How to Hire Dental Associates and Improve Retention

Four principles to make your search for dental associates easier and more effective

By Dr. Charles Moser

Building a productive, efficient dental practice requires time, money – and most importantly – a great team of people that you can trust. Knowing how to recruit, hire and retain top dental associates is one of the most critical challenges of operating a dental practice.

I have worked in the dental industry for over 30 years, ranging from cosmetics to implants and eventually to a Dental Director of a large group practice in Houston. I had 16 locations, and I hired, fired and managed up to 50 associates at any given time, with about 250 staff members. I have a deep understanding of what dental groups and practices are facing when searching for a dental associate. With these four principles, your search for dental associates can be much easier and more effective.

1. Hire for success

The interview process is a critical piece of hiring successful candidates. If done right, the interview will illuminate what you need to know about the candidate. Without the right steps in place to identify the information that you need, the interview process can be needlessly difficult.

This is where the core values of your practice and the applicant come into place. If you’re not at least introducing your core values into your hiring process, it will be harder to avoid any problems that might come with your new associates. I encourage you to sit down and define three to seven main core values and bring them up during the interview process to ensure that there is some form alignment between your company and potential new hires. If there is no alignment whatsoever, the relationship will likely not work out.

When you’re interviewing, you want to find out where the applicant needs training and whether you can provide that training or not. We can take people and train them in dentistry, but you can’t train morals and ethics. If you’re interviewing someone who says their number one priority is making money, you might want to ask some follow-up questions to ensure that their morals and ethics align with yours.

Finally, you need to be crystal clear about the expectations of what you’re wanting from the person you’re about to hire. These need to be very detailed and specific about what you want this person to do, and even how much you want them to do.

2. Retain through associate psychology

In order to retain your top talent, you will need to learn how to do a lot of different things at once. Creativity is key to employee retention and there are many different approaches to improving retention. You may find that offering a sort of menu of different things that address the needs of your associates at different stages of their life is a powerful tool for retention.

For instance, there are a lot of younger associates working in the industry right now. Many of them may be in the stage where they are having kids, which means that they will need childcare. Larger organizations could have the unique opportunity of providing childcare by building a childcare facility that is central to every location. Younger families would see that as a value-added service that gives them the peace of mind that their children are being cared for, without any fines for a late pickup.

Continuing education is another huge incentive for associates that are looking to develop their professional skills and grow in their roles. The best approach for continuing education is to look at it as an investment in your people, so it should be a program that provides value and challenges your team to grow. Additionally, you could look in to bringing continuing education in-house. Companies like Dentsply, Burkhart Dental Supply, Henry Schein Dental and Benco Dental will come to your office and do continuing education for your associates and dental assistants as well.

Compensation for dentists can be tricky. A lot of associates are looking for dental groups that pay a flat salary, and you might even be able to give them a smaller percentage of product and collections if they knew that their check was going to be the same. There’s a system that you can create that puts them back on a percentage of collections if they fall below a certain point, ensuring that they aren’t spending all their time in the doctor’s lounge.

3. Provide ongoing clinical support

Another way to invest in the success of your employees is to provide ongoing clinical support. Leverage critical training systems to set your associates up for success, whether it’s in a group setting or one-on-one. Give them assignments and challenges to complete. Bring them in on cases to get more experience and make them do treatment plans. Anything that gives your associates an opportunity to get into the details would only benefit their professional growth and the success of your organization.

At South Texas Dental, we held quarterly meetings with a dozen doctors that I hand selected for a sort of “doctor’s round table.” We met at nice restaurants and had a two-hour presentation, where each doctor presented for six to seven minutes in front of the group. Everyone hated it, but it provides a tremendous amount of value to your associates. If they can get up and present in front of their peers, it elevates their language and elevates their ability to talk to patients.  

If we train ourselves to think that we are in the sales industry, it helps us to better “sell” treatments and care that our patients need. But you need to be able to communicate with people. Mentoring and investing in your team is the key to developing their skills in the workplace.

4. Improve performance

A key part of the ongoing clinical support is reviewing the work of your associates to ensure that they are meeting the standards set by your organization and the industry itself. Consistent compliance checks are a huge piece of improving the performance of your team. Even if your compliance department is relatively new and small, it’s important to establish a cadence of checks on all the procedures, X-rays, and treatments to meet the specific criteria for each of your processes.

It’s important to establish expectations in the hiring process to help your applicants better understand the outcomes they should be achieving each week. When you create these tangible expectations and have them written down, you can go back and easily evaluate the doctor on their performance. A job description isn’t bad to have, but it’s hard to check the outcomes against a vague description that doesn’t tell anyone what exactly is expected. Use these expectations as a checklist to refer to during reviews and mentoring sessions.

If someone fails to meet your expectations, approach this discussion as a coaching opportunity instead of a disciplinary measure. Address any issues that they might be facing and see how you can help them get them back to where they need to be. You probably won’t be able to help every one of your associates, but people are much more receptive to criticism when it comes from a place of respect.

Dr. Charles Moser, DDS

Dr. Moser graduated from The University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, Dental School and completed a General Practice Residency at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1994 Dr. Moser purchased his first private practice in downtown Houston with the simple mission “The patient is the most important person in the practice. Comprehensive quality care with respect and integrity.’ In 2009, Dr. Moser was asked to join South Texas Dental as the Dental Director for the Houston and San Antonio regions. South Texas Dental, with over 40 offices, is one of the largest Medicaid providers in the state of Texas. As Dental Director Dr. Moser oversaw 40+ dentists and over 200 staff. Dr. Moser is a Certified Speaker Trainer and Coach for the John Maxwell team and an approved speaker for Dentsply.