After reading Article #1 in our series, have you decided to include your management team in the interview process for hiring associate dentists? Whether you’re in a large group or multi-location situation, including your senior hygienist, senior assistant and office manager/administrator yields numerous benefits.

To pull off their involvement, you need to create a schedule for the candidate during their visit. Creating an agenda for who the associate will meet and when is a great way to make the most of a candidate’s onsite visit. It allows you to check calendars to make sure all your management team will be working during those days (avoiding vacation or personal days) but also to look ahead to see if you can block time out of your hygienist’s day if any openings are available. For your senior assistant, you can plan for another assistant to cover their dentist during the time when she will be meeting with the candidate as well. And, for your office manager/administrators, you can avoid any conflict with a case presentation/consult or other meeting.

On top of planning when your management team will meet and talk with your candidate, provide them a list of questions to ask. This is the purpose of this entire article – and I’ve seen this work beautifully. Your practice leaders are confident in their daily responsibilities, yet can feel inadequate to “interview” an associate dentist and feel extremely uncomfortable when asked to meet one on one with a professional who has completed dental school and perhaps even has years of experience.

By providing a list of topics to your management team and talking with them about what type of responses you are looking for, you can learn far more about your candidates and increase the support once they are hired. The key is to talk with your management team to come to an agreement on what a successful dentist in your practice looks like – and following this discussion, what kind of answers would this type of candidate provide?

Let’s get started!

  1. What groups have you been involved with?

  2. Why do you want to be in group practice? Is it just to get some experience so you can go out on your own or do you have a real reason to stay in our group long term?

    For team leaders who have experienced dentist turnover, they know firsthand how hard it is on the staff. They have observed a young dentist become close friends with his primary assistant – and then, when a difference of opinion between the dentists arises, this dentist shares his personal feelings with his assistant. This causes a division to be created between this assistant and the rest of the team because she may feel “her dentist” is being treated unfairly. This leads to stress among the assistant team in particular, and eventually the entire staff.

    Even worse, if the young dentist leaves the group to start a solo practice, they may want to steal a few staff to smooth their way. This causes major staff turmoil since the long term staff invested their time training and developing the newer team members – who were often hired to support the young dentist in the first place. Knowing this can happen makes the staff wonder if they should get to know the associate and become friends, only to watch the dentist leave.

    From the associate dentist’s perspective, they may very well be looking at this group practice as a great “pseudo-residency” program and have in mind a plan to start their own practice down the road. When the staff asks this question, the associate may realize the effect of this decision and consider a different office where the team won’t be nearly as concerned about longevity if their plan is just to work a couple years.

    On the positive side, the dentist may more seriously consider sticking with this group practice long term. By discussing reasons this group practice makes sense for the candidate not just for the first couple years, but for the next ten years, plants the seed that long term employment with the practice is in fact encouraged by the management team!

  3. What leadership have you had in these groups?

  4. How do you handle it when you have a problem with another person? Do you have the type of personality that is willing to talk it out to get the problem resolved, or do you just keep quiet and hope it goes away?

    The owner dentist in a group practice often has strong beliefs about patient care and style of practice. These beliefs have been successful enough to grow from a solo practice into a much larger entity. The management team works with the owner dentist and knows firsthand how he handles disagreement with his approach. Whether the owner dentist is known for having a strong personality with little regard for different opinions or is regarded as easy-going, there will be situations when the dentists disagree.

    Whether the disagreement centers on what supplies are used or how patient care will be handled, it’s important to find out how the associate handles conflict. In a group practice, you hope to find dentists that will continue to talk through disagreements to come to resolution – whether they agree or come up with different but acceptable solutions. The worst situation is when a candidate dentist just keeps quiet when they really disagree and then builds resentment along with a plan to exit the group.

  5. How did you handle problems with members in these groups? How do you manage your staff?

    One of the tough challenges in any group is when doctors don’t make their staff responsible for down time in a similar manner. One dentist may be an excellent manager and expect his assistants to complete assigned projects when holes in schedules occur, while another dentist allows his staff to sit in the lounge and drink coffee. This causes stress for team leaders who are responsible for keeping the peace on their team and encouraging members to help each other.

    Management team members are often especially interested to find out the experience level the associate dentist has in managing staff. Young dentists often have no experience managing staff and want everyone to like them. By talking about staff management right up front, the candidate will realize the advanced level of the team leaders in this practice and perhaps do a better job of supporting their authority in terms of staff management.

    Another benefit of asking the associate dentist about staff management is to set the expectation that this will be part of their responsibility. This helps the owner dentist immensely by moving at least part of the focus off of “How much will I be paid?” to “What am I expected to do?” This also shows an associate dentist that they will be supported and encouraged to develop their management skills while they work in this group, and that there are experienced team leaders available to talk with and learn from.

These are the first three topics your management team can discuss with your interviewing associate dentist. You can see how sharing these questions with your team leaders gives them relevant, important topics for discussion that provide valuable insight into the attitude and thought-process of your candidates.

Please stay tuned for next week’s questions!

Jill Nesbitt, MBA is a group practice dental consultant offering free practice management resources and an online dental staff training program . If you are hiring an associate for your group and would like organized systems to support your growth, read her group practice case study .

ETS Dental is a Dental Recruiting firm specializing in finding and placing General Dentists, Dental Specialists, and Dental Staff throughout the United States. www.etsdental.com

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