Practice manager—pivotal to the practice

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practice manager
Vicki Linden, principal trainer at AMA Skills Training and practice manager at Harley Dental in North Adelaide

Not only are practice managers a key position in dental teams, they also play an integral role in the success of a business. By Frank Leggett

Practice managers are responsible for the smooth operation of a dental business while ensuring staff, team members and dentists work together as a unified unit. It’s a position that has grown in importance in recent years and requires a multitude of talents and skills. “I ask my diploma students how they got their practice manager job,” says Vicki Linden, principal trainer at AMA Skills Training. Linden is also the practice manager at Harley Dental in North Adelaide. “I’ve been asking the same thing of practice managers in my network. The surprising answer is that most of them never applied for a position with a complete job description. Often they were receptionists who slotted into the job when the practice manager retired.”

Linden makes the point that while most of these staff members are doing a great job, this situation may make the job unnecessarily difficult. It’s as if they have one arm tied behind their back. Training and education in practice management should not be secondary to actually getting the job. 

Get qualified

After working in the health industry for more than 30 years, Linden is a firm believer in the benefit of further education for practice management positions. She has a Diploma of Practice Management from UNE Partnerships and a Certificate in Professional Management from the University of Adelaide. 

“While it’s possible to get by without qualifications, at the end of the day, you need that specific knowledge,” she says. “The Diploma of Practice Management is invaluable in understanding the intricacies of business. Further qualifications related to HR and marketing are also very useful.”

The core role of a practice manager is patient-centric. You’re maintaining a facility and building a team that will provide the best possible outcomes for your patients. You need to be innovative, optimistic and constantly looking for a better way to deliver quality in the work and services you provide. Patients are the core responsibility—the very reason the business exists.

“Vicki’s credentials reflect her broad experience and outstanding capability,” says Brett Miller, group general manager at Harley Dental. “Given the complexity that healthcare organisations are facing with the pandemic, supply chain challenges and workforce shortages, such experience is more important than ever.”  

Dental knowledge

Practice management skills are transferable across a range of businesses. Linden has worked for orthopaedic surgeons, ophthalmologists, procedural GPs, and physiotherapy groups. Most health-based practices are small- and medium-sized enterprises where practice managers are tasked with dealing with patients, staff and clinicians. Working in a dental practice, however, requires some specialised knowledge and skills. “Dental is a very technical part of the healthcare industry,” says Linden, who also won the Australian Association of Practice Management SA/NT Practice Manager of the Year in 2016. “Good staff need to be inquisitive and find out for themselves the difference between a matrix band, saliva ejector and an apex locator.”

People person

Being a practice manager carries responsibility and can be stressful. A large part of the job is dealing with people, and that includes hiring, firing and disciplinary action if required.

If anyone is considering a job as a practice manager, I encourage them to go for it. If you love a challenge and want to achieve something extraordinary with a team, then practice management’s for you.

Vicki Linden, principal trainer, AMA Skills Training

“Sometimes, being a practice manager can be quite isolating because you’re making hard decisions related to staff,” says Linden. “At the same time, you have to work in a collaborative manner. Putting together a team and seeing them complement each other is very satisfying. When it works well, there’s a synergy between the clinicians, the patients and the support staff. I love the challenge of consistently supplying our patients with the very best outcomes.”

One part of the job that some may find difficult is the large amount of paperwork, documentation and compliance. It’s a vital but time-consuming and finicky process.

“There’s always an underestimation of what documentation is required to run a dental practice,” says Linden. “It’s not my favourite part of the job but I understand and appreciate the importance of it.”

Keynote speaker

The value of skilled and qualified practice managers is becoming more evident. In September 2021, Linden was a keynote speaker at the ADA FDI World Dental Congress. She gave multiple presentations on subjects that included risk management, leading a winning team, and the financial essentials of practice management. 

“I was invited to speak through the Australian Association of Practice Management where I have been a member for more than 10 years,” says Linden. “It was great to speak on subjects about which I’m passionate.”

Brett Miller notes that there is significant complexity associated with the role of practice manager at Harley Dental. “Our practice encompasses onsite CBCT imagery, four specialist surgeries, and an onsite laboratory,” he says. “Vicki’s role is to support the harmonious integration of each service to achieve a better experience for patients, referring clinicians and Harley Dental’s team members.”

The practice recently underwent an extensive upgrade and renovation. In the future, Harley Dental intends to expand services by adding further surgeries in its heritage-listed three-storey property in North Adelaide. 

“For the next few years, I’ll be kept busy engaging some fantastic clinicians and support staff to fill all the new positions,” says Linden. “Seeing the practice grow and prosper is very rewarding. If anyone is considering a job as a practice manager, I encourage them to go for it. If you love a challenge and want to achieve something extraordinary with a team, then practice management’s for you.” 

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