With trends pointing towards a staffing shortage, here are four tips to prepare for and prevent any disruption to your orthodontic practice

by Roger P. Levin, DDS

Evidence is starting to indicate that staffing will be the number one challenge facing orthodontic practices going forward. It is currently projected that up to 2 million women will be leaving the workforce and may not be returning. Given that many orthodontic practice staff are female, practices will likely be affected by this trend. Further, there are staff members who did not come back from the COVID-19 shutdown, others who returned and then later resigned and others who have had personal life challenges making it difficult for them to work full-time in the orthodontic practice. Staff changes are often unpredictable and never seem to come at the right time. On the other hand, as I have often asked orthodontists, when is the right time?

What should an orthodontic practice do to prepare?

First, solidify your team by creating a strong culture of compassionate leadership. Staff members are going to run into barriers in their lives that may not have been tolerated by the practice in the past. However, in a crisis or changing environment, and we are facing both, it is much more important to be resilient and reevaluate what is tolerable and in the best interest of the practice. A staff member who suddenly needs a week off because their children are out of school or their spouse is ill makes it difficult for the practice but most likely is worth working through rather than losing a qualified staff member. Staff members who have short term attitude changes because they are facing personal life issues need to be understood and the practice should attempt to work with them to help them.

Second, consider modifying jobs and job descriptions. In the past certain actions that we recommended carrying out every day now need to be batched and carried out every second or third day if there is a shortage or change in staff members. For example, if the front desk is going to be short one front desk person for a day, week or even several weeks then focus on maintaining the highest customer service activities which would include answering the phone, greeting patients and checking patients out, and possibly batching all insurance filing and collections to every third day. This concept of batching activities and carrying them out on a regular interval will help alleviate some of the inefficiency that occurs when a practice is short of one or more staff members.

Third, it is likely that orthodontic practices gradually may need to rely on more part-time people. There will be staff members who can only work mornings or afternoons. For example, a mother may need to be home in the afternoon because she does not have access to daycare. Another staff member may want to work the afternoons because her husband comes home and works from home in the afternoons. Part-time staff members are not as ideal from a practice commitment standpoint as full-time, which means leadership and culture will need more focus, but most importantly create a system of communication so that all part time and full-time team members are included and knowledgeable about what is happening in the practice.

Fourth, communicate with each team member on an individual and regular basis. One suggestion is to meet with every team member for approximately 5 minutes every 2 or 3 weeks. Just sitting down and asking how they are, how things are at home, and how they are doing can go a long way toward gathering the necessary intelligence about who is stable in their situations and who might not be, who needs any type of coaching, mentoring or guidance, or identifying something you can do for a team member. For example, one of our clients put in place a $1,000 automatic loan for any team member that wanted or needed to borrow money. All they had to do was ask. Yes, there is a chance that somebody might borrow money and not pay it back, but the goodwill that was created in the situation with the team created a sense of loyalty that was stronger than ever before. There were 11 staff members in the practice and only two borrowed money. This is one example of creative thinking based on talking to team members and understanding their different unique situations.

Change has always been a major factor in business and it’s important to understand how changes in society, such as more people working from home or more team members seeking part-time employment can have a direct influence on an orthodontic practice. Being prepared is an excellent antidote. OP

Roger Levin

Roger P. Levin, DDS, is the CEO and founder of Levin Group, a leading practice management consulting firm that has worked with over 30,000 practices to increase production. A recognized expert on orthodontic practice management and marketing, he has written 67 books and over 4,000 articles and regularly presents seminars in the U.S. and around the world. To contact Levin or to join the 40,000 dental professionals who receive his Ortho Practice Production Tip of the Day, visit levingroup.com or email rlevin@levingroup.com