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The advantages of dental assistants being cross-trained

May 1, 2023
If your office is like most dental practices today, you're short-staffed. There's no better way to prove your value than by learning to work the front desk.

Wow, what a crazy few years it’s been. Now the aftermath of losing so many team members has really hurt dental practices. Many offices are shorthanded and looking for team members to fill different positions. As a dental assistant, what can you do to help fill the gaps? 

It’s never a bad idea to add more skills to your list of duties; after all, the more you do, the more valuable you are. Learning new skills gives you a greater understanding of what your teammates do and how all of you can work together to create a successful practice. I believe that some of the best office managers and practice administrators are former dental assistants who know what goes on in every part of the office. Many front office positions are dental assistants wanting to expand their duties. 

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Have you ever thought of becoming an office manager or practice administrator? I did not. I was happy being a dental assistant. At the time, we didn’t have an office manager, so when my boss approached me about creating this position, I was skeptical to say the least. I loved what I did, and he liked having me in that position, but we were growing, and he needed someone he could trust in the office manager position. I was blessed that he chose me. 

So, how can you get there? How can you make yourself more valuable, increase your skill set, and learn some new things that you love? Here are some steps to get you there. 

Help in the front office 

Does your dental assisting position allow you to go up front and pitch in? If the answer is no, then don’t do it. If you spend time up front when you need to be in back, then you’ll aggravate your teammates and that’s never good. Remember, fulfill your own job duties before you venture off to help someone else. 

If you are welcome to help at the front desk, then see how you can help. Take on small duties at first. Remember, you’ll be pulled back in as soon as they need you, so make sure you can get up and go when needed. 

Offer to go in and help when the office is closed. Many times, when the doctor is out of town or the office is closed is the prime time to get caught up on things you didn’t have time for on a regular workday. If you don’t have anything to get caught up with in back, see how you can help in the front. 

Develop excellent phone skills 

You already have phone and people skills, but the front office team deals with so many conversations that you must be your best on the phone. Phone etiquette is essential to working up front. Dental consultant Linda Miles says to hang a mirror by your desk and when you answer the phone, look into it and smile. Your tone will reflect your mood, so smile and greet patients, either in person or on the phone, with a huge smile on your face! 

Then, identify yourself and ask their name. I always write it down because I’ll immediately forget. Be professional, especially when the person calling is not. In most cases, the front office position is the first impression for patients, so look and act professional. Try your best to answer the phone on the first one or second ring, be professional, and if you don’t know the answer to a question, explain that you’ll find out. Be sure to repeat their important information so you know you have it down correctly. 

Take some continuing education 

There is a lot of CE available directly dedicated to the dental office admin team. I’ve always been a huge advocate of learning something new before you need it. So, dive in and learn about insurance, collections, dental business, communication, leadership … anything that helps you grow, either personally or professionally. The more you understand how the admin team works, the better you will be at your position, no matter what that is. 

There are many ways you can grow, help your practice, and learn more about how a dental office operates. If this is something you want to do, then talk to your doctor or office manager about taking on more responsibility, especially when dental office are so shorthanded. It’s an opportunity you won’t want to pass up!