I was a dental assistant with Murdock Family Dentistry in Billings, Montana, for nearly a decade. In that decade, I experienced quite a lot with my team and practice owner – rapid turnover, economic downturns and personal challenges that made simply running the practice a challenge.
For years, this made the prospect of implementing changes feel out of reach. It wasn't until practice owner Dr. Casey Murdock returned from a Spear Seminar on treatment planning and case presentation that the energy in our practice shifted. I believe that shift occurred due to the implementation of a practice-wide training framework consisting of team training resources available to us through Dr. Murdock's Spear Faculty Club membership.
The commitment involved just a few hours a month, which we split between collaborative team meetings and individual assigned courses. But the impact it had on our team in the months that followed was different than what we'd been able to accomplish up until that point. Though there were always challenges within the practice, refining our team training helped us remain consistently focused on our collective goals.
We didn't implement team training when things were calm and completely under control in the practice – it was after a period of significant turnover and stress that we collectively decided that something needed to change. Rather than simply forging ahead in the hopes that things would get better, our office manager and practice owner discussed the vision for the practice – and created a plan.
There were many elements that made the growth plan work – but from my perspective as a member of the practice team, there were three elements that helped make training a success. These elements could help you achieve success with your own practice training initiative.
Clear goals for team training
Our office manager, Tiffany Dalton, used a three-step approach to developing a team training framework that had clear objectives. Before we ever began individual courses, Tiffany used team meetings to anchor discussions about why these practice objectives were important and how they would impact our individual roles in the practice.
For instance, one of the main objectives for our practice-wide training was improving the quality of our photography – which required a lot of careful coordination across the practice team. As the lead dental assistant, I played a crucial role in our practice's dental photography process. I was often responsible for taking the six essential photos as part of the New Patient Comprehensive Evaluation.
The Spear team meeting on implementing dental photography, in addition to role-based courses on photography, explained why these photos were crucial not just for the practice and clinical team, but for the hygienist as well. Rather than just telling a patient they have a large silver filling that needs treatment, we could show them and explain it in a way that is visual and easier to understand.
In our practice, this helped our team see how these photos boosted our productivity and impacted other aspects of the practice. This made the prospect of adding an extra step to a standard clinical or hygiene appointment much easier to implement and felt like a team initiative rather than a unilateral decision from the top down.
Consistency in new hire onboarding
Turnover is inevitable in any dental practice. Even the best practices with the most effective teams will still need to hire new front office and clinical staff – and ensuring those new hires understand office initiatives is crucial to keeping your team's morale high.
In our practice, we used Spear Online courses to onboard and train new hires – even those with decades of experience in dentistry – because we knew it would contribute to a better working environment for everyone. For us, Spear role-based courses were a great tool for us to introduce new hires to our way of thinking and how that impacts our processes – which reduced misunderstandings that could otherwise lead to tension in the practice.
In many cases, having access to high-quality, expert-led courses to guide practice training and onboarding was refreshing for new hires. It not only helped our efficiency but also in getting new team members off on the right foot and feeling good about how they could contribute to practice growth.
A culture of recognition and appreciation
I think most doctors agree that finding and keeping great practice staff is tough. I spent nearly a decade at Murdock Family Dentistry before an out-of-state move prompted my job search, so I saw the impact high turnover can have on a practice. In fact, it was after a period of rapid turnover that our own practice finally committed to developing a practice-wide training plan using Spear Online.
For me, the decision to stay with Murdock Family Dentistry for so long came down to trust and communication with my doctor. Even in times of stress or when a procedure wasn't going as planned, Dr. Murdock understood that I was there to support him. This trust was the product of feeling consistently heard and appreciated, both in and out of the operatory.
Though I can only speak from my perspective as a dental assistant, I have a hunch that the same factors that contribute to high turnover with assistants also impacts retention for other practice positions. Feeling as though you have a meaningful impact on something bigger than yourself – even if it's not your practice – is game-changing. The moment you're emotionally and professionally invested in practice-wide improvements, you stop going through the motions and begin actively participating in how the practice operates and succeeds.
In our case, Spear team meetings were a great tool to encourage this way of thinking since it allowed everyone in the practice to discuss a clinical or practice management topic from their own perspective. Plus, it gave everyone in the practice the opportunity to slow down and think about how they can make things work more efficiently.