A Rose by Any Other Name

Job titles don’t necessarily tell the whole story


In business there are titles that serve to describe the various positions one holds.  There is the Fire Chief, COO, CEO, Head Waiter, School Principal, Leading Lady in a play, and so on. Typically with various job titles, the name references the job descriptions and list of duties for which they are responsible.  The one thing most of the positions mentioned have in common is that what each of these people do is pretty much standardized for their specific industry. When it comes to dentistry there are many variations with the same title.  The title “Office Manager” can mean different things to different practice styles, so that what one dentist sees as a true “manager” another dentist sees as more of a receptionist.

What is most important about this confusion of roles is that many people make the statement “I want to be an Office Manager”, or “I want to be the Head Dental Assistant” or “Head Dental Hygienist”, and the definition of each of these titles can easily vary from dental practice to dental practice.

The one thing we can always be assured of as a constant is that every dental practice is comprised of three separate areas:

  • The Administrative Team handles the orchestration of the front desk and all that is required to keep things going from a business perspective.
  • The Clinical Team, which includes the dentist and his/her clinical assistants.
  • The Hygiene Team, which is made up of the hygienists (and in some cases the Hygiene Coordinator, although this particular position can also cross over into the Administrative side).

So it should suffice to say that the definition of an Office Manager can mean many things to many different people.  In some dental practices an Office Manager has a lot more on her/his plate than in another practice.  Some dentists assign quite a bit of responsibility to the Dental Office Manager in their practice.  Many even handle the doctor’s personal finances and let them know when they are in a comfortable place “financially” to purchase that new dental chair, or perhaps upgrade their Practice Management Software.  Others will not let their “Office Managers” do any more than schedule appointments and remind patients of their overdue treatment plans.

So what exactly is the true purpose of a job title? In many cases it gives the team member a “pass” to assert a perceived authority, and let the rest of the team know that “I am the boss, so listen to me”.  In other situations it means “I handle some responsibility at the front desk, but not as much as you would think based on my title”.

In some situations it can cause the “mild mannered” business person to suddenly show signs of aggression and power, placing themselves in a category that is above the rest of the team and even the dentist him/herself.  This can make for a tremendous amount of dissention and team unrest which will very often lead to additional stress and discord between team members.

The meaning and significance of particular job titles are truly open to perception by each team member, and can have a myriad of meanings and responsibilities.  Take away the “Titles” and begin to offer complete and thorough Job Descriptions instead.  It is the breakdown of job responsibilities and detailing what is required of every position that is more important than any title.  Based on the practices that maintain team loyalty and longevity and that focus heavily on clear job descriptions , you are likely to find that this approach breeds both inter-personal harmony and operational efficiency.  A very resourceful  way to create Job Descriptions for each position is to craft them with the entire  employee pool present,  this way everyone has the opportunity to participate in the drafting so there are no surprises and the team has a chance to contribute  to the process.  Events that include all the team members in the same place at the same time is a very healthy format to follow.


Interview Scenario Series – The Clinical Department Dental Assistant

CApic SetTheStage

We continue to understand that dental practices vary as to how they perform (and subsequently present) various treatment recommendations for a variety of dental problems or conditions, but there are a number of consistencies that we should see from practice to practice.  These would be:

  • the attention and care that the clinical dental assistant offers each and every patient
  • their attention to the practice operations and “health” of the business
  • how efficiently they utilize their time
  • their observance of OSHA and HIPPA protocols

“Real life” scenarios for the dental assistant should be presented, since lots of valuable information can be gathered from this exercise.  This provides the interviewer with the feedback needed to understand if the job candidate appears to value the importance of a number of areas when working with patients clinically.  The truly talented ones will also take a little more into consideration and demonstrate that they go the extra mile.

Understandably, some practices will instruct the clinical assistant to focus and devote all of their time to the back office and not to even consider the administrative needs of the patient.  But let’s set a sample scenario and see how it is handled.

What a refreshing approach, wouldn’t you say?  It’s the thoughtful, go-the-extra -mile employee that everyone should be seeking out.  The video example here clearly “showcases” someone who sees the whole picture, and is clearly the team member that realizes her job doesn’t necessarily come to a halt once their patient leaves the treatment room. This particular scenario will give you, the interviewer, the opportunity to determine if the candidate is someone who is a problem solver.  They consider the entire process and avoid “tunnel vision”, as they realize the patient isn’t necessarily complete for the visit once they leave their area of the practice.

The response could have easily gone in a completely opposite direction based on how the job candidate chose to address it.  This is a great scenario question and one that I have used with great success numerous times.


Two Great Team Members – One Big Standoff

conflict ostrich


Don’t be an ostrich!

