The greatest dental staffing challenges & how 2 DSOs are handling them

As the dental industry grapples with a staffing shortage exacerbated by the pandemic, some DSOs are getting creative, developing innovative solutions to continue serving patients with high-quality care.

Becker's spoke with two DSO leaders about initiatives their organizations are implementing amid the current staffing crisis.

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

John Murphy. Vice President of Talent Acquisition at Aspen Dental Management (Chicago).

What is the greatest staffing challenge your organization is currently facing?
The labor shortage is not something that is only affecting the dental industry. We are seeing the shortage in the current pandemic world directly affect postal service, hospitals, hotels and other service industries. In healthcare and dentistry, there's always been a supply shortage. Dentists and hygienists are limited in supply and unevenly distributed across the U.S., a problem that has just become more pronounced over the last three to six months. Throughout this, our mission at Aspen Dental Management has not changed. We support the independent practice owners of Aspen Dental by recruiting top-tier talent in order to bring access to high quality oral care to underserved communities that would not otherwise have access.

In general, the most pressing issue right now is supply, with more open jobs than candidates.

How is it overcoming/handling this problem?
In order to attract top-tier talent for our independent practices, we have been focused on providing incentives such as ongoing education, access to the latest technology, training and career advancement. We also are listening to the market and evaluating current drivers. We will continue to listen, develop, implement and measure other incentives that match what top talent job seekers are looking for. For example, we have introduced the four-day work week, mostly for clinical staff right now. People want flexibility and more time with their families. Ultimately, we hope to combine that initiative with expanded care access. We're not trying to just fill jobs and maintain the status quo — we're trying to change everything so people can get care sooner.

Priyanki Amroliwala. Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition at 42 North Dental (Waltham, Mass.).

What is the greatest staffing challenge your organization is currently facing?
Pre-pandemic, it was difficult to find hygienists, assistants, dentists and specialists. Now, it's still just as hard to find dentists and specialists, but hiring hygienists is harder — at about the same difficulty level as finding dentists and specialists. It's more challenging to hire hygienists because the number of hygienists has dropped, with some workers leaving the profession entirely. They're staying at home because they have to care for their kids, are collecting unemployment checks, or are concerned about COVID-19 and the delta variant. This is also true for dental assistants — a lot of them have completely left the profession or have decided to stay at home until things smooth out.

How is it overcoming/handling this problem?
Though it's not ideal, 42 North Dental is asking dentists to do hygiene tasks in some cases. Another thing we're doing is growing our talent in-house. Dental assistants are also hard to find right now, so we created an OJT program, which stands for on-the-job training. We're continuing to do external recruiting, however, given that it’s become so difficult, we're starting to grow our in-house talent. We are doing so by way of cross training. For example, receptionists can complete paid training to shadow a dentist and do hands-on dental assistant training. If they complete a certain amount of training hours and the dentist writes the board a recommendation letter, Massachusetts will give them their dental assistant license. A lot of companies aren't using this to their advantage. To further grow talent in-house, we're hiring people that have never touched dentistry but have worked in healthcare. In our job postings for assistants, we're targeting people who have been in the service or retail industries. This way they can have a career where they don't need to work nights or weekends, and they don't even have to pay to go to school for it. All they have to do is show up and get paid for the training. Now, we don't use this at all our practices — just ones where dental leadership is strongest and they have time to do it.

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