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Recruitment strategies to overcome staffing shortages in dental offices

February 02, 2022 10138
Young dental professional holds up a paper with the heading

The current hiring market is very competitive, with a shortage of candidates to fill open positions. CDA Practice Support analysts offer their expert guidance to help guide dental practice owners through the process of recruiting, hiring and retaining employees.

Extended wait times, a lack of customer support, abbreviated service hours and even business closures have become part of what is optimistically referred to as this decade’s “new normal.” The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light labor shortages in the United States that were already lurking in the shadows. A combination of declining numbers of working-age adults and a decades-long lull in wage growth existed even before the American workforce began dealing with pandemic-related employee absences and essential-worker fatigue.

Dental practices have been just as susceptible to staffing shortages as other businesses, if not more so. In a November 2021 poll from the ADA Health Policy Institute, results showed nine out of 10 hiring dentists believe it has been “extremely” or “very” challenging to recruit dental hygienists and dental assistants in the past year. Other results from the poll indicated that staffing shortages are the most common limiting factor for practices that want to see more patients.

CDA Practice Support can help dentists navigate what has become a complex and competitive hiring market. Dedicated Practice Support analysts continue to draw on their expertise to workable solutions dentists can use to solve — and prevent — staffing issues. If hiring and retaining qualified employees has been an issue for your practice, tap into the collective advice of the Practice Support team as you recruit, hire and retain desirable candidates.

Think like a job seeker

When you needed an assistant yesterday, it can be difficult to think about anything beyond the job description you’re posting. But in a competitive hiring market, it’s imperative that you consider what will make the job you are posting stand out from the others job seekers are scrolling past — and not just those in the dental profession. One phenomenon of the current job market is that many employees are leveraging their skills to find jobs in other industries, particularly if those sectors offer better wages, benefits or schedules.

Before adding your help-wanted notice to the dozens of others out there, ask yourself, “Why would a candidate want to work for me?” If your answer relies on wages and benefits, make sure what you have to offer sets you apart from other practices in your area. If you really want to step up your hiring game, consider offering additional perks of employment that make your practice the one good candidates seek out.

  • Evaluate the compensation you are offering. Many dentists are hesitant to increase starting wages, even when it would position them to attract more job candidates. Katie Fornelli, CDA’s senior practice management analyst, encourages hiring dentists to think of long-term benefits and cost savings of offering competitive wages. “Offering $2 more per hour equates to just over $4K spent per year. Compared to the cost of hiring and training new employees who end up jumping to the next higher-paying job, it may be worth the increase in your hiring wage.” Indeed, the Society for Human Resource Management estimates that employers spend an average of $4,425 per job in hiring costs.

Fornelli does offer a word of caution to practice owners regarding competitive competition, explaining, “This does not suggest you offer a wage that is beyond your profit margin.” She suggests setting a budget for staff compensation and ensuring that staff overhead costs remain below your collections margin.

  • Practice owners should take a hard look at how the benefits they offer stack up against those of other employers in their community. If you aren’t offering them to your employees already, additional vacation days, a floating holiday, medical coverage, a 401(k) plan and even pet insurance can entice a potential candidate to accept a position. Little perks can go a long way when it comes to positioning your practice at the top of a job candidate’s list.

Ashley Reich, CDA’s senior learning and development specialist, adds, “A differentiator for some dental practices is offering to pay licensing fees and costs for C.E. courses for their dental assistants and hygienists. These are pretty nominal expenses but are added value in retaining staff. “

  • New hire bonuses can be the icing on the cake when an offer of employment is extended. To encourage retention, the hiring bonus may be divided into two payments ― one at the start of employment and another after a designated employment period.
  • Think outside the 9-to-5 workday to expand your pool of job applicants. “I am hearing that many people still are not returning to work because the hours do not fit into their family schedules,” notes Fornelli. Flexible scheduling could be the key to attracting employees to your practice. You might offer a schedule that would allow some employees to finish their workday at 3 p.m. a few days per week to be available for after-school pickup and care. Creating half-day schedules or a 4-day week are other potential options that will appeal to qualified candidates who are currently unable to commit to a traditional full-time schedule.

Recruit like a peacock

In the bird world, male peafowl are masters of recruitment. Their showy tail feathers make an eye-catching display designed to attract many potential mates. When it comes to finding, attracting and retaining employees to fill open positions in your practice, you should recruit like a peacock to draw a wide range of possible candidates to your practice. “You want to expand the talent pool of viable candidates as much as possible by utilizing different sources,” explains CDA Practice Support Analyst Michelle Coker, PHR, PHRca. “Recruiting is not about hiring the first person you have interviewed for the position.”