You appreciate their individual contributions and work ethic, and see them both as equal assets to your practice.  But they have their personal conflicts and their behavior is beginning to affect the team, and is infiltrating your culture and environment.  What to do?

Working as closely as we do in the dental field, coupled with the fact that we, as caregivers, tend to be sensitive “pleasers” often proves to be a deadly combination when it comes to blending a “dental family”.

This isn’t a new challenge, but one that occurs quite often behind the walls of many dental practices to the confusion and dismay of many employers.  All too typically the “fix” for this situation is to treat it much like the elephant in the living room–hope no one else notices and the problem will just take care of itself.  In some cases it does, but often it not only doesn’t go away but intensifies if not addressed.

The majority of caregivers are also non-confrontational by nature.  Directly admonishing the parties involved will rarely resolve the issue. Too often it is handled by simply dismissing both parties from the team rather than work at making things right. Remember, not only are these good team members but turnover is extremely expensive and often disruptive in itself.

The best approach is to openly address the issue face-to-face with both parties in a non-threatening manner and in a comfortable venue.  Often having them honestly clear the air by explaining their own position reveals that the conflict has escalated beyond the actual seriousness of their true feelings.

Sometimes the catalysts are not obvious, and it requires the two sitting down together to work it out.  If there is a stalemate and they are unable to resolve their differences it’s best to confront them and ask them how they might settle things if they were the employer? This would be the very last attempt at reconciling the problem, and although no one would favor this outcome, the only choice might be for the two in conflict to move on. What a shame to lose two excellent employees, considering finding valuable talent is not that easy.

The key to resolution is to NOT to avoid the obvious, since it typically does NOT go away, particularly if the practice leader/dentist chooses to play the role of “The Ostrich” by inserting their head in the sand.

Trying to Force a Square Peg Into a Round Hole


Matching behavioral styles to job descriptions

Our behavioral tendencies can significantly affect the areas of responsibility in which we are most likely to be successful within a dental practice.  Most prevalent in our field are those that are strong caregivers who are interested in taking care of others, being accepted, being appreciated, and basically not wanting to make any trouble.  With this in mind, consider our various strengths when it comes to verbal skills, organizational skills, and the “desire” to lead.

Often an owner/dentist will recognize a team member that is exceptionally good as a dental assistant.  “She’s kind, dedicated, loves my patients and really is committed to what she does as far as assisting me in the day-to-day procedures that I offer my patients.”  The doctor/employer is quick to recognize the valuable assets his dental assistant delivers to his patients and his practice and is ready to celebrate all she contributes.  Yes, this is a great thing!

A talented, dedicated clinical assistant is a precious commodity and most dentists value having this special person by their side.  This can lead to thoughts like “Well, since they are so great and talented working with me at the chair, I’ll bet she’ll be equally adept at handling the front desk operations. I’m thinking that she could easily fill the open position in my business office with just a little training. She’s just so amazing and will no doubt prove her value working on the business side of my practice as well”.

Think again, doctor.  It doesn’t always work that way.  Appreciating her talent and abilities supporting you on the clinical side of your practice doesn’t necessarily mean that she will prove to be equally comfortable and capable of working in your business office.  Keep in mind that the behavioral styles from the business office to the front desk are markedly different.   The sensitivity that so many clinical assistants possess can really get in the way of many critical responsibilities when it comes to her obligations working within the administrative area.

Collecting money can be a major issue, as well as directing patients into proper time slots for the practice, along with the responsibility of letting a patient know that there is a charge for their missed appointments–just to name a few.  The requirements to successfully meet the needs of the patients from the clinical perspective vs. those from the business aspect of a practice are extremely different .

What’s interesting about this dynamic is that because she is a team player and probably quite amiable, we can assume she will accept the new role simply to “please” you, not make waves, and most of all perhaps risk losing her job.  But deep down is she totally secure with the shift?  My guess would probably be NO.  Nonetheless, she may be as excited as you are with the change and doesn’t realize that the role shift doesn’t work for her until she gets there. This is when frustration from both sides begins to surface.

With her personal desire to ”please”, and because she is someone who never wants to cause trouble, she graciously accepts the challenge and begins to receive “grooming” to move up to the business office.  In some cases this can be a successful transition, so I will make this disclaimer. But be aware that more often than not the struggles to succeed with this particular job conversion can be great.

Understanding the behavioral makeup of your team members can make a tremendous difference when it comes to reconfiguring positions.  Evaluate this phenomenon and properly prepare before you are set on making the move.  And by the way, this also applies to the inverse situation of moving business office personnel to the clinical side of your practice.

Want to know about “SELF” and how this dental-specific behavioral assessment relates to this blog?  Send me a note and I’ll fill you in.