If there is one thing that stands out about Dr. Daniel Balderrama's approach to dentistry, it is his career-spanning commitment to continuing education and growth. The Illinois-based clinician earned his Doctorate in Dental Surgery from the Marquette University School of Dentistry in 2004. Eager to continue expanding his clinical skill set, he joined Spear Education soon after.
“Shortly after graduation another dentist took me under his wing and got me involved with a group with two lecturing doctors, one of which was Jeff Rouse. That's how I was introduced to Spear,” says Dr. Balderrama, adding that this experience helped him embrace continuing education early in his career. Soon after, Dr. Balderrama took advantage of every learning opportunity available to him – including dental training and clinical volunteer work in the Dominican Republic, which he continues to take part in today.
When he became a practice owner in 2004, however, he admits that his growth and learning opportunities didn't always translate to his practice team.
“I made it a point early in my career to receive as much education as I possibly could to advance myself – but initially I admit I put my team on the back burner,” he recalls. “I wanted to help my patients and focus on growing myself so that I could provide the best care, but over the 16 years I've been practicing, that's changed.”
Empowering the team with on-demand learning
Dr. Balderrama's approach to team leadership and growth has shifted over the past few years. Today, team members in his practice are provided with logins for a variety of dental education platforms as part of their onboarding process. For his dental hygienist, Elba Colon, this easy access to resources has made in-the-moment problem solving easier and less stressful.
Dr. Balderrama's primary goal was to highlight the benefits of continuing education and encourage his team members to actively engage in their own professional growth. To incentivize self-driven learning, he ran a monthly competition that awarded team members who had completed the most Spear Online courses with a $50 gift card.
“Initially, I didn't task [my team] with solving a particular problem through the platform – I simply incentivized going online and exploring for themselves,” says Dr. Balderrama. Before long, two team members stood out as front runners in practically every monthly tally: hygienist Elba Colon and office manager Tracy Oliviera.
“Elba's always looking to improve herself,” says Dr. Balderrama. “She's very results-oriented. When she logs into the Spear platform, that's why she's doing it.”
Elba's commitment to growth is best illustrated by a recent initiative she spearheaded that involved a new testing modality to detect specific bacteria in the mouth. “Elba recently sent off four of these tests and I asked her what her thoughts were about the treatment,” Dr. Balderrama recalls. “She told me she loved it because she felt like she was potentially adding years to people's lives. That's just her personality – she's always looking to make a difference.”
For Elba, greater access to educational tools meant problem-solving in the practice was easier with more resources at her fingertips.
“[Access to Spear Online] is so helpful, and there's just so many different topics that you can choose from,” she says. “If there's something that we can do a better job of explaining, learning about or discussing with patients, I think it's great to have videos available immediately.”
In her view, access to educational tools and content is what makes working in Dr. Balderrama's practice so rewarding, saying: “I would say one of the big differences [since introducing Spear Online] is the culture. Culture to continue learning or grow. I didn't have that before, and I think that's something that I really wanted, and it just wasn't provided, and I just had a hard time seeking those opportunities on my own sometimes.”
Elba's engagement with Spear Online was matched by Dr. Balderrama's office manager, Tracy Oliviera. Upon joining the practice, Tracy was soon completing as many courses as Elba – which also had a profound impact on communication in the practice.
“[Having a proactive office manager] takes so much off my plate. When a patient calls in, my office manager knows what she's talking about – not only the insurance portion but some clinical dentistry as well. That comes from Spear courses and Patient Education videos,” says Dr. Balderrama.
Enhancing the practice experience with patient education
In addition to exploring Spear Online courses as they relate to role-specific tasks and processes, the team have also worked together to adopt new ways of communicating with their patient base – and it shows in the operatory.
“As we ask our patients questions and we send chairside videos as a follow-up, it's impressive to them. They're more likely to accept that treatment and more likely to refer other patients to us,” says Dr. Balderrama. “My practice has been growing by leaps and bounds recently because of the [Patient Education] that we've been implementing, especially for appointment follow-up.”
The team started small and focused on integrating Patient Education videos into high-value touch points in the practice. To streamline appointments, Elba took the lead on presenting videos to patients chairside before the doctor even entered the operatory.
“When I'm doing a consult or seeing a new patient and I mention a condition or procedure, I love that all I have to do is say to my team, 'Let's send them the associated Patient Education video',” Dr. Balderrama states. “I've received feedback from patients who say, 'I received this beautiful video on my cell phone. I can't believe that it's only a minute and there's so much information.' That's super impressive to patients.”
According to Dr. Balderrama, the process of implementing Patient Education in his practice has also changed his perspective and approach to his work with patients.
“As dentists, we tend to get into the day-to-day dentistry and have a certain way of doing things. In the past I would often approach things like, 'This person is coming in with a toothache, we're going address that toothache and that's it,'” he recalls. “In these moments you forget to communicate everything you see. Now we can simply follow up with a video to say, 'Here's what I saw and what your options are.' From there, patients will generate new questions.”
A commitment to practice leadership
Both Elba and Tracy have played integral roles in the implementation of Patient Education resources in the practice – but Dr. Balderrama recognizes that he is ultimately the key to ensuring the practice and team continues to grow. His experience as a practice owner has shown him firsthand his impact on the success of his patients and his team.
“It's funny in dentistry - a lot of [what happens in a practice] has to do with the doctor,” Dr. Balderrama insists. “When the doctor keeps having turnover and says, 'Man, I can't find anybody good,' it's because the doctor isn't setting that example of growth. And that was me! I admit it.”
Dr. Balderrama notes that while he has made it a point to incentivize and reward growth in his practice, a combination of luck and smart hiring decisions has made his job much easier.
“I lucked out in getting team members that are willing to just get up, get online and do training through Spear Online,” He says. “I've been blessed with an exceptional team who are self-motivated and love dentistry. It's phenomenal.”
Dr. Balderrama says he will continue to implement Patient Education resources in his practice and helping his team expand upon their patient communication skills – but it's just the first step in an ongoing educational journey for the entire practice team. According to Dr. Balderrama, Spear Online will continue to play a central role in that journey.
“Frankly, I don't know of anything that you can't learn on the Spear platform - from implants to insurance to team building,” he says, adding: “I've learned that to have a successful business, you must grow your team and build their confidence by providing the resources they need. That's why I invest in those [team] resources – to let them know that I care.”
Karen Hewell is the Managing Editor of Spear Digest.