The pandemic created the current staffing crisis, but it may have also created an opportunity to rethink the staff positions in your practice and expand your candidate pool.

By Alison Werner

Today, most orthodontic practices are short one to three staff members. And filling those vacancies has been a challenge—and it’s a challenge that is likely to continue.

So what’s a practice to do? Think outside the box.

And according to Mary Beth Kirkpatrick, managing partner at impact360 Consulting and president of Gaidge, the orthodontic business analytics company, the time has never been more right to do so.

Going Remote

The pandemic has caused both employees and employers to rethink how their work can be performed—or more importantly, where. Many companies have realized that positions they once thought needed to be 100% in office don’t actually need to be. And that’s true even for orthodontic practices, says Kirkpatrick.

“Very few people worked remote before the pandemic, but through the pandemic experience, we learned that there was a part of our workforce that could work remotely and be very productive.” 

Case in point: Many of the administrative duties in the practice. For example, managing delinquencies, overseeing the observation/between phases system, confirming insurance benefits and other forms/paperwork for future exams, connecting with insurance carriers, processing claims, etc. And then there’s social media and marketing.

Another remote option is a new patient coordinator who receives new patient phone calls and manages forms/paperwork. This position would be an adjunct to the treatment coordinator and would “set the treatment coordinator up for success,” says Kirkpatrick. 

And don’t think that duties related to the clinical side of the practice are excluded from a remote position. The combination of the increased numbers of aligner cases and the adoption of remote monitoring technology lends itself to a virtual assistant position. This remote digital coordinator would keep up with patients being tracked with remote monitoring during the extended intevals between appointments—not only reviewing their scans and filtering them to the doctor, but also ensuring that patients are submitting their scans and scheduling appointments when needed. This position not only frees up doctor time, it also maintains the patient’s connection to the practice.

And once the practice owner identifies those duties or positions that could be performed remotely, they have opened up a broader pool of potential applicants.


Where to Find Applicants

So where does an orthodontic practice find candidates. As Kirkpatrick puts it, there’s no magic wand to reveal a hidden well of talent. Likely, if you’re looking for staff, you’ve posted and queried all the usual places—from the dental job boards to specialty staffing agencies. But, according to Kirkpatrick, your own staff might be the best source for candidates—particularly someone who exemplifies the qualities you are looking for in a candidate.

“You’re looking for someone just like them,” she says. “So ask those staff members, who are not only skilled but committed to the practice culture and vision: Do you have a friend just like you? And don’t miss the opportunity to survey your team with questions like: What keeps you on our team? What do you like most about your position? Why would a potential employee choose our practice? Use these responses to craft your job posting.”

Another well to tap: Parents of patients. A mom might be interested in a job that runs from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm and allows her to be home when her kids get out of school. The advantage is they already have a relationship with the practice. 

Consider working with a non-dental employment agency. With a thorough description of the perfect candidate, their screening can supply candidates who have strong administrative and management skills. Keep in mind, these agencies are generally going to be focused on administrative positions, not clinical—and unfortunately, clinical positions are what most dental and orthodontic practices are struggling to fill right now.

Once you have identified and interviewed candidates, the fact remains that the potential employee currently is in the driver’s seat. They’re going to have options. Which means they are going to scrutinize both your team and culture to weigh whether your practice is the right fit.

Kirkpatrick recommends that candidates come and work a half or full day and interact with the team. The team then has the opportunity to review skills, personality, and work ethic. A team lunch with the candidate is also a chance to more personally meet a potential staff member. 

Changing Workforce

Today’s candidate—from Gen X to Millennial—is placing a greater importance on office culture as they evaluate potential employers, says Kirkpatrick. And that doesn’t just mean is the office fun, because as she points out, “Everybody’s fun is a little different.” Yes, they want a harmonious environment; but they are also looking at who their colleagues will be and the workforce culture. They want to feel that their skills are supported, that they are empowered to be a leader where applicable, and that there is the possibility to have a career—not just a job.

“They want to be appreciated and know that they could have a long-term career at the practice—not just a stopping place along the way of a long career. They want to know that there are opportunities to learn, to improve their skill set, and to be a thought leader,” Kirkpatrick says, adding, “I think that last part is particularly important to younger workers—to know that they could have a home there.”

What’s more, they also care about the physical environment: what does your office look like, what equipment will they be working with, and how up-to-date is it all. The point to note here is that these criteria are totally unrelated to compensation. This gets down to quality of life.

So as you navigate this staffing challenge, remember to be creative and to reinforce what makes your practice a place at which your current staff wants to work. That will go a long way in connecting you to the right candidates who can help your practice evolve. OP

Alison Werner is chief editor of Orthodontic Products.