How The Aspen Group is supporting dentists beyond clinical care

The Aspen Group is advancing a new venture to support its clinical staff and practices.

The Aspen Group recently launched TAG University to offer educational opportunities to providers and staff across its five brands: Aspen Dental, ClearChoice Dental Implant Centers, AZPetVet, WellNow Urgent Care and Chapter Aesthetic Studio.

TAG University offers tailored educational pathways for healthcare providers and staff under four schools covering clinical care, leadership, business and operations and service and support.

The organization is one of several that have recently launched continuing education and training programs to support dental professionals' career development, including business and leadership skills.

So far, the company is projected to have more than 600 Aspen Dental doctors participate in the program.

Senior Director of Doctor Development Peter Vaeth recently spoke with Becker's about The Aspen Group's program and why continuing education has become a priority for healthcare organizations.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: Are you seeing continuing education programs being prioritized more among healthcare organizations?

Peter Vaeth: Yes, definitely, I think for a few reasons. The way we look at it is to really invest in our people. It's a way to continue to invest in their growth and development, as well as a way to create better experiences for our patients. For our dental professionals, as much as we focus on how our dentists can be better as clinicians, we also focus on the entire dentist and all the different ways we can develop them holistically. For example, we help give them skills so they can build better connections with patients, they can meet patients where they are at, so those treatment plans are a collaborative effort. That's how we see the outcomes leading to better care for our patients. 

Q: Is this programming benefitting recruitment efforts as well?

PV: A hundred percent. I've had the opportunity to talk with potential candidates for us and that's a lot of the questions they have, "What are they going to do for me?" Mentorship, for example, is a key selling point for us. By joining Aspen, you have access to over 1,000 mentors within our network of practices, as well as the opportunity to build their reputation. For example, I find that students are really into implantology. It's a standard of care and we offer a very robust curriculum so that always resonates with our students as well. Our doctor onboarding program [is] designed with new graduates in mind to help them get off to a great start in their careers. 

Q: What else is popular among the program's courses?

PV: Anything we do clinically there is a lot of interest in because that's where their foundation is. Dentures are an interesting one [because] that isn't something that has a lot of focus in the dental school, but that is certainly a growing need for our patient base and just across America. So there's an interest in learning more about dentures. We offer different ways, both self-paced and in-person, to learn about that, which leads very naturally into implants and how you deal with terminal dentition patients. There's also interest in clear aligners.

Q: How does TAG University differ from other continuing education programs other DSOs offer?

PV: There are two things to me that stand out: our investment as well as the principles that align with The Aspen Group University. Our investment in learning and our people shows up in many ways. One very conspicuous way it shows up is in the investment in [our Chicago building], so we've got 50,000 square feet dedicated to learning. That includes a mock Aspen Dental office. I was there today as we were coaching them through some role-play scenarios where a doctor plays a patient and a doctor and we run through some treatment planning and case presentation examples to help them get more comfortable with that ... We also have our Oral Care Center for Excellence. We're always investing in our online platform and meeting our learners where they're at. 

It's not just focusing on what dentists do with their hands, the clinical part. While we definitely do that, we do focus on the entire dentist and we focus on their softer skills that help them build confidence in working with patients and their staff as well. That can be effective communication and active listening, for example, broader leadership skills. What our research and understanding show is that what helps patients get the care they need is the trust they build personally. They come in trusting that if you have a dental degree, you know how to do dentistry. But how do you understand the patient? How do you understand what their goals and needs are and how do you align your treatment plan to that so they are willing to invest in their own oral healthcare?

We had a doctor come through our class a couple of weeks ago and sent a really nice note afterward. He talked about how he was nervous getting into his career as a dentist, like "I'm comfortable with the dentistry part, but I wasn't sure what to expect from the people, like new personalities with our patients and working with a practice and staff." After the week he spent here in Chicago with our program, he expressed how much more confident he felt now that we had given him the tools to be able to relate to people, the communication and the listening skills and how much more confident and comfortable he felt going back to his practice now that he had the tools to excel. That's a good example of what we're trying to accomplish here. 

Q: How does The Aspen Group plan to expand this program?

PV: We're always looking to continue to improve and expand. We have built out a fairly robust onboarding program for our doctors and we are starting to add to that. We have plans that take them through their first six months or so, but we are looking to expand that. One of our key principles with TAG U is to meet our learners where they are at. So wherever they're at in their career and however they want to grow, we're going to have the offering for them. So we're continuing to expand that. For example, as you advance in your career and become more interested in becoming a partner or practice owner with us, then the shift from clinical becomes more to leadership and business management. So we're adding in more programming and frameworks beyond that, so at any point in your career, you'll have what you need to continue to grow.

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