really do?

My job is to infuse the company with clinical experience and expertise.  I am an advocate for patients, physicians and I need to make sure their voices are heard in every aspect of the company.  Tactically, my job is to help build the safest and best digital health platform for providers and patients.  I make sure that were always monitoring and optimizing what we are building through the research, the quality and the safety while staying focused on the voice, journey and experience of the patient.  Everyone needs to be considered and have a voice in every aspect of our company.


If you want to find out more about Dr. Barnes or RO, she is generous with her time and you can see several interviews about her achievements, and more about RO, on her LinkedIn profile. I found her so inspiring that I asked her what she would want you to know – and here are her final thoughts:

"The last thing is just the call to action, come and join us, if you want to revolutionize change, improve health care, if you want to fight for yourself or your neighbor, for your parents, for your kids, for our world. If you want to have safe, high quality health care, come join us. We are hiring many people across all disciplines and fields, and we are really looking for people who want to help. If you want to make a difference, join us!"