Read the audio transcript below:
Dr. Luisa Schult (LS): Hello everybody. Welcome to Brush Up! I’m Dr. Luisa Schuldt, the host today. I’m also a dual specialist in Prosthodontics and Periodontics, based out of Font Hill, Ontario. As our guest today, we have Dr. James Younger. Hello James! Thanks for joining us today. James is a practicing dentist and also founder and CEO of Tempstars, a company that does dental temping services and hiring services. Welcome! Can you tell us a little bit more about you?
Dr. James Younger (JY): Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be here and really excited to talk about what’s on everyone’s mind these days. So I’ve been a dentist for 23 years. I still practice and work out of a mental health hospital. I also do volunteer down the street at a clinic for the homeless and those who don’t have access to good dental care so I’m very much a wet-handed dentist. I’ve really enjoyed that but most of the time I’m really dedicated to leading and growing Tempstars. As a service, we right now connect I think over 7000 dental offices and 17,000 dental hygienists and assistants with temping and hiring. It really does give us a fairly unique and broad perspective in terms of what a job market looks like – what’s on the minds of dental professionals, what’s on the minds of dental office owners and managers, so I’m just really happy to be here and offer any thoughts or insights I can.
LS: Thank you so much for introducing yourself and that kind of leads perfectly into my very first question. I would like to ask you about something I’ve heard a lot over the last few years as dentists have, in general, had quite a few challenges in finding new, valuable team members to bring into their practices. Do you have any ideas about why these challenges have presented?
JY: So there’s kind of a breakdown into pre-COVID and post-COVID situations, right? Before COVID there was just sort of typical job market pressures and things like that, of supply and demand of available people for work in offices looking and things like that. But it’s interesting because the job market has been cyclical. I remember 15 years ago if I was looking for a dental hygienist for my team, I would put an ad out and by the time I got home I would have 400 applications for this one position, people willing to travel hours for the position, and things like that. So it is cyclical and it certainly has swung the other way. COVID has had its impact on that and so with the exacerbating factors right now, it’s really multifactorial, so one of the things about COVID was dental hygiene and dental assistant schools. They were slowing down the graduation rate because students were getting sidelined a bit from clinical hours and things like that, so the influx of new dental professionals into the field was getting curved away. Now I will also mention this situation for dentistry, it’s not unique to dentistry. So we’re across North America now and everywhere I go, any state in the US or province in Canada, it fits the same challenge of finding and keeping good people but not just dentistry. So one of the interesting things that COVID has done in the job market in general is it’s made it more challenging for people to find and keep good people in roles where you can’t do it remotely, so the roles that physically require a person to be there to do the thing, every industry that requires that is facing a challenge and a shortage of available people to work with. So whether it’s construction, restaurant, health care, all of those, there’s just these factors that sometimes from a safety standpoint where there’s a perception of maybe people don’t want to go back into physical roles where they have to go in. And I think that there’s probably a factor that during COVID, a lot of people were working remotely and there’s a lot of jobs you can do remotely, so people who can’t do that were seeing their friends and colleagues and family members going to meetings in their pajamas, and things like that, and thinking “hey that looks pretty good. I wonder if I can do that?” So there has been a little bit of what I would call an out-flux from these jobs and professions that require people to be there, and dentistry just falls under that as well. So the current challenges right now, I would say, are related to that. There has been people leaving the dental profession position, dental hygienist and dental assistansts, for other roles in other professions. And then there is a perception of safety sometimes – whether it’s real or just perceived – but some hesitancy about going back into the dental profession, seeing patients and things like that. Then it also comes to the surface where people might not love the job they had, or maybe they didn’t necessarily like where they were working, and there was a pause in that work and people were reflecting on their work lives and saying “Do I want to go back to that office? Do I want to go back to that situation? Are there alternatives?” So before COVID, dentists would sometimes, I mean if you use the word compete I guess, for other dental offices for good people, but now dentistry’s finding itself competing for other industries to finding keep good people, whether it’s the government or other industries or remote jobs or things like that. It’s kind of drawing away the employment pool for people available for these jobs. Now, it’s a challenge; it’s not a disaster, it’s an opportunity for office owners and managers to respond to that, but it’s definitely a factor. And it’s not just one; it’s graduates, maybe people close to retirement, they think maybe during COVID it was time to decide to retire. Maybe there’s some hesitancy with all of them so it’s very multifactorial, but they kind of came together as a perfect storm to create this job market we’ve got where they just is this overall shortage of people to work in dental offices.
