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Solving Dental Office Staffing Issues Through Consistent Intern Programs

Many years ago, I worked with several dentists in a small town of about 20 dentists. They had a tough time staffing their practices with quality people. They had nearly an impossible task of bringing in Hygienists into their practices. Many simply resorted to doing cleanings themselves. The situation was becoming more dire each passing year.

To turn it around, we advertised in several big cities to find those willing to relocate to their area. We met some limited success.

The real solution came when we decided as a group to encourage young people in their community to pursue a career path in “Dental Care Services”.

We organized to work with the high schools and community colleges in the area to attract students to an open house to introduce them to opportunities in dental care. Sometimes this was at the institution of learning – school; other times it was an invite to a local dental office. Attendance was generally very good. A healthy group of students attended and asked questions after a short presentation. Other candidates were recruited by acquaintances and family members of existing team members.

Our goal was to hire some part-timers to begin training in various offices. This worked well for after school hours. End-of-day for each office benefitted by having a part-timer come in and help wherever needed. Some would do janitorial work to begin. Then they were taught sterilization procedures. Eventually they were introduced to being hygiene assistants with various responsibilities. As they progressed, they were introduced to front desk concepts or to become assistants to the dentists. This happened over time with many working full-time in the summer months. Others took college classes around their work schedules.

Compensation was different at each office. Some worked for a month at no or little compensation for the training and work experience. (If they were to sign up at a local training program for becoming a dental assistant, they could pay $3500 – 5000 for less hands-on training.) After a period, they were offered more opportunity to grow and progress in their duties. Their compensation was increased.

Some showed strong interest in working at the front desk. Many liked being assistants in the office. Several of them expressed desires to become Hygienists.

Those individuals that expressed interest in becoming hygienists were introduced to the requirements to become such. Work experience help get them into a program to become hygienists. Various hygiene schools were introduced to them. With the endorsements from the dentists, they applied to those Hygiene schools. Many went on to become hygienists and return to their hometown to work as hygienists. A few have since become dentists themselves.

The energy of bringing these young and eager individuals to work and learn in the dental offices invigorated many of the existing team members. They took them in and taught them the necessary skills.

Many benefits flowed all directions from this program.

Over a relative short time, the stress of building a strong team for each dentist was diminished. Quality team building was enhanced and working.

Recently, it has been shown by multiple sources that the number one issue facing dentists is that of finding and retaining quality team members for their team.

Over the past many years, a program of bringing in new and eager faces to dentistry has been implemented with positive results.

The best system for doing this on a continuing basis is that of bringing in interns each year to eventually develop into full-time team members. These individuals appreciate being trained in a career they can embrace. Obviously, some don’t make it. But those who do have chosen this line of work and prove to be assets to the industry.

If each dental office will bring in an intern in the Spring of each year with the concept that they may keep them for the summer if they prove worthwhile, then many new faces would join the ranks of dentistry in the short period and over the years. Interns can be brought into a dental practice any time of the year. Many will join as interns during their school years.

Some important keys to make this a reality:

Develop a game plan to make this happen successfully in your practice

A specific person must oversee spearheading implementation

Introduce this opportunity through local high schools and colleges

Encourage team members and others to refer possible candidates

Have an interviewing process to select the strongest candidates for highest success

Set in place an onboarding and training system for new interns

Specific job titles and responsibilities should be in written format

Share options and potential progression

A weekly in person review of progress and performance is a must

Encouragement and positive feedback at regular intervals enhance success

Review attitude and acceptance with other team members

Some interns may become permanent team members. Others may be invited to move on. Keep developing interns to build potential candidates to work with your office.

Many interns begin working in a dental office as part time helpers. They do end-of-day chores to allow existing employees to leave to go home on time. Interns can assist in many areas of the practice as directed.

Over time, a strong core of motivated and experienced team members can develop in the practice. You will delight in how you have affected the lives of others.

Compensating interns can be done in multiple ways. It has been shared that offering a stipend at the end of their experience is the best option. Give a start date, an end date, and what is to be accomplished. Other ideas are a non-compensation situation with free training and work experience, or a low hourly rate. An emphasis on careers in dentistry and future opportunities should create positive outcomes.

Glen Jensen

Dental Business Advisors


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