How to keep dentists from leaving your practice

October 30, 2019

Staff turnover is a fact of life for any business owner, and the longer you’ve been in business, the more you’ll see this scenario repeat. If you think it won’t happen to your dental practice, then you’re simply fooling yourself. Likely you’re reading this because it has happened to you, and perhaps even recently.

We don’t typically miss the dentists we have to fire or that leave after two weeks. It’s the “irreplaceable” ones that have been with us forever that really hurt. Sometimes they move out of state or choose to stay home with their kids, and there’s nothing you could have done to make them stay. However, this is often not the case. The majority of employees — dentists included — leave because they’re not happy with their current situation for one reason or another.

For dental practices to prosper in today’s growing economy, retaining your quality dentists is absolutely paramount. We’ll explore the direct and indirect costs of losing a dentist, as well as provide you with some well-worn tips for hiring the right dentists, giving them the proper tools to succeed, and fostering a “family-like” culture they’ll never want to leave. Let’s begin.

The direct cost of losing a dentist

It’s a rather expensive process hiring a new employee when you consider the costs associated with advertising, interviewing, screening, and hiring. Then of course it costs even more money to properly train them and provide additional supervision.

The exact amount that losing a dentist can cost your practice can vary greatly, depending on the exact wage and position they held. Highly paid, highly educated dental associates tend to fall into the most extreme tier, setting you back up to 213% of their annual salary, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. For example, a dentist making the national average of $155k could cost you as much as $330,150 to replace. That is quite a staggering sum to consider.

The indirect cost of losing a dentist

Every time someone leaves a place of employment there is an unavoidable ripple effect that occurs. Some of these outcomes can be easily predicted, but others may catch you completely off guard. Here are a few to consider:

  • Time is money: You have to account for the time it took to find a replacement, as well as any other employees who may have filled in for that person’s responsibilities, even temporarily. Nobody’s time is ever free, especially when they could have been using that time to further increase your practice’s profits.
  • Costly mistakes: New employees in general are much more prone to errors, which in the dental industry can lead to costly fixes and lawsuits.
  • Cultural impact: Whenever someone departs, it often leaves coworkers wondering why. When employees see an especially high turnover it can lead to a loss of productivity and possibly even further turnover as they play with the idea of following suit.

If you want to limit these direct and indirect costs, you’re going to need to hold onto your quality dentists for as long as you possibly can. That’s no easy task these days, but there are plenty of strategies that can help, and it all begins at the point of hire.

Hire the right person the first time

The first step in retaining quality dentists is by hiring quality dentists. Of course, that’s much easier said than done, but here are a few tips to ensure you are finding the right associates for your practice:

  • Be specific in your hiring: Are you looking for a dentist with a particular specialty? Would you prefer someone with experience working with children? Perhaps you just need to find a dentist who is willing to work evening hours. Whatever it is, make sure you identify all of your needs first before you even begin the search process. Then, be vocal about those needs with every candidate you bring in. None of this should be a surprise on their first day.
  • Look beyond technical skills: While dental proficiency is an absolute must for any potential candidate, it is by no means the only thing to consider. How good is their communication? Do they have a lot of experience working with patients? Do they have references to vouch for their abilities? The list goes on.
  • Ensure they’re a culture fit: The fact that you hear this one all the time is a good indicator of its importance in the hiring process. If possible, bring as many other staff into the interview process as possible to witness those dynamics at work. How do they interact with other people? Do they share similar ideals and work ethics? Do they have an easygoing personality? There is no way to know 100% if someone will be a cultural fit, but there are definitely red flags to look out for (i.e. are they dismissive, self-absorbed, etc.?).

Ease them into the role

The first few weeks can be a nerve-wracking experience for any new dentist. Thus, it is incredibly important that you do everything in your power to set them up for success from the minute they step foot in the door. Here are several tips for how to do just that:

  • Set expectations early: Before you begin training of any sort, sit them down and go over a list of written expectations. If they know exactly what is expected of them, they’ll be much more likely to meet those goals. This is a two-way street though, as you should also suggest they lay out their expectations of both you and the practice.
  • Provide thorough training: While there’s no way you can be expected to completely train them for absolutely everything in the first day—or even week—the more you do initially the better. If you don’t have the time to personally walk them through everything, provide them with a detailed manual of how things are done. Filming video tutorials is ideal, but if that’s not an option the next best thing is plenty of pictures, diagrams, and detailed descriptions. They may come in with plenty of experience, but no other office is set up exactly like yours.
  • Don’t overwork them: The focus of the first month should be long-term success and not immediate production. It’s a good idea to start them off with no more than 6 or 7 (relatively easygoing) patients. This will allow them the time they need to become familiar with how your practice operates while simultaneously forming quality, lasting relationships.
  • Provide mentorship: Even if you’re hiring a dentist with lots of prior experience, it’s important to spend time with them initially to show them the ropes. It should be more than just shadowing you though. Set aside some time to assist them chairside, providing the safety net they may require right out of the gate. Not only will they learn the job that much quicker, but this is a great way to see how they interact with patients.

Build a pleasant work environment

Now that your new dentist is properly trained and a full member of the team, it’s up to you and the rest of your staff to keep them there. Fortunately, retaining dentists is a lot like retaining employees in any other field, as the following tips show:

  • Respect and appreciate your dentists: As professionals, we all want to feel like a valuable part of the team. A good rule of thumb is to genuinely praise their good work publicly and provide constructive feedback privately.
  • Provide exceptional pay and benefits: If you want to hire exceptional dentists and offer exceptional dental care, then you’re going to need to provide exceptional wages and benefits. Even if you’re not personally looking at the national salary averages, your dental staff might be. We already mentioned the incredibly high costs associated with turnover, so why not allocate some of that money toward the employees you rely on? If no better offer exists, they’ll quickly stop looking.
  • Be a good role model: If you’re not passionate about your dental practice, then why should the rest of your staff be? If you constantly put in the time and energy and treat your patients with the respect they deserve, the rest of your dental team will take notice and follow suit. And if they don’t, it’s a good sign that something isn’t working.
  • Be flexible with scheduling: If possible, allow your dental team to have a say in their own schedules. Everyone’s lives are different, and we tend to know our own the best. Try not to ride them too hard for being a few minutes late or occasionally taking a longer lunch break. A good employee can hold themselves accountable.
  • Provide opportunities for growth: If you’d like your dentists to stick around for 5, 10, or even 20 years, then you have to allow them room to grow. Most people grow bored rather easily and need to be constantly challenged. Once they’ve mastered something, keep putting new responsibilities and titles on their plate—just make sure you reward them appropriately.

Retain your ideal dentists with White & Associates

As your personal dental practice consultant, White & Associates is here to assist you with the business side of things so you can focus on what you do best: providing quality dental care to your patients. We have the industry experience, business expertise, and personal skills necessary to help you assemble—and retain—the most talented team of dentists out there. And when you’re operating at your peak, people notice. Contact us today to bring your practice to the next level—and keep it there.