LS: So you’d say slower influx – kind of just summing things up – slower influx and then the impact of COVID leading some people to leave, even though this is a highly specialized field, and even hygienists who’ve gone through extensive training for what they do. They may be either pivoting or leaving the profession earlier.
JY: It’s unfortunate that there’s fantastic people and there’s certainly a patient need for access to care and things like that, but I go to dental hygiene association conventions – I travel all over and I speak to hundreds and hundreds of dental professionals regularly – and I just do hear there’s a little bit of a trend of people trying to find alternatives. A dental hygienist I spoke to couple weeks ago, I think she’s working maybe one or two days a week now, but she’s also decided to work for a laboratory, to go and train there. She likes dentistry, loves the dental office environment, but she’s working with a dental lab to go in and train for digital impressions and things like that to offset that. Because also dentistry is hard on your body and then there’s a lot of repetitive stress syndrome and things like that for shoulders and neck and wrists and joints and things like that.
LS: So one of the things that COVID didn’t impact, or temporarily impacted, is the number of patients that still require care. It with some hygienists or assistants leaving the profession, we still have patients requiring dental care, so we need to replace those team members since some teams are growing as well. What resources do you think dentists can find great value in when they’re searching for these new team members?
JY: So part of it is, and again it’s funny there’s never a one factor answer for these things, but if I was to sum it up, what I would say is the most critical thing – if someone is looking to find and retain good people and grow their team in that direction – fundamentally, it’s to be the office and to be the team and to be the leader or to be the manager that attracts and retains good people. And I’m sure we all know there are some dental offices and dental office owners and managers that would say “Ah, where are all the good people?” but I think it’s an opportunity for self reflection, to say “Are we creating a work-life? Are we creating respect for dental professionals? Are we creating a culture that attracts and retains good people to our team?” So I know it sounds a little cheesy, but the first thing to me is to be in office with the team, be a leader, be a manager, have a culture that deserves to find and retain good people, because that’s your garden. That’s what’s going to grow that and make it happen. So if you have that and you work on that internally, when you’ve got that as a foundation then that allows you the opportunity to network with better professionals, go to trade shows, use Indeed, use personal connections, use recruiting agencies or temping services, all of those different things, to find that pool. Kajiji, wherever you want, Facebook, anything like that. There’s a frustration there. Sometimes there’s an opportunity for more insight to say one of the factors you might not be able to find great people is we’ve got to first work on your house. You gotta say “Do we create that environment that we respect dental professionals? Do we have a team? How do we build better?” When it’s all those different things that you think of almost like a marketing funnel. It’s the top of the funnel; you get as many people in for interviews as you can. Work on your values, work on your culture, so that you know the right person whose right for the role, so there’s clarity there. But there’s just a lot of different channels that somebody might find an open position at your office, and that’s kind of the first step. But what happens after they found it and send in that application?
LS: What you’re mentioning also leads to how important retention is for our current team members, making sure they feel valued, respected, and that they’re in a home-type environment. Somewhere they feel safe, especially with COVID, because they do talk to each other. Even if the other assistants or potential assistance and hygienists aren’t part of our team now, they hear about our team before they even put in on that application.
JY: That’s a great point, Luisa. We all also know in the dental office that people are just applying whether or not they have a job open or not. They’re just dropping their application off, saying “you call me when you have an opening,” because those are the offices that really do at least have an easier time, regardless of the job market, of finding and retaining those great people because they have that reputation they got from dental professionals, and they are known as a place where people want to go and work.
LS: That’s really valuable, it’s true. Having those applications and saving them, these are people that very likely would be great team members once a spot’s available. They are outgoing, they’re already looking to join the team, bring a certain enthusiasm with them. So making sure that everybody in the community knows just what a wonderful workplace this is. It’s the word of mouth. I think another challenge that dentists find is once they do have that valuable team member, how can they smoothly integrate them into the team, what good onboarding process is, and helping the current team feel that this is one more family member, make our patients feel that they’re getting the same level of care from each and everyone in the office. Would you have some recommendations for that smooth onboarding process?
