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.


5 thoughts on “A Rose by Any Other Name

  1. Hi Deb

    I do see where you are going and I certainly agree with involving the team when creating
    job descriptions. I do believe in having a Office Manager with a clear defined role understood
    by the Doctors and the team. We need to define, hire and train a Manager so that our employers
    are comfortable and supportive of the role and they can BE A DENTIST.

    • You are 100% correct Eileen!! Thanks so much for the comment. You would probably be amazed at the amount of practices I have worked with that had team members with them for years without ever having a detailed, clearly defined, job description.

  2. Hi Deb, you bring up some very good points. Today’s world is full of “office manager” positions where doctor does not know what they are doing. I prefer to not use this title. Working with women (most dental offices consist of women employees) they prefer NOT to be managed. Keep writing these great articles – blogs because you are creating positive change!

    • Thanks for the words of encouragement Debbie. I am trying hard to spread the word. Given all the time I’ve invested in this one particular area there is lots for me to share. My experiences have really helped me to clearly recognize the changes required in order to streamline team development, maintenance, productivity and team harmony!

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