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Unpleasant dental staff situations

Unpleasant dental staff situations

The Achilles' heel of many a dental practice owner is to avoid dealing with unpleasant staff situations. A good example is a recent new client of mine. 

I found him to be very congenial, so I had a hard time believing this guy was the "dental devil incarnate” described by the majority of his staff.

I asked each of the staff members in his practice the same question: "Has anyone in the practice been treated unjustly?” All fingers pointed to one person—we'll call her Sally. Sally had apparently been going around telling other staff members about how the practice owner was mean to her, that the doctor deceived her about her pay, how he was mistreating her and did not appreciate all she was doing, and more.

Needless to say, Sally's coworkers were appalled and a distrust of the doctor began brewing. A bit of investigating uncovered that fact that Sally was embezzling and looking for another job. She had been with the doctor for about three years. He had been noticing for a little over a year that Sally's attitude had changed and was getting progressively worse. For example, where she had previously been very cooperative, she now did lots of “eye rolling” when asked to do even the simplest of tasks. She took longer and longer breaks, called in sick more often, voiced disagreements, and did not follow new policies, such as no texting or using her cell phone in front of patients.

The practice owner’s error was that he avoided dealing with these issues when they came up. He never corrected her because she’d been with him for a while. As far as he knew she was doing a good job, so he felt there was no reason to “rock the boat.”

We learned that the embezzlement were small, and as far as we could determine, had started fairly recently. What I imagine happened is that Sally's misdeeds started as a minor thing and gradually built into something far more serious; however, since the doctor didn't sit down and have a face-to-face talk with her, he was essentially enabling her.

Avoiding dealing with staff issues is often due to a practice owner’s fear of dismissing employees or the false idea that an employee is irreplaceable. When this happens, staff sense the fear and some will take advantage of it.

Practice owners or the office manager must confront issues with staff before they get too big. This is vital to running any practice, and it should not be done in front of other staff. It should be done at a time when as little attention as possible will be drawn to calling the offending staff member “onto the carpet.” The purpose is not to embarrass anyone.

Many dentists don't like dealing with these situations. Who does? But it’s vital for you to do so for the health of your practice. Correcting dental staff doesn't have to be an emotional or unpleasant activity. Don't mistake "Dr. Nice" with allowing your staff to walk all over you. That being said, letting things build up and then exploding is just as big of an error.

At any given time, one or more staff members are likely doing something that you would not be too happy about if you discovered it. It's the nature of the beast. That's why it is so important to have a written policy and protocol for correcting and disciplining staff.


Kevin Tighe, Cambridge Dental Consultants, Senior Consultant, got bitten hard by the business and marketing bug during long summer days working at his dad's Madison Avenue ad agency. After joining Cambridge as a speaker in the mid-1990s, Kevin went on to become Cambridge’s senior consultant and eventually CEO. Cambridge Dental Consultants is a full-service dental practice management company offering customized dental office manuals. Frustrated? High overhead? Schedule a chat with Kevin at 

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