JY: You know – I’ve been as guilty at this as anyone – one strategy, if you call it a strategy, that’s not uncommon and, like I said early days guilty of this too, is the sink or swim. You’re hired, here’s your first day and good luck. It’s almost like if they succeed it shows that they have the clinical skills and that dedication. You could almost argue that, you know, if they succeed in that environment then they deserve to be on the team. And that can work in an environment where there’s an oversupply of people where maybe you get to choose from, where you have 400 applications for one position. But when you’re in a job market where you need to have systems in place that allow you to broaden the pool of people who can succeed at your office, that’s when it really is incumbent on the leaders and managers or the owners to refine the systems they have. Because with the sink or swim, maybe 15% of people will make it. So if you have 15 applicants then 15% of those might succeed on that, but if you have the right systems in place, if you have the right onboarding in place, and you have the right coaching in place, in the feedback and all of that, I’m sure you quadruple the size of the people who can succeed at your office. So if you are only getting a few applicants, if it’s a tough job market, it really is if you have those foundations then at least you’re maximizing the chance that the person you hire will succeed at your office. One of the things I talk about often is that I think that dentist owners and managers, sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to this, but I think it’s important from a starting point to determine what the values of the dental office are, because it’s important to convey those values of what’s to the candidate early on so they use this as guideposts to say “This is what the values of the office are, this is what the culture of the office is, and you use that as sort of this unspoken guidance to say how people conduct themselves in your office. And values are different! There’s dental offices that only value clinical care as a top thing, so you need to be the top best clinician if you’re going to work there. Where there’s some would say “Yes, we care about good quality patient care but we really value the pleasing patient experience and friendliness and happiness”, but some could care less about that. So there’s always a spectrum. But to find a good fit, we’ve got to be clear on what your office is about, what is your team about, what is your culture, and what do you value as a team that can at least help you select that right person. Then you’re not throwing them for a loop or they’re not blindsided if you’re saying “Okay, this is what it’s like to work here and this is how we’re going on board you” and letting you provide feedback and coaching in those early days. But it’s in line with the things that you believe about how your dental offices runs. I can keep going or do you have a follow up question?
LS: No, I’m enjoying all these recommendations you’re giving and it all sounds like things that we should all be putting into practice. Not even just in dental, like even physicians offices or other areas of healthcare. These are great recommendations for everybody. So yeah, thank you so much.
JY: And that’s almost from a soft skill standpoint, but even just pragmatically the idea of having clear, standard operating best practices. Like a manual for your office, right? So everything is clear. But then maybe linking someone up with a more experienced person in the office to be their guide about foreign culture the first few months, doing frequent check ins to say that you’ve hired someone, and say “Okay, we’re going to see you in three months for your three month review,” is a recipe that goes along with that sink or swim. Frequent check ins everyday for the first week (how did it go today) but don’t be afraid to do those early course corrections and nudges if you see someone’s going off the rails. You have to take the initiative to say “Hey, today was a great day but I notice this and I just want you to know this is kind of how we do things, like just want to make sure you’re headed down the right track here, so let’s just make sure we’re heading in this direction.” It’s so much easier to do constant course corrections and coaching than to wait for three months, six months, nine months reviewed before you’ve got this big list of things a person needs to change.
LS: I think something that can guarantee team members someone really valuable or potentially really valuable for practice is having different software than the previous one they’ve worked on. Then they see what we’re doing in our office or the type of software, just whatever’s in process, and they just find it different or daunting, so making sure they know that they will have the support to become familiar with the software or whatever protocols we have in the office can be really valuable.
JY: That’s a great point and really everything that you can do. Again, in this job market too, it matters that much more. But you’re right. Setting anybody up for success for anything – the technology, the software systems, anything they need to be set up for successes – as quickly as possible. Yeah that’s huge.
LS: As you we’re mentioning, that hygienist that was interested in lab and digital technologies, if one office that they worked in previously had a lot less or a lot more and then they’re switching that mindset. It can definitely take some time to make sure that this person’s comfortable.
