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The top 10 tips for successfully utilizing temporary and flexible staffing

Oct. 7, 2020
The future of dentistry is bright, hopeful, and full of flexible staffing! Melissa Turner, BASDH, RDHEP, EFDA, outlines 10 tips that will help you successfully utilize these important people in your dental practice.

In the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown, flexible staffing is more important than ever for our dental industry. With dental practice owners and team members navigating new work-life balances while at home—and implementing new clinical workflows and virtual appointments while at work—maximizing the benefits of temporary and flexible staffing is key for the future success of dental practices everywhere.

In the years leading up to the shutdown, dentistry had already seen a steady increase in the use of temporary clinical staff members. Even more recently, dental professionals started to consider temping as a viable career choice, which brings us to the present. Temp staff members are in demand as dental practices learn to rely on dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and administrative staff to cover open shifts thanks to maternity leave, vacation, or the last-minute sick leave.

As the world continues to adjust to our new normal, dentistry is adjusting as well. No matter what we’ve collectively been through in 2020, one thing’s for certain: the future of dentistry is bright, hopeful, and full of flexible staffing! Read on to discover the top 10 tips for successfully utilizing temporary and flex staffing in your dental practice.

1. Be inclusive. Topping the list is the idea of having a mindset of inclusivity. Consider temporary staff members as an integral extension of your team. Do you treat your staff to coffee on Wednesdays? Be sure to order one for the temporary staff member. Are you having a birthday celebration over lunch? Go out of your way to invite the temp too. Whether you use a temporary staff member for one or multiple shifts, treat them as if they are an extension of your permanent team.

2. Plan ahead. Flexible staffing is most notably appropriate when the unexpected happens, such as filling last-minute shifts for team members who are out sick. But the real secret is using flex staffing to plan ahead for those times when you or your team anticipates a change in schedule—for example, the odd field trip, the all-day wrestling championship, that one day out of the year that’s filled with necessary doctors’ appointments and school physicals. Many temp workers prefer to fill their schedules weeks or months in advance. Planning in advance allows increased flexibility for your permanent staff, leading to an added bonus of boosting team morale.

3. Communicate clearly. As always, communication is key. At a minimum, connect with your temporary workers the day prior to their shift to confirm arrival times, parking, PPE offerings, lunch break, and other significant details. The more information you communicate to them, the better experience it will be for all involved. Communicating clearly also creates a safe space for the temporary staff member to ask questions when necessary.

4. Optimize your workflow. Optimizing a clinical workflow not only has a significant impact on temporary staff members but on permanent staff as well. Ensuring each operatory is identical in setup and supplies helps when last-minute op switches are necessary. Also, take into consideration traffic flow in the hallways, sterilization room, and at the front desk. Optimizing workflow increases efficiency and helps the temporary staff member easily adapt to a new environment.

5. The power of paper. In a time when digital charts are the standard, it’s easy to underestimate the power of paper. When using temporary staffing, be sure to put yourself in their shoes and prevent hiccups before they begin. Print out labels for drawers, cupboards, and counters. Create a paper document that includes an office layout, common passwords, and step-by-step directions on how to take digital images and how to add information to a patient’s chart. Above all else, always have a pen and notepad in the op so the clinician can jot down notes for the time when the unavoidable computer glitch occurs (and it will!).

6. Assign an “anchor.” Think back to when you started a new job. Whether it was a clinical position or working as a cashier at your local grocery store, first days are often dreaded and filled with feelings of being perpetually lost. Keep in mind that temp staff members have chosen a career full of “first days” and often feel as if they are floundering in an empty ocean. The solution is as easy an assigning them an “anchor”—a team member who gives them a tour of the office, shows them the ropes, and serves as a sounding board when and if they have questions. Though anchors work best when they are in the same role as the temporary staff member (i.e., a dental hygienist who is a permanent part of the team should be an anchor to the temporary dental hygienist), the important part is to simply identify and assign a host.

7. Review the schedule. Plan ahead to make the temporary clinician’s day as easy and pain-free as possible. Review the patient schedule prior to the day and write down the expected procedures for each patient, along with any notes specific to the patient. Jotting down things such as “Mary prefers a blanket” or “John’s son is in dental school” helps your patients feel comfortable with the “new employee.” Prevent the avoidable by rearranging schedules so that patients who require complex care are scheduled with a permanent team member. Remember, the faster the temporary staff member adapts to the day, the more comfortable your patients will feel with them.

8. Play favorites. The secret sauce for flexible staffing is to play favorites and use the same temporary staff member repeatedly. Not only does this allow better cohesiveness between permanent and temporary staff, but it can even allow continuity of care for your patients. Clinicians who choose a career in temping often rotate their days through five to 10 dental practices that they know and love! When you invite your favorite temp clinician into your practice over and over again, pretty soon they’ll begin to feel like a natural member of your team.

9. Follow up. Speaking of favorites, following up with a temporary staff member after their shift is a great way for your dental practice to get on the temp’s “favorite places to work” list. Briefly following up and thanking them is acceptable, but don’t be afraid to offer positive patient feedback or ask if there was anything you could have done to improve their experience at your practice. And if they do provide critique...

10. ...listen closely to your temps! Many temporary staff members will tell you that within the first few hours of working in a dental practice, they can easily give you and your practice pointers that will help improve efficiency and perhaps even your bottom line. Those who choose to temp oftentimes work in hundreds of dental practices over the length of their career and literally see the good, the bad, and the ugly. They witness what works, what doesn’t work, and often learn tips and tricks that they are eager to share with you. Your temporary staff members can make recommendations about the best products and services to use as well as exactly what you should stay away from. And when they do, listen closely to them.

The future of dentistry is bright, hopeful, and full of flexible staffing. Be sure to incorporate these top 10 tips into your dental practice so that you, your practice, and your patients can thrive!

Melissa Turner, BASDH, RDHEP, EFDA, is an award-winning thought leader, influencer, dental advisor, and cocreator of Care for a Better Tomorrow—an alliance of leading dental brands and industry experts committed to reimagining a better tomorrow. She is chief hygiene officer for Cellerant Consulting and is a nationally published author and speaker. Cofounder of the National Mobile & Teledentistry Conference and the American Mobile & Teledentistry Alliance, Turner is creator of the I Heart Mobile DentistryFacebook community and is affectionately known on Instagram as @thetoothgirl. She can be reached at [email protected].