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You won't find your next dental assistant the usual way

April 21, 2022
DAs simply aren't available. There's been a mass exodus of them from the profession. Tija Hunter has some ideas on how you can replace them.

I get the calls, the texts, questions at meetings, and questions during just about every webinar and forum I’m in: “Do you know any dental assistants looking for work?”

The answer is, I don’t know anyone. They simply aren’t out there, so you can stop looking. The dental assisting workforce has been shattered by the pandemic, and the situation isn’t going to get better anytime soon. It will be years before dental practices recuperate and can find dental assistants to round out their teams.

Many older professionals decided during the pandemic to retire and/or cut back on their workload. The same goes for many other dental professionals—sales forces, college and trade school instructors, office managers, and hygienists. We experienced a mass exodus, much of it to retirement. Those who stayed moved to the next level to fill vacancies and parted ways with some offices to advance their careers in another office. That left many practices short on people, with no way to find experienced individuals because they’re few and far between, and good employers are doing what they can to hang onto their good ones.

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In the midst of it all, many dental assisting schools closed, which helped lead to one of the biggest shortages of oral health-care workers in a very long time.

What can you do about this situation?

You start from scratch. For instance, visit a local restaurant and find the waiter or waitress who hustles, and hire them. Visit your bank and find an employee who smiles and goes above and beyond to help you, and hire them. Take a look at your patient base, find the patient everyone loves to see, and hire them. You need to look for good people and then train them!

Is all this a big pain? Yes, but it’s what we need to do to keep moving forward. Training from scratch is not ideal because I know everyone in the office is busy, but what else can we do? The inconvenience pays off in the long run.

When you bring in someone, don’t overload them. If they’re an assistant, start them with small tasks in sterilization. If it’s a new front desk person, find something they can accomplish quickly so they feel productive, then you can add more tasks as people grow confident. Don’t overwhelm and overload anyone with information too quickly.

I often hear from team members who say they are worked so hard and get few to no breaks and no lunch. Don’t put your team through this because everyone needs a break. We all need a few minutes each day to breathe and compose ourselves.

Have written protocols that team members can refer to so they don’t feel lost and worried about asking too many questions. If instructions are written out, the team can refer to this often and work independently. Don’t have protocols? Shame on you! Written protocols are the best way to keep your team on task. People need to know what to do and when to do it. Written protocols are the best way to convey how you want your business run.

Your protocols should be clear and concise, not too fancy or full of garbage, just easy to read. They’re a huge boost for the newbies as well as for the veterans who may think they know what you want. Protocols keep team members on the same page at all times.

Finally, value your team! If they’re good, hang on to them. Show appreciation, and by all means, be kind. Team members want to work where they’re valued and respected. Show your team and coworkers how much you appreciate them, and they will stay! By following these suggestions, hopefully the dental staffing shortage will not have a huge impact on you.