I get calls, texts, questions at meetings, and questions at almost every webinar and forum I attend: “Do you know any dental assistants looking for a job?”
The answer is, I don’t know anyone. They’re just not there, so you can stop looking. Dental assisting staff have been devastated by the pandemic and the situation is not going to improve any time soon. It will be years before dental practices recover and can find dental assistants to complete their teams.
Many older professionals have decided during the pandemic to retire and/or reduce their workload. The same is true for many other dental professionals – sales forces, college and trade school instructors, office managers and hygienists. We have experienced a mass exodus, largely into retirement. Those who remained moved up a level to fill vacancies and parted ways with some offices to advance their careers in another office. This has left many practices short-staffed, with no way to find experienced people as they are few and far between, and good employers do what they can to hold on to their vouchers.
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Amid all of this, many dental assisting schools have closed, contributing to one of the biggest shortages of oral health care workers in a very long time.
What can you do about this situation?
You are starting from zero. For example, visit a local restaurant and find the pushy waiter or waitress, and hire them. Visit your bank and find a smiling, outgoing employee to help you, and hire them. Take a look at your customer base, find the patient everyone loves to see, and hire them. You need to find the right people and then train them!
Is all this a great pain? Yes, but that’s what we have to do to keep moving forward. Training from scratch is not ideal as I know everyone in the office is busy, but what else can we do? The inconvenience pays off in the long run.
When you bring someone in, don’t overload them. If it’s an assistant, start it with small sterilization tasks. If this is a new person on the front desk, find something they can accomplish quickly to make them feel productive, then you can add more tasks as people become more confident. Don’t overwhelm or overload anyone with information too quickly.
I often hear from team members that they work so hard and have little to no breaks and no lunch. Don’t put your team through this because everyone needs a break. We all need a few minutes each day to breathe and pull ourselves together.
Have written protocols that team members can refer to so they don’t feel lost and worried about asking too many questions. If instructions are written, the team can refer to them often and work independently. You don’t have any protocols? Shame on you! Written protocols are the best way to keep your team on task. People need to know what to do and when to do it. Written protocols are the best way to convey how you want your business to be run.
Your protocols should be clear and concise, not too fancy or filled with garbage, just easy to read. They are a huge boost for beginners as well as veterans who may think they know what you want. Protocols keep team members on the same page at all times.
Finally, value your team! If they are good, hang on to them. Show your appreciation and, by all means, be kind. Team members want to work where they are valued and respected. Show your team and colleagues how much you appreciate them and they will stay! By following these suggestions, we hope that the shortage of dental personnel does not have a huge impact on you.