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Thursday Troubleshooter: Dental office manager baffled and frustrated with ‘new’ dentist


I’ve been working for this dentist for three years. She bought the former dentist’s practice. I’m the office manager. The team has weekly meetings to discuss the previous week. These meetings are supposed to be positive, but they’ve turned into nothing but negativity.

Here’s some background on me. I’ve been an OM for more than 17 years and I’m good at my job. I love our patients and they love me. I never miss work unless absolutely necessary, and I pride myself on doing a great job. I have the insurance game down pat and we never have a claim over 60 days. I just don’t know what more I can do. I can’t do anything to satisfy this dentist. I’m searching for a new job, but there’s not a lot of options right now and I can’t afford to quit.

The dentist is very moody and the staff walks on eggshells most days. I’ve confronted her about these issues, but she says it’s her practice and she’ll run it like she wants. She came from a corporate dental office and doesn’t understand that a private office is a lot different. Do you have any suggestions for me? Thank you!

Answer From Laura Hatch:

I’m sorry to hear that you’re not seeing eye to eye with your doctor, and I know this can be very frustrating. It sounds like you’re an awesome office manager and she’s lucky to have you. Also, I don’t believe the issue is you. I think the issue is more you and the dentist not being on the same page about what’s important, as well as how staff meetings should be run. Here are a few of my thoughts and some ideas that you can take back to the dentist.

1) First, it’s important for you to understand that dentists are very rarely trained in running a business.

Even if this dentist came from a corporate background, she probably didn’t learn the business side of things and therefore may not look at running the dental office the same way you do. It’s important to recognize this and understand that your role as an office manager is to help her start thinking more like a businessperson and a little less like a dentist. I would suggest that you talk to her about your great results and statistics as the office manager, and maybe even share some data on what’s recommended for dental offices, such as in the areas of accounts receivable and collections. Help her learn more about where the numbers should be and show her how great your office is doing.

2) Next, I think you need to have a heart to heart discussion with her about how hard it is to have meetings with her when she is so negative.

I would let her know that when she becomes negative about a subject, it makes it very hard on you to fix things versus if she worked with you to come up with positive solutions. Explain to her that her negativity wears down the team and it’s hard for you to want to go the extra mile for her when she is so negative. She may think you’re strong enough to handle her attitude and not realize the effect it’s having on you. I suggest reading my article on DentistryIQ titled, Does your dental office manager job feel more like a bad marriage?

3) Ask her what she’s looking for in an office manager and how you can do a better job for her.

I know that you have a ton of experience and you’re doing great, but it’s important for her to tell you what she expects because she might not be looking at the same things you are. You two need to get on the same page regarding what is important to her. Demonstrate how well you do things and she might realize how great she has it with you.

4) I would suggest restructuring your meetings.

Discussing the past week is not the best approach. You can’t change what happened last week. I suggest structuring the meetings to set a game plan for the coming week. I think that you and the dentist need to discuss what you want to happen during the next week. Then you can ask her what’s important to her and how you two can make those things happen. This will seem more like a team effort versus a review of what went wrong.

5) It’s important that you go into your meeting with her with the right attitude.

I think you need to reset the expectations between you and her as it seems like what worked for the last doctor does not work with this dentist. Just having the conversation and showing her what goes into running a dental office can change the way she views how the office is running. This is actually why I wrote my book, Step Away From The Drill. The first step in helping your doctor work with you in a more positive way is to have her understand how much she impacts the culture of the office with her attitude and knowing what she can expect from the front office team.

I hope this helps and that your doctor, with the right information and communication, will realize how counterproductive the meetings currently are for you and your office. I wish you luck!

Want to read more Q&A’s with Laura? Click here to read them, or visit our Ask Laura page.

Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.