Over the past few years, dentistry has been hampered by staff shortages. Dental practices and dental service organizations (DSOs) have struggled to fill both clinical and administrative positions and are, more than ever, competing with other industries for talented individuals.
During a panel session at the Becker’s Future of Dentistry conference in Chicago, representatives of DSOs discussed strategies for attracting and retaining staff in dentistry.
Roles to Fill
To address staff shortages, dental practices and DSOs much first understand why key roles remain unfilled. The chief operating officer of one DSO noted that dental practices are more frequently competing with retail for quality administrative talent, “at around the same pay range.” So, if front office staff view dentistry as a less attractive industry to work in, they are more likely to go to where they receive comparable salary and benefits.
The DSO CEO added that most dental practices have multiple doctors who might have completely different leadership styles. From one day to the next, front office staff might find themselves being bounced back and forth between how one doctor does things versus another doctor. It can get particularly dicey around issues like taking time off; one doctor might be very accommodating to staff, whereas another is much stricter. “That can be very challenging,” he said.
One profession that has seen a massive drop-off in talent has been dental hygiene, much to the detriment of dental practices, explained Dr. Mark Cannon, president of Associated Dental Specialists of Long Grove. He noted that dental hygienists are among the most important staff members. “The person who educates and spends time with the patient is the dental hygienist,” he said. “Every second they should be educating the patient and building loyalty to come back to the practice when they are supposed to come back.”
Priyanki Amroliwala, senior manager of talent acquisition for 42 North Dental, noted that 9% of dental hygienists left the profession completely during the pandemic. “And there are no signs of those people coming back,” she said. “We were already short in [dental] hygiene and things got worse with the pandemic.”
Keys to Attracting and Retaining Talent
The panelists provided dental practices and DSOs with some advice to help with attracting and retaining staff members.
Be consistent. The DSO CEO stressed that having consistency across leadership can help retain staff members. No two doctors are the same, and they may each have very different leadership styles. But if they get on the same page, and are consistent with how they treat employees and how they handle key areas like PTO, that can go a long way towards keeping staff members content.
Improve training programs. To retain talent, the CEO of another DSO noted that training “non-dental folks” to work in a dental office can be a challenge all its own. Therefore, DSOs and individuals need to make sure they are stepping up training programs for office staff. “How can you enhance training and onboarding, and convert skillsets that you’re finding in other industries? That’s hard to do,” he said.
Amroliwala added that there is also a “massive shortage” in dental assistants right now. Practices therefore would be wise to provide on-the-job training to help new hires eventually become dental assistants. “We’re allowing a lot of people that come in from different industries that might not necessarily have the time or money to go into the Dental Assistant Certification program to come on board for us,” she said. “And we’re giving them paid training, on the job. And they’re doing extremely well. Those are some of our best hires in the past few years.”
Get better interaction with your staff. The DSO CEO noted that his organization encourages employees to contribute new ideas whether they’ve been there for years or just one day. Additionally, he advised attendees to get feedback on new initiatives. Rather than just making an announcement that something big will change starting next week, it’s a good idea to ask your employees what they think about said idea. “Ask the staff, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about doing this,’” he said. “Give them that opportunity to deepen their experience and offer insights.”
Shaking Things Up
With staff shortages showing no sign of abating, dental practices and other medical offices may need to make major changes to ensure that they can attract new talent. In addition to offering staff members consistency, better training and the authority contribute to strategy, it could also mean higher wages, better benefits, and investing in technology that helps them do their jobs more effectively. Employees are in the driver’s seat right now, and practices need to ensure that they are offering them the tools they need to succeed.