Are you paid what you're worth and worth what you're paid?

Where are you in your career, and what do you want from it? What are you producing and accomplishing at your office? Tina V. Rich explains how dental assistants can help increase practice production and their own job satisfaction as well.

By Tina V. Rich, CDA

You’re at work and NOTHING is going right. You’re responsible for several jobs that have been started but none are finished. Every time you start on one thing, you’re pulled in another direction. It seems like all the patients who come through the door have additional problems they need the doctor to “peek at,” and both you and the doctor end up doing twice as many procedures as you had scheduled for the day. You’re exhausted, and now you have to stay past closing time to finish the things that HAVE to be completed for the next day. You scream to yourself, “I don’t get paid enough for this!”

Or are you on the other end?

Your morning looks great. You don’t have patients until 10 a.m. You show up at 8 a.m., clock in, and grab a cup of coffee. You hang out at the front desk and talk with the front office staff about “American Idol” and who should have been voted out, and how your spouse just doesn’t understand you. Around 9:45 a.m. you mosey into the operatory and start setting up for your 10 a.m. procedure. After the procedure you clean up and head back to the front to see what movies you should check out this weekend and if there are any good sales that need your attention.

I learned many years ago that dental assisting is what you make of it. You can be an assistant who doesn’t need to learn anything new because you know your job and your doctor seems fine with your skills — an assistant who just wants to go in every day, do the scheduled procedures, and leave. You don’t want to step out of your box and try anything new. Well, that’s OK, you’re in luck, because there are plenty of dentists right there with you. You’re comfortable holding the suction and air water syringe, and you’ve got great placement techniques. You can take a good X-ray when you have to. And because the doctor has a great chairside manner, you rarely have to speak before, during, or after a procedure. But I can guarantee that at some point in your career, you’re going to wake up and feel like your life is passing you by and you don’t feel fulfilled. And you’ll wonder what happened.

Dental assisting is evolving. We used to be the low men on the totem pole. We were at the mercy of the front office staff when it came to the schedule. Also, in my experience, I was at the mercy of a doctor who believed that because I was good at my job, I could do the work of two assistants. But dental offices are changing. Doctors are realizing that by letting their state-qualified dental assistants do many of the tasks they are legally allowed to do but perhaps the dentist has been doing, they are able to move to other patients and increase production, which means making more money.

Assistants are stepping up too! In many offices, assistants are producing as much, if not more, than hygienists. By being allowed to do tasks that state-qualified dental assistants are trained for, dental assistants are able to increase production $150,000 to $250,000 annually. Doing such simple things as making and seating a temporary, for example, can allow the dentist to leave the room 15 minutes before the end of a procedure. If you have two crown preps a day, that’s 30 minutes for the doctor to produce in another room.

Another example — At the beginning of an appointment, you talk to the patient and discuss the planned treatment. At the end of the procedure, the doctor says goodbye to the patient and leaves you to discuss the procedure and answer any questions the patient might have. This frees up another seven minutes of the doctor’s time.

Let’s put it all together. On an average day you see 10 patients. This means that you have freed up almost 90 minutes of the doctor’s time each day. If your doctor produces $750 per hour each day and works three-and-half days a week, you allow the doctor the opportunity to produce $1,125 more per day, which is approximately $189,000 annually!

These are just two examples of how you can turn a good dental office into a GREAT dental office. Patients know a great dental office when they walk into one. They see a doctor who has confidence in the dental team to do their jobs well, a team that works well together and respects each other’s skills, and a dental experience that flows seamlessly from front to back office. Patients have confidence in a practice like this. They tell people what a great experience they have in your office, and your patient base grows. We all know that when the patient base grows, profits go up and so do bonuses!

Remember, each state’s dental board regulates the procedures a dental assistant is allowed to perform and the qualifications (education, DANB certification or other credentials, experience, etc.) to perform those procedures. I am a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA). CDAs are allowed to perform expanded functions in many states. Check with your state dental board or go to the State-Specific Information section of DANB’s website, www.danb.org, for more information.

So ask yourself these questions, assistants: Where are you in your career? What do you want from your career? What are you producing and accomplishing at your office? Are you being properly compensated? Keep learning, and pushing the envelope. Take on more tasks and responsibility because assistants are becoming equals, our skills are getting noticed, and we are moving forward. Don’t be left behind.

Author bio
Tina Rich is a Certified Dental Assistant, wife, and mother of one. She has been working in the dental field for more than 12 years. Her experience ranges from four-handed dental assisting to front office training and leadership roles. She is currently working on getting her Expanded Functions Certificate and hopes to complete it in the fall. She served on the Dental Advisory Board in Michigan.

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