There is a huge cost whenever an associate dentist leaves a practice—and that cost is not just financial. So how do you prevent associates from leaving? By Frank Leggett
There are a number of negative impacts on a business whenever an associate leaves a practice. First and foremost is the cost and time of finding a replacement, and getting them up to speed. Until a replacement is found, schedules will be in disarray as other staff members pick up the slack of being a dentist down.
Once a new dentist is found, they have to build a rapport with both patients and staff while trying to fit into a new work environment. If this new dentist decides to leave within the first year, the impact of filling the position again creates exponentially greater problems. It is in the best interest of every dental practice to keep their associates for as long as possible.
Dr Alex Negoescu has some insight into this situation. Dr Negoescu founded LifeCare Dental in 1989, sold his surgery to Dental Corporation in 2011, but still runs the practice as if it were his own. For the past 30 years he has consistently grown the business by more than one dentist per year. At present, LifeCare Dental has two locations, 33 dentists, 85 assistants and 35 other staff.
“The truth is that you can’t stop associates from leaving,” says Dr Negoescu. “Your whole aim should be to get the best value out of those associates for the years that you have them. At the same time, there are a few things you can do to maximise their time with your business. Our dentists generally stay with us for three to five years, though some have lasted eight to nine years.”
Find the right person
From the outset, it’s important that the right person is employed. This is why the interview process is so critical. Get it right and you have a reliable dentist working in your practice for years. Get it wrong and your business can be a revolving door of associates.
“Your whole aim should be to get the best value out of those associates for the years that you have them.”
Dr Alex Negoescu, founder, LifeCare Dental
Dr Negoescu uses the skills of his clinical psychologist wife, Kate, to aid in the recruitment process. “I attribute Alex’s success to his hard work, ongoing learning and critical thinking,” says Kate. “He has a high expectation in regard to behaviour and there are protocols that are expected to be followed. Alex is also pretty forthright in reinforcing these expectations and how he interacts with people.”
Kate handles all the interviews and there is a structured questionnaire during the process. It is made clear that it is a mutual interview, so the dentist is also interviewing them to see if they’re going to be suitable. The new dentist should find the work ethos and business demands appropriate to their needs—and vice versa.
“Interviewees are told they’re free to stop at any time, re-answer a question and seek clarification,” says Kate. “They are also asked to engage in role-play. In order to do good dentistry, you need to be technically competent, but you also need the skills to explain things in a way that patients can understand. This is crucial in allowing the patient to make an informed choice.”
Kate’s interview process is rigorous by design because it’s not in anyone’s best interest for someone to start a job and then leave in short order.
Make expectations clear
The interview process is the time when expectations should be made crystal clear. The interviewee should understand what is expected of them, the culture of the practice and what type of business ethos is in place.
At LifeCare Dental, Dr Negoescu is passionate about further learning, increasing skill sets and mentorship. A willingness to learn is paramount for any new dentist wishing to join the practice.
“[My dentists] may stay with me for five years but by enabling a culture of excellence in my practice, we are all winners.”
Dr Alex Negoescu, founder, LifeCare Dental
“My aim is to upskill all my dentists and make them good operators,” says Dr Negoescu. “Most dentists want to run their own practice at some point and the more they learn, the better prepared they are. They may stay with me for five years but by enabling a culture of excellence in my practice, we are all winners. Ten per cent of patients are loyal to their dentist but 90 per cent of patients are loyal to their practice.”
Training and mentorship
Having a well-trained team of dentists, capable in all areas of dentistry, adds to their satisfaction and is a boon for the practice. “If anyone should phone and ask who they can see when Alex isn’t available, I would recommend any dentist who has worked with Alex long-term,” says Kate. “I know that all these dentists are willing to learn, continue to improve and strive for excellence.”
LifeCare Dental is open 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Many of the dentists who have trained and worked with Dr Negoescu, and gone on to open their own practices, refer their patients to him when they are closed or for emergencies. Offering training and mentorship to his dentists not only encourages them to stay on staff longer, but directly aids his business in the long term.
“My ambition is to make my dentists as skilled as possible,” says Dr Negoescu. “When a patient walks into my practice, whichever dentist is available is allocated to that case. I truly believe that competence breeds confidence.
“If you make your dentists both competent and confident, they’ll appreciate it, they’ll get to use all their skills and they won’t leave until they feel the need to branch out on their own.”
While there’s no one answer to encourage associates to stay on staff, having realistic expectations about retention, helping associates grow
and learn—and being actively engaged—will make for more skilled dentists and provide better outcomes for patients.