Today is the last in the series that has focused on providing 11 questions that your management team can use to thoroughly interview associate dentists. We have established the value of your team leaders being involved in the process ( Article #1 ), created an agenda and discussed the candidate’s past experience with group practice and handling problems ( Article #2 ) and tackled the dentist’s plan for clinical excellence, staying on schedule, and training his assistant ( Article #3 ). Today we wrap up with a few questions on management and marketing.

  1. Will you support the leadership of the team leaders?

  2. Let us tell you about our responsibilities as team leaders – will you come to us privately when you have a concern? Will you support us to solve problems with staff? What have you done as a leader? How have you supported other leaders in groups you were in?

    Having a team leader role is unique to group practice. When a solo office only has one or two staff on each team, the dentist or office manager generally leads. As the practice size increases so that there are 6-10 assistants, 4 or more hygienists and 6-10 administrators covering 10-15 operatories and numerous dentists, the team leader role becomes essential for the successful operation of a dental group practice. Since team leaders play such an important role, they must be well-supported by the dentists in the group.

    An associate dentist interviewing for a position in the group often will have no experience working with team leaders. In fact, they may have come out of a residency program or other office where one of the major frustrations was the low skill of the staff or the lack of team engagement – and this experience may color their view of dental staff. Therefore, it is extremely helpful for the team leaders to describe their role to the associate dentist and outline the various tasks they are responsible for handling. As the associate dentist comprehends the laundry list of projects a team leader manages, she begins to appreciate their unique role. This also allows her to see these staff as part of the management team and then to recognize their need for her support.

    From the management team perspective, now is the time to brag. Describe all the tasks you take care of, especially focusing on the people-management responsibilities. If you set schedules and handle vacation day requests while also making sure that every dentist has an assistant throughout the year, tell the dentist! If you run the weekly hygiene team meeting, work with vendors to vet new products and handle the ordering for the toothbrushes/floss/perio products, let the dentist know. Finally, if you handle interviewing and training for all the front desk team members and you meet with patients who have large cases over $5000 to set up their financial arrangements, inform the associate dentist. Your goal is for the associate dentist to exclaim, “Wow!” when you finish listing all the tasks you take care of that are above and beyond your normal job duties.

    Once the candidate understands your role in the practice, now you can ask for examples of how he has supported other leaders in other offices where he has worked. Give an example of a staff person who tried to do an “end run” around a manager to get a day off or leave early and ask if that has ever happened to your candidate – and if so, how did they handle that situation? Team leaders need associate dentists who will back them up and support their authority to manage their staff. Look for this feature when you talk with the associate dentist.

  3. Will you get to know the secretary team and stay involved with how full your schedule is?

  4. The administrative team wants to know that you care about your schedule. The more you get to know them and understand the methods they use to fill your schedule, the more you can help to fill your own schedule. We need your help to keep you productive.

    Since many young associate dentists are unfamiliar with the tasks taking place at the front desk, they often steer clear of this part of the building! This leads into the associate dentist not personally knowing the front desk team members and having no idea the effort they put into managing the schedule. When there are holes in the schedule, a dentist often feels frustrated and assumes the administrative team is not putting enough effort into following up with patients in order to fill the schedule. On the flip side, when a schedule is jam-packed and the dentist is running behind, that same dentist can again feel frustrated that the administrative team is ignorant of the clinical requirements and has set him up to fail.

    The office manager should take this opportunity to find out the past experience of the associate dentist – did she come up to the front desk regularly? Did she talk with the administrative team about her schedule whether it was full or had holes? This can be a great opportunity to set the stage for working smoothly with the new dentist for their career in the group.

  5. What have you done to build the membership of an organization? Will you help to market the practice? What types of marketing are you comfortable with?

    Our existing dentists each participate in different types of marketing events. One dentist works the local community festival booth while another gives presentations to local community organizations. Other dentists have gone out to meet physicians, pharmacists, and a variety of professionals in our community. Will you take an active role in doing this – or just wait for it to be served on a silver platter?

    The role of a dentist in a private group practice is far larger than simply caring for the clinical needs of patients. One often-avoided area is marketing – most dentists are not fans of public speaking or networking events, but these are just the type of activities that can really help to generate new patients and establish a positive reputation in the community. By having the team leaders ask about the past experience of the candidate and then setting the stage for the expectation that the dentist will do his part helps communicate an easily-skipped aspect of private practice. And, all things being equal, wouldn’t you love to hire a dentist who enjoys meeting new people and is willing to help grow the practice?

  6. What have you done to improve the health of a person – both personally and in a group?

    Our group believes in dental care being part of overall wellness and we have established several specific protocols to address this approach. Will you learn each of these protocols and follow our lead so that all the dentists handle patients in a similar manner?

