Solving Staffing Shortages in Dentistry

By Dr. David Ahearn, DDS, Founder and President of Design Ergonomics

The demographic experts are sure that the dental office staffing shortage problem is not going away soon. Half of dental practices are currently seeing high demand, but a reduced ability to serve client needs due to a lack of employees. Dentists that I speak with often sound like hostages. I think … no, I’m sure, that we need to think differently about this. We’re manufacturing! What do other manufacturers do when faced with labor constraints?

Companies in the manufacturing sector would:

  • Simplify working systems to reduce labor, increase consistency and make it easier for new team members to get up to speed!
  • Automate and streamline every process, especially those that the customer is unwilling to pay for! Things like sterilization and lab management – important but not fee-generating.
  • And, if necessary, redo inefficient equipment to gain greater productivity.

Think of it this way … one dentist produces at the national average of under $430 an hour. Now subtract an average overhead. In order to earn a wage equal to your accountant (who has much smaller student loans), you would have to work 32 hours per week just to break even. But remember – that’s just clinical time. It doesn’t include all of the other time required to manage the practice, diagnose, and train staff, etc.

However, if it became easy to double production with the same labor, suddenly you have a whole range of choices that are in your control:

  • You could pay people more (remember, you’re paying them more!).
  • You could get more staff.
  • You could even do more and more dentistry. The choice would be yours!
  • You could cut back hours and have less of a staff problem without hiring.
  • You could run two shifts with the same space and make your office the most productive practice in your entire region.

Again, the choice would be yours as to how you take advantage of the situation – rather than being the victim! But to do this you have to know how to double your productivity.

Now I know that staffing issues get even more bothersome when you factor in higher wages. So many doctors are just plain angry about this. Here’s my take on that. I’ve made a promise to myself not to have a heart attack over something that I do not, and cannot, control. Ever.

The reality is clear. We are very upset by staffing shortages. But over 90% of the dental workforce remains. They are not hostages … and neither are you. They have a choice of where to work. Your goal is to have them choose you. If you want the best team, become the best office with the highest customer satisfaction and the highest productivity. That means getting more treatment done in less time, in less space, at a lower production cost.

Being more efficient will improve your staffing issues and create a better patient experience. You know … your patient really doesn’t love having you take longer to do a procedure because you’re inefficient. In fact, they hate that! Nobody ever asked if they could have a root canal take longer!

We owe it to our patients to be organized and efficient and many of the best offices with the highest satisfaction rating from their patients are three, or even four, times more productive than the average practice. These offices are then able to use the revenue generated to significantly increase their service offering. Clearly, we cannot change the fact that there are fewer employees than there are positions available. But the great news is that you exclusively control the outcome. People are willing to change positions. Now, your job is to attract them, advance them, and make the investment pay.

If you have any questions about these issues, please feel free to reach out to my team at Design Ergonomics.


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David AhearnDr. David Ahearn, DDS, Founder and President of Design Ergonomics and Ergonomic Products.

To learn a little more about my journey in dentistry, and other principles you can apply to make your practice a fun, easy, and productive place to work, take a look at our This Can All Be Easier playlist on YouTube.

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