Business Employee vs. Assistant. Who to Hire First?
You could say it’s a bit like the chicken or the egg analogy - which comes first, the business employee or the doctor’s assistant? For dentists early in their careers, few can afford to hire multiple employees, so they typically must choose between hiring an assistant and hiring a business employee initially.
Certainly, there are advantages and disadvantages to hiring either employee at the outset. It may make more sense for a dentist to look for an assistant with front desk experience. In addition, if the new practice has computers in the operatories, many of the front desk duties can be handled chairside, such as scheduling appointments and collecting payments. There are benefits to hiring a front desk person who can assist when necessary and benefits to hiring an assistant who can handle the front desk duties. Presumably, if the doctor has an assistant s/he can work out of two rooms and that helps to increase production.
However, the decision also depends on how long a dentist has been practicing. Recent graduates typically have not worked with an assistant. Therefore, in a new practice, it makes more sense for the doctor to seriously consider hiring someone who can make a good first impression. The practice is likely to have a greater need for someone who can answer the phones and represent the practice well to patients. This person will probably have to assist somewhat chairside, but being able to help establish critical business systems early is essential, which leads me to my next point.
If the dentist is hiring an employee to perform both jobs temporarily, s/he should hire for the business skills. That person needs to be nurturing and friendly, but they also need an analytical and logical side because they will be handling insurance, asking patients for money, and organizing the schedule. A new dentist wants to look for someone that they would like to keep on staff for many years. Not just any employee will work out well in a new practice.
New dentists need a staff member who brings the “whole package.” This person needs to be able to multi-task, they need enthusiasm, and they need almost an ownership mentality. Those with a strong work ethic and an excellent attitude tend to succeed the most in this kind of an environment because you can train for skill but you can’t train attitude and commitment.
If you are trying to choose the right employee for the two positions, the doctor needs to consider far more than simply “is the candidate likable?” The individual’s temperament/personality profile should be considered. For example, someone with a more extroverted personality will typically be more comfortable in a position in which s/he must work with people all day. Assistants generally may be more emotionally based in what Myers-Briggs refers to as a “feeling” temperament, as opposed to what Myers-Briggs calls “thinking” types in that they are more analytical and logical. Clinical assistants tend to be more feeling in nature. If this person is also responsible for the business duties, she might have to stretch beyond her comfort zone particularly when handling collections, scheduling, and those areas of the practice that require more assertive practice/patient communication skills.
Temperament testing as well as employee assessment tests are recommended, so the doctor can determine if the candidate is a good fit for the dual role position and the prospective employee can understand where s/he may need additional training. Additional training will be essential to help this employee know what to say to patients when discussing financial arrangements, following up on unscheduled treatment, confirming appointments, etc. Moreover, if the doctor is relying on one person to perform both jobs, the expectation should be that the other position will be filled in 3-6 months and definitely no longer than one year.
But which position is going to have greater impact on overhead expenses? Consider a few other essential variables besides cost when hiring an employee, in particular, quality of staff. You want to hire someone who is going to reflect the level of quality dentistry that you deliver to your patients. That will then help the dentist to be more productive and more efficient, and enable them to pay a higher wage and grow the practice. The two do go hand-in-hand. In the short-term, a highly credentialed assistant will likely demand a higher wage than a business employee, unless that person is a business manager.
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