    Many dental practices are asking overall wellness questions on their health history and then expecting their hygienist team to work with patients on the overall health / dental connection. When patients ask questions or feel uncomfortable with the treatment recommendations, team leaders need to understand if this associate dentist will expand their understanding of dental care in a wellness program in order to communicate value and consequences to patients.

    Beyond patient care, a dentist that actively exercises or eats healthy food is serving as a great example for the staff. The healthier the team, the less absenteeism and generally the more positive the atmosphere. While this isn’t a guarantee, it’s more helpful to have a dentist modeling healthy behavior to staff rather than the opposite.

  7. How do you feel when you get off schedule? What do you do about it? Will you be consistent with your schedule? Will you let us know of vacation time or time out of the office 2 months in advance? Will you work directly with the team leaders or office manager to manage your schedule and not do an “end run” to just tell a staff person to close you for a day here and there?

    Since team leaders are responsible for managing their team’s schedule, it’s appropriate to understand how this associate dentist has managed his schedule in the past. Often the office manager is responsible for opening the dental software schedule a month in advance. If a dentist waits until a couple weeks in advance to tell anyone that he plans to take a vacation day or attend a CE course, this creates a massive amount of work for the team leaders. Hygienist schedules will need reworked so the exams are covered, assistants may be expected to take a surprise day of vacation or need to find projects to fill their time and front desk team may have to call and reschedule patients. All this work could have been avoided by simply planning ahead. The team leaders want to find out if this dentist will plan ahead or not.

    Another benefit of finding an associate dentist who will plan their patient schedule in advance is that this sets the expectation for other clinical team members. When a hygienist wants to take a day off with little or no notice, the hygiene team leader has a stronger leg to stand on when she can say that the expectation is that time off must be planned in advance – just like the dentists do. On the flip side, when a dentist is constantly changing his schedule last minute, hygienists and other clinical staff see that they can also disrespect the flow of the office by moving their schedule around as well.

  • Bonus Question: Do you want to take the time & effort to learn enough about our practice to make decisions concerning the direction of the organization? Give us an example.
    Will you act like you are developing your own practice inside the umbrella of our group? Will you take your own initiative to perfect procedures that are important to your clients and learn to manage staff?

    This question reminds me of the old, wooden sign that hung in my bookkeeper’s office for years, “Those who think you know it all are very annoying to those of us that do.” A new associate dentist that doesn’t invest the time and effort to learn how decisions are made or why systems are set up the way they are, can be very frustrating for team leaders (and dentist owners!). As the management team talks with candidates, asking for examples of how this dentist took the time to learn about other practices’ management styles and listening for stories where she learned to work successfully following the established protocols is a good idea.

    By planting the seed that the dentist can grow their own practice inside the group may also help the candidate see this group practice as a long term opportunity, rather than a short stint. Pointing out the benefits of having established, well-trained team leaders in place to support the goals and development of the dentists in the group is also helpful for the recruiting effort. This also sets up a win-win attitude between the management team and dentists.

Conclusion

Dentist owners of group practices are generally responsible for recruiting associate dentists. To leverage the time of a busy owner and to improve the interview quality for the associate dentist, inviting the management team or team leaders to participate in this interview process provides many benefits. The senior leader of the hygienists, assistants and administrative team already play major roles in helping the dentist owner manage the staff and handle operational tasks. Including these staff in the associate dentist discussions brings similar expertise in hiring the best candidate for the group.

Dentist owners need to be aware that although their team leaders may be extremely competent in their jobs, they may feel uncomfortable being thrown into the interview process and need specific guidelines to be successful. This article series provided 11 questions that team leaders can ask the associate dentist throughout the interviews in order to direct the conversation into productive matters, rather than staying in the realm of personal stories. I recommend this strategy instead of just handing your team leaders a list of questions and instructing them to “talk” with the associate dentist. Meet privately with the management team to discuss these 11 topics and identify the type of answers you are looking for.

By taking the time to define what a successful candidate looks like, your team leaders will use these questions to initiate conversations with the dentist where they may very well learn far more than the dentist owner ever could. This could save a dentist owner from making a major mistake in hiring. There’s nothing more devastating to a practice than hiring someone who leaves within a couple years. It also allows the team leaders to be recognized for their position of responsibility and authority among the staff. When you reserve time for a team leader to meet and talk with an associate dentist candidate, you are complimenting this staff person in front of the group and letting everyone know that you value this person’s opinion.

For group practice dentist owners who like the idea of having team leaders not only participate in the interviewing of associate dentist candidates, but also helping with overall practice management, you may be interested in talking more about the needs of your group. If you are hiring a new associate dentist and are interested in training the support staff to make the most of your investment, then talking with a group practice dental consultant may give you some new ideas on how to set up systems to help your group run more effectively. Please call Jill Nesbitt at 615-970-8405 to talk about your group. Follow these links to subscribe to my blog or for more free resources you can use in your practice today.

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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