While you may already have a go-to website for posting job openings, Practice Support analysts point out that one hiring tactic is not enough these days. They encourage practice owners to expand their talent pool by broadening their efforts to advertise for candidates.

  • Incentivize your employees to recruit. Birds of a feather flock together. Chances are good that someone you’ve already hired will have at least one good lead on a potential new hire. Make sure your staff knows about any positions you are trying to fill and encourage them to promote open jobs to friends and family, as well as on their social media channels. Offering referral bonuses is a good way to encourage your current employees to join in recruiting efforts.
  • Develop ongoing relationships with schools. CDA Practice Support Analyst Matthew Nelson says that some of the best recruiting success he’s seen recently comes from dentists who are willing to volunteer their time at dental assistant training programs. This could take the form of a short presentation to a class on what doctors are looking for in employees, providing feedback on X-rays or taking the students on a tour of your office.

“It gets you right in front of all the prospective employees and builds valuable relationships with the staff at the school,” Nelson explains. “Don’t be the dentist calling to ask the school if they have someone for you. Be the dentist that fosters the relationships with schools, so they want to send you their best students. Or better yet, build those relationships with the students directly so they all want to come work for you.”

  • Get social. Use your practice’s social media channels to announce job openings. Coker also encourages practice owners to explore the many social media groups that offer opportunities for dentists and dental staff to post available jobs. “Los Angeles Dental Peeps or Sacramento Dental Hygiene Subs are two very active Facebook groups, and I often see posts there from CDA members looking for long- and short-term employees,” she notes.

Another place to connect with potential employees is the CDA Career Center, which offers practice owners and job seekers an easy way to connect through job alerts, customized profiles, a resume bank and much more. When it’s appropriate to do so, Practice Support analysts also suggest asking your patients if they know anyone who would be a good fit for your hiring needs.

  • Think outside the box. In a competitive hiring market, it may be necessary to get creative with your hiring process. Practice owners should consider opening positions to candidates with excellent customer service skills in other employment areas and then provide training in dental technical skills. Coker explains, “If you’re able to step back and spend some time developing the role, you expand the field to more diverse candidates.”

CDA has been working to address the shortage of dental assistance through the Smile Crew CA program. Created to provide interested individuals the opportunity to learn more about a career in dental assisting, Smile Crew CA also lets participants submit their information for interest in a training program. Since its launch, CDA has piloted four Smile Crew CA training bootcamps in the Bay Area and San Diego with additional locations planned.

Value current employees

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Employee turnover is costly, it affects the overall performance of your practice, and in the current job market it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract and hire experienced candidates. Not all turnover is harmful ― a new employee may be more skilled or productive than their predecessor, but frequent staff changes can have a negative effect on your practice.

For this reason, employee retention is a good barometer for measuring the overall well-being of your practice as a business. If you find yourself seeking new employees with increasing regularity, it’s time to step back and evaluate what may be enticing them away from your practice. CDA Practice Support analysts can offer an unbiased perspective on your business practices and provide guidance to help address any issues that may be affecting employee satisfaction.

Along with the competitive wages, benefits and employment perks, good practice management is essential to retaining employees

  • Communicate job descriptions and expectations clearly. An employee manual can provide clarity and consistency.
  • Employee performance evaluations offer a clear channel for opening communication designed to help employees learn and grow. These can also provide a standard for offering recognition, promotion and bonuses.
  • Prioritize and promote diversity and inclusion within your office. According to statistics compiled by Medium, the benefits of a welcoming, safe and diverse workplace include higher revenue, more innovation, higher job acceptance rates and better performance among employees.
  • Provide opportunities for growth. In addition to supporting continuing education, practice owners can foster growth by giving employees more responsibilities. New opportunities keep employees from being bored with their jobs and encourage them to take more pride in their work.
  • Celebrate small milestones. Taking the time to notice and acknowledge employee achievements and milestones promotes a culture of positivity.

The challenges of finding and hiring qualified candidates may be ongoing but are not insurmountable. By offering competitive wages and benefits, utilizing a variety of recruiting tactics and making retention a priority, you can position your practice as one that will draw a large pool of qualified candidates.

As a benefit of CDA membership, access CDA guidance by phone and email, as well as a full library of resources, forms and guides.