05.01.09 Issue #373 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Spouses in the Dental Practice
Thorny Issue or Bed of Roses

by Sally McKenzie CEO
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The day before Nicole and Dr. Dan celebrated their first wedding anniversary Dr. Dan came home from work and explained to his wife that he had good news and bad news. The good: A difficult employee was no longer with the practice. The bad: Dr. Dan needed his wife to step in and help in the office part-time.

Dental spouses become dental employees for a number of reasons. In some cases it is out of necessity, or the office is temporarily shorthanded, or finances warrant that the spouse step in so the practice can avoid incurring additional payroll expenses. In other cases, the couple feels strongly that it is in the best interest of the business for the spouse to work in the practice. In some instances both are dentists and are building their practice together.

Some couples readily admit they would not choose to work with their spouse for many reasons. Yet in dentistry, couples frequently run the practice together. In those situations in which the couples work well together a few key characteristics tend to emerge. First and foremost, they genuinely respect and appreciate each other. They enjoy spending a lot of time together. They can handle dealing with the practice headaches, joys, and frustrations day-in and day-out. A good sense of humor is helpful and a great deal of patience is a must. But, above all else, in those practices in which doctor and spouse work effectively together, practice systems are clearly defined as are employee responsibilities and duties.

Clearly defining the role of the dental spouse is one of the most critical elements to building a positive and effective team environment. Dental teams must clearly understand who has the authority in the practice.

There are certain things that the staff will go to the spouse for and other things they will go to the doctor for, but both doctor and spouse need to be singing from the same page. They can’t go to one person and get one answer and go to the other and get another answer. Moreover, doctor and spouse can never argue about protocol or policy in front of the team. If the two don’t agree, those differences need to be ironed out away from the staff.

If staff perceive that the spouse and not the dentist is the final authority, it creates confusion among the team, particularly if it is clear the doctor and the spouse are not in agreement on practice policies and procedures.  Bottom-line: There can only be one person who runs the office.

Separate home and office. Understandably, it can be difficult to leave work at work. The key is to draw the line on practice talk. Perhaps you agree that you will talk about work on the ride home, but once you walk in the house office talk stays out. In addition, if there is an issue that needs to be resolved. It should be handled before you leave the office for the day. Establish regular administrative meeting times to address practice issues away from the family and the practice. This is for strategizing, just like management would meet with the president of the company. It shouldn’t be over dinner at the kitchen table.

Avoid the temptation to bring work home. While it is common to bring business issues home, dental spouses also can mistakenly bring personal issues into the practice creating distractions for the entire team.

For those of you just coming into a practice, watch and learn first. Make the effort to understand why the practice follows certain procedures. We’ve seen spouses come into a practice pledging to “clean things up” yet they understand very little about the business. We’ve encountered spouses who didn’t comprehend why the doctor couldn’t just cut staff salaries. We’ve seen others who insisted that staff shop for the “right price” for dental supplies in an effort to skim pennies –literally – off supply costs without ever considering how much staff time that exercise would cost. And we’ve seen spouses complain to staff routinely about how much things were costing the practice as if it were their fault.

Use financial information wisely. Spouses that come into the practice to manage finances should be trained and clearly understand what is considered a healthy overhead. Financial information should never be used as a weapon against the staff.

Next week, barely surviving or truly thriving in the family business.

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com.

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