How to Cope with Dental Staffing Shortages

How to Cope with Dental Staffing Shortages

Last Updated on September 24, 2023 by Anna Baumann

How to Cope with Dental Staffing Shortages

It’s crazy right? I’ve been in the dental field for over 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. You place an ad for any position and … crickets. The pandemic caused a mass exodus of dental office staff. Clinical team members became overly concerned about aerosols. And office staff decided they prefer working from home. Now the rest of us are left to figure out how to cope with dental staffing shortages without losing our minds. I’m learning as I go. So here are my tips for finding new dental office team members, and just as important, how to keep the ones you have.

Tips for Finding New Dental Office Team Members

At this time, our office is fully and happily staffed. (Praise the Lord, knock on wood, and cross my fingers we maintain the status!) But we took a huge loss when we returned from quarantine. Initially, everyone came back to work. Within six months, we lost an Assistant and both of our Hygienists. All moved on for unique, legitimate reasons. But WOW it was frightening.

We got lucky and found a wonderful Dental Assistant on a traditional ad platform. But finding our awesome Hygienists wasn’t as easy.

Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.

All is fair in love and dental staffing! 🙂 I contacted some of our past temporary Hygienists to see if they were happy in their current situations. Some might call it poaching. I don’t see it that way since I had no intention of luring anyone away from a job they liked. My goal was simply to find out if they were unhappy and considering a change. Fortunately for us, one of them was already in the process of updating her resume. She was very glad to hear from me, and we were thrilled to have her come on board as a full-time Hygienist. After she started, I asked her to contact some of her Hygiene friends and former Hygiene school classmates to see who was looking. That’s how we filled our second full-time Hygiene position.

Besides past temps, check in with your current staff, dental supply reps, your dental lab, and your mail carriers. You never know who knows what until you ask!

Share benefit, safety, and salary information in your job postings.

  • Offer every benefit you can think of, and list them in your ads! Review your benefits and see where you can enhance them. Medical insurance and retirement plans are rare in the dental field. If you can find a way to offer those, you’ll already stand out. But little things mean a lot too like, Sam’s Club, Costco, and gym memberships, uniform allowance, paid time off with extra personal days, providing snacks and beverages, and monthly massage vouchers. Put it all in your ad so your office stands out.
  • Even if someone isn’t overly Covid/germ cautious, extra efforts towards safety and PPE show you care. Be sure your ad states all you have to offer; air purifiers, ultra-violet lights, disposable gowns, face shields, etc.
  • Include a starting at salary in your ads. Showing a salary range appears a bit rigid, and those who want even one dollar more than your highest offering will scroll right by. A starting at amount gives them a jumping-off spot and shows you’re willing to negotiate.

Be willing and prepared to train from scratch.

Of course, this won’t help if you need an Associate or Hygienist. But for Hygiene Assistants, Dental Assistants, and Front Office Staff, choose enthusiasm over experience.

Tips for Keeping a Happy Dental Team

Re-assess your working hours.

The pandemic redirected our focus. Remote work spotlighted family time and flexible hours. But dentistry isn’t flexible. Now that we’re back in the office, remote work and flexible hours are only offered to administrative staff. Which any clinical dental employee will tell you is frustratingly unfair. But it’s physically impossible for them to work remotely, so what can we do?

  • Require everyone to work on site and work together to formulate a comfortable team schedule. For example, Saturdays and evenings used to be our most popular times. But now, patients and staff want those free for after-school activities, sport games, and family commitments. Talk to your team to get feedback and take a majority vote. You may never 100% please everyone. But show them you’ve made the effort to create a comfortable (but productive) schedule.
  • Offer flexibility only if you can balance it. You might have those that love an early start time, and others that really need to start a bit later. Try staggering it so late starters stay later to make up the time, and early starters leave earlier. The point is to manage it so that no one gets preferential treatment. Making every effort to treat everyone fairly reduces drama and negativity.

Address the trickle-down effect.

I call it the dental office trickle-down effect, but it really goes from front to back. If the administrative team is inundated and overwhelmed, they can’t do their jobs properly. The result is a clinical team that’s either slammed or bored.

Streamline your patient communication system.

Patient communication affects every dental office position. But, because it’s so peopley, it’s unpredictable and stressful.

You can reduce your administrative team’s workload and stabilize your schedules if you automate your patient communications. There are a lot of brilliant software options out there. Choose one that will:

  • Automate appointment reminders: Eliminates (or at least significantly reduces) the need for appointment confirmation calls.
  • Automate Recare reminders: Eliminates the need to make Recare phone calls and mail postcards.
  • Send and receive patient text messages: Simplifies communication and reduces incoming phone calls.
  • Customize in-office and after-hours voicemail messages: Replaces an after-hours answering service. (One of my favorite Weave features is their emergency voicemail. It’s customized so that the Doctor on call for emergency messages immediately receives a text notification so they can contact the patient. No need to have a team member checking messages on off days.)

Create a positive office culture.

  • Set expectations. You can prevent performance issues with tangible training and reference materials. Written job descriptions are comforting because your expectations are clear, and everyone knows what they need to do to be successful. Office manuals and checklists keep tasks on track.
  • Accountability. Don’t micromanage, but confront repeat offenders. Especially when they’re doing (or not doing) things that negatively affect their coworkers. Everyone notices a slacker, and they notice when you do nothing about it. So make sure everyone in your boat is rowing.
  • Don’t overwork people. Always encourage an “all hands on deck” mentality where everyone jumps in to help in other areas when they aren’t occupied with their own jobs. But don’t overdo it. It’s not healthy to work at a frenzied pace all day, every day. When people burn out, they look for new jobs, and even new careers. Your office and the entire dental field can’t afford to lose more people! Do what you can to show your remaining team members that you care about them. For example if you’re down a Hygienist, close the column and alert patients that you will call them to reschedule as time allows. Don’t shorten appointments and shove them into your remaining Hygienists’ schedules.
  • Don’t settle. Every so often we get that one bad egg who’s determined to bring the whole place down. Those unique personalities that are bored with life so they stir the sh— and create drama for their own entertainment. You know the type and you know if you have one. (Or God forbid, more than one.) It’s tough, especially if they’re good at their job. But you may have to let one go to save the rest of the team. “Nothing will kill a great employee faster than watching you tolerate a bad one.”

I hope my tips help you! Or if nothing else, inspire you to identify where you may need to make some changes. The past few years have been taxing for us dental office lifers. But don’t give up because it’s still the best job ever!

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