Office managers are vital to the success of any dental practice. In a previous article, we discussed the growth of the office manager role in the last 10 years and its impact on the dental industry. But how does an office manager grow in their role and gain the necessary skills to excel in their position?
We interviewed Heather Colicchio, Founder of the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM) about this question and the importance of office manager education.
Why dental practices need an office manager
Heather starts off by showcasing all of the training the dentist goes through in dental school. However, their focus is on the craft of dentistry and not the ins and outs of running an office.
The typical dental school curriculum that the doctors get to experience in dental school are; Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Pharmacology, Oral Anatomy, Oral Pathology, and Oral Histology, which is awesome if you are going to be a dentist, not awesome if you are going to run a business.
Every dental practice is a business. While patient care comes first, at the end of the day, you need your practice to also be a successful business – you need to generate a profit. Your practice provides healthcare, provides jobs, provides community. Even if dentists love the business-side of the practice, you will still need help in running it day to day – you will need to rely on your team. So where do you and your learn the business skills necessary to run a dental practice? Heather suggests the AADOM organization.
That’s why we exist. This is why we do what we do. What are some things an office manager needs to know? Basically everything. Any good dental office manager will tell you they wear 30 different hats and there’s nothing that they can’t do.
What are the key responsibilities and skills of a dental office manager?
The list of skills needed to run the practice include: bookkeeping and accounting, human resources, hiring, firing, managing the team, practice marketing, practice social media, collections, patient financing, patient communications, understanding and negotiating with dental insurance companies, and ultimately profitability. Unless the dentist also went to business school, this is very different from the dental school curriculum. Heather advises dentists,
If you are a doctor watching this, you absolutely should be very familiar and very intimate with your business. However, you should not be running your business. You are the doctor. You are the only person in your practice trained to do what you do. No one else can take your place. So anytime you’re spent physically in the practice, managing your business is time that you are not chair side and time that is not serving you.
This requires handing off a significant portion of the practice (and stress) to someone else. While most dentists and dental professionals can provide direction and overarching strategy, they need a dental office manager to handle the day-to-day operations and focus on making continuous improvements to processes and office procedures that will improve revenue and profitability, the patient experience and reduce roadblocks and inter-office stress.
What type of education and training do you need to be a dental office manager?
Despite the depth and variety of administrative tasks that they handle, office managers are rarely MBA graduates, with some only having a high school diploma or equivalent. So how do they gain and improve on the necessary skills to run the business? Heather continues:
Where do you get dental manager education? So there is, not yet anyway, there is not a dental office manager training school that you go to and take all your courses. However, there is a plethora of dental practice management education available to you anytime. AADOM is one source, but if you just Google practice management, dental insurance, I think the dental industry has come a long way in the last 10 years in creating and providing free education for the person running the business.
Investing in your dental practice doesn’t always mean new equipment – many times the best investment is education. If you have team members that show enthusiasm to improve their skills and even go to conferences or take CE courses, Heather suggests you should absolutely invest in your team.
You have somebody willing to take the time to learn the things to make your business better. I can’t see any reason not to invest in something like that. The ROI is incredible.
But gaining education is only the first step. When it comes to business and office education, whether online or in-person events, it is important for office managers to focus on the application of that information. Heather advises that,
A great goal is to always try to leave with one actionable tip. There’s a lot of fluff. There’s a lot of noise. Theory is great, but you want to go in with a goal of, I want to leave knowing how to do X, Y, or Z. And as you’re listening, and as you’re learning, you should always be going back to that goal so you can implement it.
The next valuable advice for office manager education is to increase your network. Like study-clubs, office manager networks can be extremely valuable and provide valuable insight to what has worked for other offices. Heather advises office managers to,
Talk to your peers, especially if you’re at a live event and you’re an office manager, there is no one who knows what you do as well as another office manager. So if you have the fantastic opportunity to network with other managers, do that. I can guarantee you will learn more from them than probably most speakers.
Lastly, dental office managers should make sure education is shared amongst the team and especially with the doctor. After attending any event or taking any course, the office manager and the dental professional should always be communicating their learnings and next steps.
Schedule a one-on-one with the doctor. Let the doctor know what you’ve learned. Let the doctor know what you want to implement, and what resources will be necessary. Once you and the doctor are in agreement, at the next team meeting, both of you present it and say: “This is what I’ve learned. This is how it will benefit the practice. And this is how we’re going to implement it.”
If you have an office manager or team member that shows initiative to learn and improve, invest in them. They can leverage the valuable education and best practices available from AADOM. Additionally, point them to podcasts and resources like Allstar Dental Academy that offer free education that can help dental office managers on a variety of business topics.
Lastly, look at the free resources Weave is continuously providing to help office managers and practices improve in all business aspects of the practice. Not only does Weave provide free ebooks and studies on the business of dentistry, but they also provide free CE, webinars, and training sessions for dental professionals.
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