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Dental Office Training: Part Two

One of the hardest management tasks dental practice owners have to deal with, whether for an exisitng practice or buying a dental practice is how to effectively and efficiently do dental office training.

The normal way to train a new employee is “on the job” with the hope they pay close attention to what you’re saying and have a good memory. 

With enough persistence, this method usually works after three or four months, especially if the new employee has any kind of experience and takes good notes. But how to correct an employee when they make mistakes?

If you train them on written policies from a dental employee handbook it's much easier to correct them however this type of quality control on employees is usually an omitted function because “it’s easier to just do it myself”.

Practice owners or OMs often delays or ignores this responsibility because the employee will often get defensive (some more than others) about being corrected and have the feeling they’re being reprimanded instead of helped. Even when you explain your intentions to the employee prior to addressing the issue at hand, they may still get very defensive because you are addressing something they did wrong and that can be a hotbed of emotions. There is no magic solution to this issue as the only effective way to correct an employee is to meet one on one to address the mistake, forgetfulness, lack of responsibility, poor attitude, etc.

When you are willing to address the problem with the employee, there is a simple, tried and true method for successfully accomplishing this management responsibility (and it is the office manager’s responsibility to correct the situation). The proper form to use is called the Job Duties Review”. It is self explanatory. This duty falls on the owner’s shoulders when he/she does not have an OM.

The process starts with having a dental office manual with written policies or procedures that the employee has already studied and signed off on. That is a must, otherwise you’re just asking for trouble. 

One of five things typically occurs when you try to correct an employee:

1) They are grateful for the assistance.

2) They disagree with your method of doing it but since you’re the boss they smile and tell you they understand when they really don’t and go back to doing it “their way” in a week or two.

3) They disagree with your method of doing it and tell you exactly how wrong you are and how right they are.

4) They get extremely defensive, cry and want to know if this means they’re fired.

5) They disagree with you, tell you how wrong you are, get defensive and cry, go to lunch, don’t come back and then file for unemployment the next week.

The problem that is created when attempting to correct an employee without referring to the written policy or procedure is it’s your word against theirs.

For purposes of this illustration we are going to assume you just hired somebody and need to get them trained. Let’s also assume they have minimal knowledge of dentistry. They might have a few months of experience working in another office or no experience whatsoever. The first thing you have to do is get them through the General Policy Manual and the the Dental Basics Manual. These are your general policies on dress code, office meetings, vacations, sick pay, etc.

Before you hire the new employee have them read the General Policy Manual (without taking the exams) to see if they disagree with anything. It takes thirty minutes to an hour for anyone to review it. This step will save you both time and money, since the potential employee should reject the job offer upfront if he/she doesn’t like your policies (e.g., sick leave, vacation days, etc.). Hopefully, the potential employee will appreciate the fact that your office has taken time to prepare written policies and procedures to ensure there is no misunderstanding about company protocols.

Once the employee has accepted the position and started work, you should have him/her go through the manual again, this time taking the exams. When the employee has completed the General Policy Manual as well as all of the related procedures, including role-playing different situations so they know and understand the basics of your office, they’re ready for their individual job description manual.

The procedure for taking them through their individual training manual is the same. They are required to read the materials, answer the essay questions and perform procedures as they proceed through the manual, especially the technical training manuals. You obviously wouldn’t want somebody to read a hundred pages on how to become a Dental Assistant without having performed some of the procedures along the way.

The employee will quickly lose focus without the opportunity for on-the-job training as they go along. This training procedure, especially for an Assistant or Receptionist, can take upwards of three weeks to actually complete because you want them doing basic duties and functions as they proceed (e.g., sterilization, etc.). You don’t want to pay them to get through the training manual without participating in some of the basic duties and functions.

At this point, the employee is fully trained but not apprenticed (that opportunity comes next and is why we include an apprenticeship checklist for each of the positions in our manuals). Once you’ve started a staff member on the apprenticeship (the dentist and/or office manager are the only staff allowed to sign off on each step of the apprenticeship checklist), you confirm they can actually perform the duties required of them for that position. If their position is in insurance administration, you must confirm they know your dental financial policy how to verify insurance benefits, discuss insurance with patients, answer all insurance-related patient questions, call insurance companies and actually get paid.

You must ensure that the employee knows their job-specific policies and procedures inside and out. That is the purpose of the apprenticeship. The apprenticeship is very important. Do not allow the employee on a bonus program until they have completed the apprenticeship.

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