For many of us in dentistry, especially as practice owners, one of the huge struggles we have on a continual basis is staff. It could be one or several of them; or maybe it’s one of them not doing his or her job; or maybe it’s one leaving your office. 

If you go to any dental meeting or you are around other dental professionals, it never fails that someone will bring up a struggle or issue with their staff or team members. In those talks, I have found that “if” is a big word when it comes to this “staff issue.” 

“If I only had this staff member.”

“If they would only do this.”

“If they would only do that.”

“If they could only do it the way I want to.” 

Sound familiar?

Many of us have also simply considered firing all of those unmotivated, unappreciative team members who don’t want to do as they are supposed to!

So, what happens when you walk in on Monday morning and you have the “new” team? The “new” staff that is waiting to do everything you want them to do, that can literally “read” your mind and accomplish task before you even think about mentioning them? Sounds like a dream, right? Is it possible? Is the dental “dream” team out there? 

happy dental team

Well, I got the opportunity to literally come in on a Monday morning and experience this new “team” or staff phenomenon. How? I did something unthinkable for many dental professionals: I sold my practice after 13 years, moved and bought another practice! Yes. I did it.

After many months of contemplating, discussing, praying and just about everything in between, me and my wife had decided to move our family to a place with which we had all literally fallen in love: our lake home. We decided to sell the practice, sell our dream log home that we built, leave some great friends behind and move to where we simply were happiest. No, it wasn’t easy and it entailed a lot of time, stress, cost and struggles. But four months after selling my practice, moving everything and settling into our new location, getting our two boys into school and working on finding a practice, it finally happened: I walked into a new office with a new team.

new dental practice

So, here I was, taking on a “new practice” that was ailing from the Great Recession (down almost 50 percent from two years prior production), and hemorrhaging patients left and right. The same staff members stayed on board, so the only thing different was ME, the dentist. It was exciting and scary as we were both new to one another and, of course, like any new relationship, we were both eager to find out how to co-exist and make one another happy. More importantly, we knew we had a lot of work ahead of us to make the necessary changes to turn things around in the practice. 

For the staff, they had no idea what to expect of me as the new boss. They didn’t know what I was capable of doing or whether I was a hot-headed dentist ready to blow a fuse at any time or one who couldn’t care less!

For me, I had no idea who could do what; what kind of personalities I had to work with; if they would want to do what I wanted them to do; or if they would even believe in what I was trying to do.

Either way, all of the uncertainty created a lot of motivation and drive for all of us to do all of the things that needed to be done and what I wanted done and accomplished. Sounds great, right? Well, it was great as everyone was working hard to please the “new boss” and implement the changes that I wanted to see within the practice.

Is the dental "dream" team out there?

So, what happened? Within the first year, we saw a lot change as we worked hard to turn the practice around. We made changes that wouldn’t have or didn’t seem possible in the past, whether it was with my new staff or with my old staff. 

With all of this in mind, I must have inherited a “new and awesome” staff and in my previous practice I had the “old and resistant” staff, right? What was different? Was it me, was it the new found uncertainty that created new motivation? The list of questions goes on and on. If it was the staff alone, then why didn’t they do a better job before? If it was me, then why wasn’t my last staff doing these things? Well, it couldn’t have been me because I haven’t changed. Therefore, it must be that I had inherited an awesome staff that simply needed my awesome leadership! 

Hold on there! Before you go out and start firing your “old and resistant” staff and hire a “new and awesome” staff to solve all of your problems, let me finish the story.

Fast forward to a year later. Things are going well for the practice and we continue to be busy and things are just plugging right along. We had our issues like many offices, but we were moving forward. But then it happened: I came in on a Monday morning like so many times before, but this time I realized I was starting to see something that seemed so familiar to me. I was starting to see things that were like … wait … like my old practice. We started to become stagnant and my “old and resistant” staff had returned! What happened to my “new and awesome” staff that was so helpful and driven?

I finally came to realize that I had a different staff, different office and different patients, but I was now having the same problems and issues I had with my old office. Why? How could this be possible? Then I realized the only common denominator from all of the changes was ... ME!

dental staff problems

It wasn’t my staff, practice location, patient base, etc. It was simply me. I had become complacent in my new office and I was back at doing things and managing things like I had always done. The only difference now was my “new and awesome staff” had become accustomed to it as well, and now things were “status quo.” 

I now have come to realize that often times your struggles within your office and your professional career (and for many of you, your personal life, too) is about you and your leadership and not just your staff, practice location, patient base, insurance plans, etc. It’s you that really determines the direction and success of your practice.

That being said, you can have, for instance, a staff member who is truly wreaking havoc on your practice and how your office functions. It’s not you, but it really is that staff member (many of you reading this right now will know who I’m talking about). Or you could be accepting an insurance plan that reimburses your office terribly and you continue to accept it.

As the leader of the practice, if you don’t choose to exercise your leadership skills and resolve the situation, then you will continue to have the same result, along with a team that is looking for a strong enough leader to do what is right for the practice and the team. This will lead to bigger issues and more of the same – the “same” that you have come to not want anymore. 

So, the next time you begin to complain about how things are or are not in your dental practice, you need to look no further than the closest mirror! It all has to start with changing how you are leading yourself, your team and how you want things.

Change is hard. But living with the same problems is harder. So go for it – change you and change your life. 

(Click this link for more dentistry articles by Dr. Jeff Lineberry.)

Jeff Lineberry, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., Spear Visiting Faculty and Contributing Author,


Commenter's Profile Image Jennifer E.
March 2nd, 2017
Love it!! Keep on wanting to hit the "like" button. Here I am can't sleep so instead of watching Netflix and getting caught up on my shows I am Learning and Growing not only as a member of THE BEST DENTAL FAMILY/OFFICE IN THE BEAUTIFUL MONTANA but also as an individual. I personally feel this article can also help the staff too. I've had to take a step or two back and look in the mirror before. I think we all do. Thank you for writing this!!! -Jen