Finding, hiring, and keeping dental team members is a big problem

By Kevin Henry, DrBicuspid.com editor in chief

January 25, 2021 -- Working as the office manager for Renew Dental in Phoenix, Brandon Inman has been trying to fill an open dental assistant position at the practice for three months. It has been a struggle to find applicants for the position, and those who are lined up for interviews often "ghost" the practice, meaning they don't even show up for their scheduled interviews.

Last week, using Indeed.com as his main source for potential assistants, Inman talked to seven candidates and confirmed each interview with a 10- to 15-minute preinterview. Of those seven people, five never showed up for the official in-practice interview. There was no warning, and no apology afterward. The candidates simply didn't show -- and didn't seem to care.

"They didn't even have the respect to call or text or anything," Inman said. "I worked in the restaurant business for 16 years before getting into dentistry. We always had turnover and had to hire new people, but this is far worse."

While Inman said it's a true inconvenience for him, the open position and the inability to fill it has raised the stress level throughout the practice. Another assistant and the hygienist at Renew are working to turn over rooms. A dentist has to perform functions in the operatory by herself where she normally would have an assistant's help. The domino effect of having one less team member is real and on display every day.

"All I would ask is that if you don't think our practice is a good fit for you, please just reach out with a call or a text," Inman said. "There is a lot of work that goes on to make sure we're prepared for an interview and everything is covered in our practice, and we certainly could use that time in more productive ways."

Renew Dental isn't an anomaly when it comes to the issue of hiring team members. I personally receive calls from dental practices almost on a daily basis, asking me where they can find dental assistants and what it takes to actually have them show up for a job interview. And it isn't just these questions: There are others regarding not only how to find team members (hygienists, front office personnel, etc.) but also how to keep them and not have to go through the hiring process all over again.

With that in mind, how do you hire team members -- and keep them -- and build a culture where they want to stay? Let's start with the hiring process.

Just how tough is the market right now? The California Dental Association (CDA) has launched "Smile Crew of California" as a way to expand the message that dentistry is a good market in which to begin a new career. With ads on Spotify, Pandora, and other nondental (and nonjob) services, the CDA is hoping that its message on the importance of becoming a dental assistant resonates with a new audience.

That new audience is certainly needed. Reports from all over the U.S. show that dental assisting and dental hygiene schools are often flooded with requests for their students as practices work to plug holes in their teams. And the prospects don't look better in the near future; Dr. Roger P. Levin believes there will be a continued staffing shortage for some time to come.

Wherever you go to find your next employee (ranging from sites like DentalPost to Boon to Indeed, to building relationships with a dental hygiene or assisting school), make sure you're trying to find the right person for your practice, not just plugging in someone with a heartbeat. One of the biggest regrets I've heard from dentists is that they will hire someone just to hire someone. However, that person then doesn't understand the culture, and it becomes a bigger problem than when the position was empty.

Granted, some practices are just deciding that it's easier to work shorthanded than go through the hiring process. In a recent study by Vyne of more than 400 dental practices, 46% of practices said they do not plan to hire additional staff in 2021 based on current economic conditions and patient demand. Practices also indicated they do not plan to adjust current staff schedules. Additionally, 87% said they do not plan to turn part-time staff into full-time staff, or vice versa, based on current conditions.

Once you've found team members, keeping them is key. With a hiring shortage, quality team members are always in danger of being poached by other practices with lures of higher paychecks and/or less drama. However, if your practice is somewhere that people actually want to work, you have a much higher chance of keeping your team together.

I always enjoy asking dental assistants this question whenever we get together at in-person meetings: Would you rather have a big paycheck and a lot of drama to deal with every day or a smaller paycheck and little drama? The vast majority choose the smaller amounts of money and drama. You see, for team members, it's often more about how much they are valued every day rather than the paycheck deposited into their bank account every two weeks. Going home at the end of the day fulfilled rather than stressed is worth its weight in gold to many, many team members out there.

Creating a culture of inclusion and mutual respect is key for any business, and having this type of work environment keeps employees engaged and energized. When the entire team understands the direction and goals for the dental practice, and how their particular roles fit into those goals, there is a greater sense of "we're all in this together."

When is the last time you updated your practice's mission statement? When is the last time you talked to your team about what they want to accomplish this year in your community and within your patient base? When is the last time you planned goals and listed the ways you would reach them as a team? These are just some of the questions I believe are important to think about for every dental business.

Dentistry's hiring issue isn't going away anytime soon, so now is the time to make sure you have hiring plans in place and you know exactly what you need to do to keep your team together.

I'm going to continue to look at this important topic and the trends surrounding it in upcoming articles. However, if you need help establishing a "hiring and keeping plan" for your practice or are interested in more of what I'm hearing in calls and research, email me at kevin.henry@drbicuspid.com. I'd be happy to answer your questions and/or listen to your frustrations.


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