The Aspen Group launches TAG University: See how dental providers benefit

Dental supergroup The Aspen Group recently launched TAG University to offer educational opportunities to providers and staff across its five brands. 

The Aspen Group houses Aspen Dental, ClearChoice Dental Implant Centers, AZPetVet, WellNow Urgent Care and Chapter Aesthetic Studio. Through these brands, the organization supports more than 1,300 locations in 45 states.

TAG University offers tailored educational pathways for healthcare providers and staff within The Aspen Group's five brands. Courses are offered under four schools covering clinical care, leadership, business and operations and service and support.

Chrissie Leibman, senior vice president of leadership and development at The Aspen Group and Dean of TAG University, recently spoke with Becker's about The Aspen Group's educational arm and how dental providers benefit.

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

Question: What is offered in each of TAG University's schools?

Chrissie Leibman: [The clinical excellence school] is how we keep our doctors and dentists at the cutting edge of all things related to their clinical expertise. It's designed really to build on the education they've already received through their schooling in route to getting their degree and ultimately their license. We have things on dentures all the way from foundational up into the mastery path of that. It's where implant learning comes to life. It's where the clinical components of clear aligners come to life, crown and bridge, hygiene [and] all of our clinical aspects.

Under leadership, we think of leadership in five different tiers and this helps us meet the provider or the employee throughout their entire career here at Aspen. Leadership is all about leading yourself [and] how you are the best version of yourself. Then we have leadership for people who have moved into leading others. So the first time you're managing other people, the core, basic leadership skills [such as] coaching, delegation, feedback, setting expectations, recognition and rewards. How do you create engagement and unlock other people's potential? And then it grows from there into leading leaders, leading functions and ultimately leading businesses. So as they expand within a practice or to multiple practices, we have different tiers of leadership that rise up to meet what they're leading at that moment in time.

Business and operations is a really cool compliment to what they get coming out of dental school. Obviously, they make big investments in their dental expertise, but another important aspect of our provider success is understanding how to operate and run a business on a daily basis. So that third school comes into understanding operational processes, like how do you manage your schedule in a way that drives an excellent experience for your patients but also keeps you and your team thriving and performing at your peak? How do you think through the business decisions you're making so you're thinking through the short term and long term? How do you want to run your practice as a small business owner?

And then the fourth school, service and support. A huge part of all of the TAG brands is the interaction we have with our patients. That fourth school focuses entirely on how we maximize relationships so people get the service and support they need. That dives into things like, how do you build effective relationships? How do you establish rapport? How do you manage someone who's having an emotional moment in a way that still gets them the care they need? So it focuses more on those motivational or psychological principles that are also underpinned within the patient's experience.

Q: How do the pathways work?

CL: [For] most roles, we prescribe a recommended [pathway], these classes would be most meaningful based on what your role focuses on, but they have access to everything. So a dental assistant would have a different path than a hygienist, different than an associate doctor. As you progress into a managing clinician, it grows with you. So there's recommendations, but if you need something or want to go back and do something or if you're joining us from a private practice or a different place where you've already been practicing and you want to leapfrog ahead on your journey because of the skill and experience you already have, it's made to meet each person where they are but give them an easy way to get in.

Q: Are there virtual and in-person learning options?

CL: We have three different campuses. The first one is our learning management system, which is where all of our on-demand learning lives. You can think of this as the learning that's anytime you need it right at your fingertips. It's where the majority of our learning lives. We do have an incredible space dedicated to learning in Chicago. Over 50,000 square feet was carved out to focus specifically on TAG U and the development of our employees. Some of that is here in our headquarters building, so we have two floors that have fully configurable classrooms. We also have a mock office where we do real-time learning in an environment that mimics their real life. And then just down the street at our old building, we converted that into the oral care center, which is an amazing thing we do for the community. It's also an incredible extension of our training. It's where we do our live patient surgical training as they get into those more advanced and mastery-type level courses. And then we invested in what we call the TAG U classroom studio, which is technology mimicked after what other major players in the world of learning like Harvard University do. It's a floor-to-ceiling set of TV screens, so it transforms what you would do via Zoom. It creates a really dynamic and highly interactive virtual environment. 

Q: What is the benefit of offering these educational opportunities at The Aspen Group?

CL: I think it's a lot of different things. It just fuels the continuous growth and development of all of our team members, really setting them up to be successful not only at work but in life. We've seen tremendous benefits in the relationship that builds. So we are blessed to have a really incredible faculty that is part of TAG U, and the support and one-to-one interaction that people have with experts is great. They also form a really amazing community of support as a peer group. As you're going through new experiences or you're growing into spaces you haven't charted into before, that peer group that's there to celebrate when things go well or rally behind you when you're nervous or stressed is just another part of how it all comes together.

Q: What has the feedback been like from providers who have participated in TAG University?

CL: We get really tremendous feedback from them. That sense of connection and support and just the breadth of what's available to them, as well as the quality of it, we get a lot of really positive feedback. We've also seen it in our results. We have a really high retention rate for people who participate in TAG U again because of what it enables them to do and the connections it quickly establishes for them. And then we see it with their patients. So we'll have people who come in and then the next week they're back out in their office and they'll send us emails or videos that talk about, "Hey, I had this situation and two weeks ago I would've been scared and now all of a sudden I'm able to get this person the care they need. I feel great about it, my team feels great about it." 

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