By Kevin Henry, editor; Cover and story photos by David Ellis, David Ellis Photography
It wasn’t exactly the way Dr. John Lande wanted to spend his first day working with his new dental assistant. Returning from the Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Lande had spent some of the holiday in intensive care recovering from seven broken ribs, a broken clavicle, and a skull fracture after a horrific biking accident. Now returning to work for the first time since the accident, Dr. Lande walked into the downtown Minneapolis practice sore, tired, and facing the prospect of working with a new assistant.
“We’d never worked together, and I had been delayed in coming back to work because of the accident,” Dr. Lande recalled. “I remember telling the people at the hospital that I had to get out of ICU and get back to work.”
Fortunately for Dr. Lande, the dental assistant who was waiting for him was Natalie Kaweckyj, a lady with plenty of experience in the industry.
“Yeah, there was a little extra pressure on me during that first day,” laughed Kaweckyj, whose last name is pronounced kuh-vet-skee. “It’s certainly a day I won’t forget.”
Both Dr. Lande and his partner, Dr. Jerome Erickson, knew they had hired a winner in Kaweckyj, and their hiring decision paid off immediately upon Dr. Lande’s return from the hospital.
“From the first day we met her, we knew she was very knowledgeable,” said Dr. Erickson, whose father started the practice in the southern part of Minneapolis in the 1930s. “She presented very well to us. She was one of the last candidates we interviewed, and we knew she was the one we wanted to come and work with us. We called her the next day and offered her the job.”
Kaweckyj said she felt very comfortable during her interview and hoped she would be receiving a call.
“I could just feel that this was a very family-oriented practice and I knew this was the place where I wanted to be,” she remembered. “I enjoy the environment here and I love working with our patient base.”
In her 10 years working as a clinical and administrative assistant at Erickson & Lande, Kaweckyj has grown quite a bit in her profession. Last year, serving as the seventh district trustee for the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), Kaweckyj earned her mastership in the ADAA. The program was established in 1999 and Kaweckyj became the first person to earn the mastership designation, which requires 700 hours of continuing education, 100 hours of which must be hands-on courses.
“It took me seven years to complete it (mastership), but it was a personal goal of mine to have it done within a 10-year period,” Kaweckyj said. “I believe strongly in the importance of continuing education, and to receive this designation and the prestige that goes along with it really validates my feelings.”
As a member of the ADAA since 1993, Kaweckyj has been active in all levels of dental assisting. She has served as director and secretary of the North Suburban (Minneapolis) Dental Assistants Society, and is active in state legislative matters, serving as liaison between the Minnesota Board of Dentistry and the Minnesota Dental Assistants Association, of which she is president-elect. She is also past director of the ADAA Foundation and past national ADAA secretary.
“To be a true professional, I really think it’s important to belong to an association,” Kaweckyj offered. “It’s important for dental assistants to know there is a national organization that is working for them on credentialing and legistlation. I think it’s very important for a dental assistant to get involved with an association on the local, state, and/or national level.”
Kaweckyj quickly credits Drs. Erickson and Lande for the roles they’ve played in the growth of her career.
“They have both been very supportive of me, and I really appreciate that,” she said. “They have been flexible and patient, and that has meant a great deal to me.”
Flexibility and patience are symptoms of what both doctors describe as a staff- and patient-centered practice.
“We treat patients the way we would like to be treated, and we treat staff members the same way,” Dr. Erickson said. “Creating a low-stress environment is so important for a practice. Stress comes into a practice when a doctor is trying to see too many patients in a day. If you spend more time with patients, they appreciate it and the staff feels much less pressure.”
“I think a great testimony to our work environment is that some of our staff members have driven up to 60 miles one way to come to work,” Dr. Lande added. “We’ve had employees who have left our practice and tried other employment opportunities, but they’ve come back here. They’ve told me that they didn’t feel as comfortable in the other practices, and that says a lot about how we do things here.”
Another testament to the friendly and comfortable nature of the office is that 95 percent of new patients are referred to the practice by existing patients.
“So many dentists don’t take the time to get to know the patients,” Dr. Erickson lamented. “We try to be as thorough with our exams as possible. We have so many of our patients who will peek in and say hi if they’re in the neighborhood. So many of our patients have been coming here for so long that they feel like family.”
“Dr. Lande and Dr. Erickson have worked together for 29 years, so there really is that feeling of ‘family’ here,” Kaweckyj added. “It’s something I wanted to be a part of, and something that I am glad I’ve been a part of for 10 years.”