JY: Even for our team, when someone joins our team at Tempstars, as I learned along the way for owning a dental practice, it’s so much better for someone’s onboarding – rather than the analogy of standing across the room and telling them something versus standing beside them and walking with them, so that you’re more of a coach and saying “Okay, this is how we do it, this is how it goes,” versus standing across the room saying “do this, do that, don’t do that.” So really try to make the person feel connected to the office, to the leadership, and to a mentor or a or a colleague with them in the office working closely with them along the way, that makes a lot of difference.
LS: Now, that mentor walking with them, that’s a really impactful image. Great analogy. How about retention? Once we’ve found that team member, they’ve been successfully onboarded, we know all that investment in time and in their training, we want to keep them happy, we want to keep them in the office. What recommendations would you have at that point for the offices?
JY: Well, I guess if to sum up as an overarching theme, it’s just don’t take anything for granted. Don’t take the situation for granted, don’t take the person for granted, don’t assume that everything is going perfectly well for them and that they are happy there, although they might be. But communication – it’a just going back to the foundations of good communication, constant check ins. But, to me, what keeps a person working at a dental officer or any organization, is that if you can create what they feel is their work home, where they belong or they’re treated with respect, especially in a dental office. And even checking in with them. You can even do this at the interview process by asking “What’s most important to you and makes you feel satisfied in your work environment,” right? And maybe even doing some surveys to say “What are things that we could do in the dental office that would make this feel more like their work home?” Because that’s kind of what people want. They want to feel like they belong there, they want to feel like they fit in with the rest of the team. And just to circle back too – why it’s so fundamental to spend some time thinking about the values of the office. If you know the values of the office in the things that are important, it increases the culture. Then you select for somebody who fits your culture, that person’s a lot more likely to stick around because now they found a place that feels like their work home. So it’s creating that sense. Of course, there’s the general things; I mean everybody knows inflation is going up, hourly rates in all industries are going up, so you do have to compensate for at least market rates, type of thing. But when I speak with dental hygiene associations and groups of dental professionals, one of my big messages is you have to value your entire work experience and don’t go chasing those extra dollars per hour. Because we could, but it doesn’t mean that you’re going to find somewhere where you feel like you belong and respected and things like that. So it’s not always about “Oh, you keep good people always just by paying the best,” when you have to pay well and you have to pay a respectable amount for the job market in this situation and the person’s experience. But it really has to be bolstered up by creating that environment with that sense of belonging, work home, respect and professionalism. But everybody’s valid and each person who works in the dental office might value different things in different levels, so it does matter to just check in with people or even in the interview process. And just make sure that it’s a good fit and that what they value and what they feel is work home are things that you offer and provide at your dental office or wherever they work.
LS: I think that everybody who enters the dental field, they enter it with hopes and dreams and this idea of what it’s going to be. You go to school with this illusion and excitement, so finding that reason for excitement and making sure that what they wanted their profession to be, their job to be, is actually something they enjoy. What a great thing, to be able to do something you love all day.
JY: Absolutely. To me too, it’s important that if you can build a sense of purpose into what everyone is doing each day, that it’s not as flat of a motivation of “We need to make more money for the dental office and for the owners” and things like that, right? The offices that build the sense of purpose and vision and mission into the things that they’re doing on a day-to-day basis and keep the team together and aligned in that direction, it’s good for business to do that. All of those financial things, that as business people we’re all pursuing, and that’s what helps our team support themselves and their family. So we can’t ignore the business realities, but they can be aligned with providing good patient care and aligning ourselves along with a vision for what the dental office is trying to accomplish. Its good for people but it’s also good for business. So it’s not as though they were in tension with each other.
LS: Our patients will perceive the overall environment they’re walking into. If it’s a team of people who are enjoying what they do, love what they do, want to provide care, then patients will appreciate that.
JY: Everybody has that radar – you walk into a dental office and three seconds later you know if there’s tension at the front desk or people are fighting in the back or things like that, versus you’re welcoming and responding to patients kindness and things like that. Absolutely that attracts more patients. They like that environment, of course.
LS: I am really grateful for the time you spent with me today, chatting about retaining team members, finding team members. I think the information you provided to us is going to help a lot of dentists out there over the next little while, trying to fill those teams with talented people and retain them. So thank you for this conversation.
JY: Well, thank you Louisa. I want to say, anything I can add to the conversation that can help all of our fellow dental professionals, I’m really happy to. So thanks for the opportunity.
LS: It was a pleasure; thank you so much.
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