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Effective Onboarding for Associate Dentists: A Guide for Owners

Effective Onboarding for Associate Dentists: A Guide for Owners

The onboarding process for Associate Dentists is crucial for establishing a solid foundation for their long-term success. Despite this, many practices take a very ad hoc approach without the proper planning it deserves.

It’s crucial for practice owners and managers to orchestrate an efficient onboarding experience that not only introduces Associate Dentists to the protocols and procedures of the practice but also creates a sense of belonging and alignment with the practice’s values. Doing so will make them feel like valued team members and help them get up to speed as quickly as possible. Here are the key steps to facilitating effective onboarding for a new Associate Dentist:

Pre-Onboarding Preparation: 

Before the Associate Dentist’s first day, ensure all administrative tasks are completed. This includes verifying licenses, indemnity, other credentials, and any necessary documentation for tax or legal purposes. Create a welcome package containing information about the practice’s history, values, team members, and the community it serves.

Orientation Day: 

Provide a comprehensive orientation session to introduce them to the practice’s culture, mission, and core values. Provide an overview of the practice; it’s history, team members, and organisational structure. Explain the practice’s philosophy around patient care, its approach to treatment planning, and its commitment to providing high-quality dentistry. This session can really help Associate Dentists feel connected to the practice from the outset and happy in their decision to join the business.

Practice Tour and Introduction: 

Take the Associate Dentist on a practice tour to familiarise them with the physical layout, treatment rooms, sterilisation areas, lunchroom, and any other key facilities. Introduce them to team members and provide an opportunity for initial interactions in a more relaxed, stress-free environment. It’s important that relationships start off well, and quality interactions will help build a sense of camaraderie and teamwork.

Technology and Systems Training: 

Familiarise the Associate Dentist with the practice’s technology systems, including both hardware and software. This will include the practice management software, any imaging software, 3D scanners, X-ray or CBCT machines, in-office milling facilities, and anything else that your dentists routinely use in the practice. Ensure they receive training on how to navigate these systems efficiently and ensure they feel confident and comfortable in doing so. Having reference material available for them for future reference will prove valuable, as will assigning someone for additional guidance if required.

Review of Policies and Protocols:

 Provide a detailed review of the practice’s policies and protocols. Cover topics such as appointment scheduling, patient communication, treatment planning, insurance and financing, and ethical considerations. Whatever your practice expectations, they must be suitably conveyed at this point to ensure you are on the same page. It is also important to take this opportunity to get to know and understand the views and values of the new Associate Dentist, appreciating they may be transitioning from a very different practice to your own.

The First Day: 

On the first day, it always amazes me how often the Associate is left to simply figure things out for themselves and are, for want of a better expression, “thrown in the deep end”. It can be a good idea to provide the most experienced dental nurse to assist the Associate and help answer any questions they may have as they familiarise themselves with the workings and flow of the practice.

Patient Communication and Protocols: 

You may choose to provide training on patient communication protocols, including how to greet patients, explain treatment options, and address patient inquiries. Emphasise the practice’s commitment to a quality patient experience and the importance of effective communication.

Clinical Training and Shadowing: 

If required, assign a senior dentist or mentor to the Associate Dentist for second opinions, advice, and to aid them if they are struggling clinically. This support can be of great reassurance to the new Associate and allows a level of oversight by the senior dentist from a quality standpoint. Providing opportunities to observe clinical techniques, patient interactions, and practice-specific procedures with them can be of great value to the growth of the Associate.

Treatment Planning and Case Discussions: 

An area newer Associate Dentists often struggle with is Treatment planning, particular for larger cases. Whatever their level of experience, all Associate Dentists benefit from open discussions and conversations that can enhance their clinical decision-making skills. Encourage them to present cases and discuss treatment options with other dentists in the practice.

Professional Development Support: 

Discuss the Associate Dentist’s professional development goals and aspirations. Create a plan for ongoing education, continuing education courses, and mentorship opportunities to help them achieve their career objectives. Opportunities to learn within the practice are free CPD and should be encouraged and valued!

Schedule regular check-ins with the Associate Dentist to assess their progress and address any questions or concerns. This demonstrates your commitment to their success and growth within the practice and helps to build the relationship with them. They can be more frequent in the early stages of their integration and migrate over time to slightly more formal feedback and evaluation session in which you discuss their progress, achievements, and areas for improvement. These sessions provide an opportunity to give constructive feedback to the Associate Dentist that can help them enhance their clinical skills and patient interactions.

In conclusion, effective onboarding for Associate Dentists is a strategic investment that lays the foundation for their success within your practice. By following a comprehensive onboarding process that covers orientation, practice overview, policies and protocols, technology training, clinical procedures, team member introductions and patient interactions, practice owners can ensure that Associate Dentists feel confident, supported, aligned with the practice’s values, and well-prepared to provide high-quality patient care in their new environment. A well-executed onboarding process not only benefits the Associate Dentist but the entire team and the overall success of the dental practice.


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