The Search for the Perfect Dental Assistant

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Finding talented dental assistants is a challenge for every private dental practice.

It's not something that's taught in dental school, yet it's critical to establishing a smooth-running and profitable dental practice.

In fact, dental customer service studies suggest that patients' relationships with dental assistants are just as important as their relationships with dentists. In other words, if your patients are happy with your assistant, there's a strong chance they will continue to do business with you for years to come.

With that in mind, here are a few important tips for recruiting excellent dental assistants.

Be Sure to Cast a Wide Net

In searching for your new dental assistant, you'll want to cast as wide a net as possible. The world has changed — simply advertising in the local newspaper may not get you many qualified responses.

It's a good idea to place your ads in some of the larger online job sites such as Monster and CareerBuilder. There are also online job sites that are specifically targeted towards recruiting dental assistants and other dental positions — two sites to take a look at are dentalworkers.com and ihiredental.com.

Universities and community colleges that offer dental assistant programs are also a good place to recruit. You may want to focus on programs that are accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) — see www.ada.org for the complete list. Simply contact the career services office at nearby colleges and introduce yourself. The staff will be more than happy to connect you with graduating students and alumni.

Don't forget that just about anybody can be a resource for hiring your dental assistant. Tell everyone you know — including current patients — that you are looking for dental assistants. You may be pleasantly surprised to hear that a patient's niece just finished up a dental assisting program and is looking for a position!

Finally, talk to other dentists in your area and ask them how they found their dental assistants. Most dentists are more than happy to help. They may know of a recruiting firm in your area that specializes in sourcing dental assistants — as with most things in life, if you don't ask, you'll never know.

Define the Responsibilities of the Position

Don't forget to define what you are looking for before you start looking.

The search for the perfect dental assistant starts with a good understanding of what the dental assistant needs to bring to the table in order to contribute to the success of the practice. The interviewing process must screen carefully for those attributes. Here are a few considerations:

  • Dental assistants typically will greet patients and make them comfortable in preparation for examination and/or treatment. Good interpersonal skills are extremely important. When recruiting dental assistants, be sure to put your candidates in a social situation where they need to interact with strangers — if they get along well with people they don't know, that's a plus in their favor.
  • Communication skills are necessary. A good dental assistant can explain treatment options and dental conditions in simple ways that people can really understand. Ask your dental assistant candidates to give you an example of how in their past experience they explained a complex topic to somebody in simple terms.
  • Being a dental assistant is all about helping people. It can't just be a job. It needs to be a passion. Ask your candidates what motivated them to become a dental assistant — if there's no passion in their answer, move on to the next candidate.
  • Are you willing to train your dental assistant on the job? If not, you probably need somebody with more extensive work experience and a deeper educational background. Define the level of prior experience you need and then don't waste your time on candidate who don't meet that hiring hurdle.
  • The best dental assistants are team players. Everyone must work together to help the whole office achieve what it is capable of doing. It's better to recruit a former soccer or basketball player than a golf or tennis player. Always look for somebody who has a history of doing well in a team environment.
  • Your recruiting process should reject candidates that are not versatile multi-taskers. The role of a dental assistant might include arranging instruments, mixing materials, keeping patient treatment records, sterilizing equipment, taking X-Rays, providing chairside assistance to the dental professional, and assisting with front desk tasks. That's a long list of tasks, so be sure you look for someone who has a demonstrated history of being able to juggle many things at once, without dropping a single ball.
  • Sales background is useful. Your active patients of record can be your best source of additional business. For example, a good dental hygienist might casually mention new cosmetic and esthetic treatment options to an existing patient. They can "close the sale" without ever appearing to be selling per se. Dental assistants without prior sales experience are less likely to help you grow your practice.
  • Computer skills are a must. If your office uses a software program such as Dentrix to run the practice, you'll want to search for candidates that have prior experience with the software. Don't believe what you read on a resume — sit the candidate down at a computer and let them show you what they know.
  • Cultural fit is key. If your office is upbeat, fun and relaxed, you need to recruit somebody who will fit into that sort of environment. If your office has a different personality — maybe it's intense and serious — you want to find somebody who fits that profile.

These criteria should be enough to get you started on defining what you are looking for, but you'll want to add in other attributes that are important to you. So feel free to add in other things like organization skills, good work ethic, positive attitude and facile hands to your wish list. The key takeaway is that for every attribute on your list, your screening process needs to weed out people who don't meet your standards.
 

Remember That Hiring Is a Two-Way Street
If you are having trouble hiring good dental assistants, remember that hiring is a two-way street.

How attractive are you to your prospective new hires?

  • Do you offer a decent base salary and bonuses? Is there any profit sharing with employees? Is there a childcare allowance?
  • Do you provide health insurance, paid vacation, paid holidays, free dental care, paid sick leave, reimbursement for continuing education, 401k participation, and reimbursement for certifications and state registration renewals?
  • Do your benefits include life insurance, disability insurance, malpractice insurance, and reimbursement for ADA dues?

It's also important to recognize that many dental assistants would like to see a career track of some sort. For example, if your dental assistant wants to become a dental hygienist, how will you help them out?

Most importantly, like everyone, dental assistants yearn for happiness. While you are recruiting, it's helpful to let candidates know what you value most in your work environment so they can decide if they will like working with you.

Finally, it pays to be nice. One dental assistant started a job and was told by the dentist that even a monkey could do her job. The disrespect didn't end there, and the talented dental assistant quickly moved on.

Given how difficult it is to find stellar dental assistants, be sure to treat them right once they are on your staff.