Words of wisdom from 2012 AADOM dental office manager of the year Deanna Alexander

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Above: From left to right, Kirk Sweigard of CareCredit; Deanna Alexander; AADOM President Heather Colicchio, presenting the award at the 2012 American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM) Annual Meeting.

How long have you been an office manager and how did you get into the dental business?
Deanna Alexander: Never did I think my career would grow in the dental field. I was a young mother in need of a job. In the ‘70s we relied on the help wanted section of the local newspaper. At that time most dentists did not require experience; it was considered on the job training. I was a dental assistant for just a few months. The position was not a good fit for me. My life felt upside down, but I still needed a job! I was then fortunate to obtain my present position using the office clerical skills that I gained in high school. The classified ad read, “Dental receptionist needed; clerical skills would be helpful or will train.” At that time my title was receptionist. Actually, it’s funny now that I think back. When I was hired I thought, “I will accept this position until I decide what I really want to be when I grow up!”

I’ve been with my present dental practice for 37 years, since 1976. I started out as the only front office businessperson. Dr. Sadler came into the practice in 1978 as an associate, and he purchased the practice soon after. I came into this position not so sure of myself, and with low self-esteem. As time went along, the people I worked with made me feel important, and I realized I was surrounded by good people, our patients and staff, and especially the hygienist who at that time took me under her wing (I called her my “work mom”). She taught me so much about dentistry and made it so interesting, and I wanted to learn more. I admired her professionalism! Sadly, she retired in 1997.

Dr. Sadler saw the potential in me, and trusted me enough to officially give me the title Office Manager. From there I grew with the office and kept up with the fast pace of the dental world. I was constantly taking continuing education courses to expand my office management skills. I started out with the pegboard system and paper appointment book, and advanced into the technology world!

About the practice:
Alexander: I’m in a general family dental practice with one doctor. The office is located in East Lansing, Michigan. We have six employees — two hygienists, two dental assistants, and two business staff. We all take pride in our office, and we continually support our office philosophy and core values. It takes a well-organized team that believes in what we do to make a practice successful.

Working relationship with the dentist:
Alexander: My working relationship with Dr. Sadler is built on the business history of 35 years, including trust, respect, and understanding, along with direct communication with each other when it comes to making healthy decisions for the growth of the practice. Together, he and I have worked hard to watch the practice grow successfully. Trust is such a key factor to manage an office. He has always seen my commitment and dedication to the practice. I respect Dr. Sadler for his work ethics, interest, and compassion with the entire staff and patients.

The most important qualities for an office manager:
Alexander: You need to be understanding and caring of others. From there it takes good listening skills. Not everyone sees things in the same light, so you need to be flexible, adaptable, and willing to grow. Learn and grow from your mistakes, continue on, and become better. You become a liaison to the patients, employees, and employer. From there, if you have a strong commitment, you can always continue to learn the new skills.

How did you learn about AADOM?
Alexander: I believe within the very first year AADOM was established I received a mailing inviting me to become a member. It sounded so fascinating! Finally! Something was available for the business staff to connect.

What do you enjoy most about the AADOM annual meeting?
Alexander: I have met so many wonderful members from all around the country. The networking is so beneficial. Each year just gets bigger and better! The speakers for the courses are well known around the country, and they share their extensive knowledge. This connection is an excellent opportunity to strengthen your skills. Another highlight is the induction (cap and gown ceremony) into the AADOM Fellowship program.

As the reigning Office Manager of the Year, what advice do you have for your fellow office managers?
Alexander: With the dental industry growing so fast, education is essential. Continue to further yourself by routinely taking courses. If travel and cost are a concern, AADOM is the perfect opportunity to become a member. Throughout the year, AADOM provides educational webinars. There is so much offered by AADOM virtually. The Virtual Study Club is another great resource to gain a wealth of knowledge, along with staying in touch with a group of elite fellow peers throughout the year.

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