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Crisis Management

The dental staffing crisis: It’s here and it’s real

Dec. 16, 2021
The staffing crisis is not going away anytime soon, and other businesses are vying for the same people. Set yourself apart—and work on keeping your current team happy at the same time.
Roger P. Levin, DDS, CEO and Founder, Levin Group

There is a significant staff shortage in dentistry. Many practices are currently experiencing low revenue, high stress, fatigue, and the chaos of dealing with the loss of team members, as well as the burnout of the remaining team members.

Dentistry is not alone. This is a national problem in many industries, and dentistry is competing for the same skill-level workers that other industries are chasing. The question is not how to solve the staffing crisis (that’s bigger than just one article), but how to protect your practice and create a successful path for the future.

Recruiting, hiring, and compensation

Whether you’ve lost team members or not, you need to be prepared to face the new reality of staff shortages. The first thing you must do is focus on how to recruit, hire, and compensate new team members. The decisions you make in these areas will determine how competitive your practice is regarding the acquisition and onboarding of new team members. Here are three smart ways to recruit new staff members:
  1. Online advertising. Online sites such as indeed.com seem to be effective for finding candidates. But be aware that you’ll be one of the 50 to 70 ads on the site in a localized geographical area. Given this, you want to make sure your ad is different. Talk about the benefits, enjoyable environment, team spirit, appreciation, and growing career path.
  2. Signing bonuses. Signing bonuses were practically nonexistent in dentistry until the pandemic. Now they’re considered almost mandatory. More and more applicants don’t even consider responding to a job ad or placement unless a signing bonus is mentioned. The key is to make the bonus big enough to be attractive, and not to pay it out all at once. Pay it over six months so that the new employee feels the benefit of the signing bonus but does not walk away with the entire bonus should they leave the position early.
  3. Offer referral bonuses to current staff. Your staff members have many contacts in the dental industry and, of course, they have friends and family. Offering them a significant bonus if they refer a candidate who is hired and stays for 90 days is a very positive way to generate possible new employee leads.

Also by Roger Levin, DDS

3 ways dentists can win in 2021
Reducing no-shows
The 6 critical key performance indicators for dentists

Regarding hiring, the interview process has changed. Levin Group advises that you screen candidates by phone in advance to avoid wasting live interview time on people who don’t show up. Also, check a candidate’s references before you meet them so that if you like them you can present a job offer at the end of the interview. I realize this is a big change. In the past, most employers required at least three interviews to be sure they were hiring the best person. But these days if you wait to make a job offer, the candidate may take another position. Believe or not, this is happening frequently.

Finally, if your compensation is not in the right range, you’ll be out of luck when it comes to hiring good people. Many dentists are struggling to recognize that they’re going to have to pay new and current staff higher compensation to attract and keep them. Levin Group is projecting that practice overhead will rise by anywhere from 5% to 8% simply because of this staffing issue and, in our experience, we’ve never seen an industry where wages came back down after an increase. The key right now is to be in the correct range and to work on implementing documented and proven step-by-step systems to maximize efficiency. 

Stay focused on the solution

Instead of being depressed about rising staff compensation, focus on the reality that almost every practice has a 30% to 50% growth potential within about three years. It’s essential to create and implement systems (e.g., scheduling, hygiene productivity, case presentation, collections, insurance management, and customer service) that will allow the practice to grow even if it has a lean team. With the right systems and prioritizing actions, a small dental staff will be able to keep the practice growing and successful.

We’re living in a world where you may temporarily have to do more with less or you will need to train new team members to avoid losses. Levin Group data indicates that the loss of a nonhygienist team member can cost the practice anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 over 12 months. The more people you replace, the higher this loss becomes. Therefore, training faster and better through step-by-step systems is essential, and you must work on them now, not when it is an absolute necessity.

The staffing crisis is real. But not every practice has to be negatively affected when they lose staff, nor do they have to run the risk of the remaining staff experiencing burnout. There’s a body of science on how to recruit, hire, and compensate team members. and there is a second discipline on how to train, maintain, and motivate existing team members. Many practices will be hiring team members with lesser skills than they have in the past. Practices must build systems that can help guide staff, maximize efficiency, and increase revenue by 30% to 50% in three years. Continue to work with your team on a consistent basis to build a positive, motivated, and purposeful environment.