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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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Dr. Jeremy Johnson, DDS, Monroe, WA

Dental Consultant  WashingtonI'm extremely happy with my decision to utilize Cambridge Dental Consultants. My dental practice consulting has been awesome! I love that I can call or email him whenever and always get a quick response. He even calls and checks in if he hasn't heard from me for a bit. My production increased immediately after the first in-office visit and has continued to climb. The initial investment was recouped in increased production about seven weeks after our first meeting.

My average per day production for the first four months I worked with Cambridge Dental Consultants has been 20-25% higher than the prior two years. In fact, all of the four months have had higher average per day production than ANY month in the two years prior to working with Mike.

Last month I produced more than I ever have in one month since starting my practice in 2003. On top of that is the fact that my staff is driving all of this growth! They tell me which op to go to and when, then they get all excited when we exceed our goals! These four months have been the best months of my career!

That's a lot of exclamation points! This is all to suggest that you give Cambridge Dental Consultants a call.

Dr. Shane Blake, DDS, Coudersport, PA

Shane BlakI have owned my dental practice since January 2005.  The practice is a rural solo provider practice.   The practice has always been successful but something was always lacking.   I did not manage the practice by the numbers and its shortfalls were overcome by sheer determination and hard work for both myself and the staff. 

My motivating factors to sign up with Cambridge Dental Consultants in January of 2017 were that I had reached a point in my career where time with my family was worth more to me than the professional fulfillment that dentistry can provide.  The practice was so micromanaged that it required most of my time and I didn’t understand how to motivate both myself and my staff beyond the sheer nose to the grindstone path to success that had guided us the prior 12 years. 

Cambridge Dental Consultants was instrumental in educating each staff member in what expectations are and how performance for each position is measured.   Staff members became more aware of their part in the overall success of the practice and doing their part.  Ultimately this led to a less stressful and more productive average day which decreased management stress and headaches and allowed life to be enjoyed just a little bit more with a little more time. 

We have had many changes in the practice after our initial integration over the last 1 ½ years.  Cambridge Dental Consultants has been helpful in navigating those planned and unplanned changes.  My only regret is I had not use Cambridge''s systems sooner.

Dr. Kristin Rushing, DDS, Nashville, TN

Dental Consultant TennesseeI used Cambridge Dental Consultants as well, it gave me a good foundation for employees to know what was expected of them as well as very detailed job descriptions that could be used to train new employees if I needed to replace a staff member. My dental practice consulting made me more  knowledgeable about what my numbers and percentages should be but also things to look for when they are off.

Everyone is accountable for their numbers and communicate better as a team. We all want to be more productive and time was spent looking into my specific concerns as well as reviewing all facets of the business. Everything was reviewed including input from staff on ways to improve the office. I feel the morale in my office has changed and we are overall headed in a much better direction. As a side note, I've used a different consultants previously and their motto was simply to increase production. Patients felt pressured and we still had communication issues among the staff.

Dr. Andrea Mulholland, DDS, Columbus, OH

Dental Consultant FloridaI have been the owner of a general dental practice for ten years now. I work four days a week and have an associate who is with me for three days.

The practice has always done well but I knew there were many aspects of it that needed improvement but I didn't know how to proceed. I researched several practice management companies but decided to go with a Cambridge Dental Consultants because of their good reputation and because I didn't feel pressured.

Cambridge Dental Consultants worked with me for the past year and a half and he has helped my practice tremendously. He really knows the ins and outs of a practice but I appreciated that he didn't use a cookie-cutter approach. He really treated my practice like the individual practice that it is and I didn't feel pressured to follow any suggestions that I wasn't comfortable with.

I know there are a lot of dental practice consultants out there. I just really feel like Cambridge Dental Consultants is one of the best and was the best for me and my practice..

Dr. Ron McHargue, DDS, Moses Lake, WA

Dental Consultant New York Nassau CountyI was fresh out of school when I bought my practice in 2012. It came riddled with staff issues and I had no knowledge of business. I thought I could handle it and went for a year and a half before really coming to the realization that I was in over my head. I was stressed completely and needed help with staff issues and business advice.

I contacted Cambridge Dental Consultants because of what I read on Dentaltown and because of their fair price and money back guarantee. Our Cambridge Dental Consultant was very helpful in getting me over a couple of big hurdles dealing with staff. I now have a direction and a good plan for tracking numbers and keeping a pulse on my practice. I was hesitant to even hire a consultant, but I am very glad I did and wouldn't hesitate to get Cambridge back and work with them again

Dr. Ed Warr, DMD, Ashland, OR

Dental Consultant  OregonMy experience with Cambridge Dental Consultants has been great. In June of 2014 I was very concerned as my year was down by about 6% from the previous year. I had used dental practice consultants before and hadn't liked any of them. But, I knew I needed help with what I did not know - I went to school to earn a DMD, not an MBA.

After researching several and having several phone conversations regarding their methods, I committed with Dental Consultants.

Their money back guarantee was a nice touch to lower the risk factor for me. So, I finished 2014 up 8% over 2013. In six months, Dental Consultants helped me introduce practices that helped me have a 14% turn around in six months. I whole heartedly recommend Cambridge and their services.

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Dental Consultant South CarolinaWe have been using Cambridge Dental Consultants since Dec 2013. We are really just getting started, but so far everything has been great. They really have given us the tools to quickly get our team focussed, and have created systems and measurable statistics for each area. YTD for 2014 compared to 2013, our production is up 12% (over $20,000).

Our office felt "stuck", like we simply did not know what we should be doing to get better. We knew the potential was there, but did not know the next steps to take. What we liked from the start is that Cambridge dental consultant has been in every type of office and seen every type of problem/issue there is. Their ideas are proven and, so far, we have been very happy with the results. Our team is really pleased with the direction we are going.

We built our office in 2007 and, had we known, would have started with a dental practice management consultant much sooner. Good luck with your decision. I think you will be very pleased with Cambridge Dental Consulting.