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550: Real Talk About the Dentist-Assistant Relationship - Kevin Henry
Episode 55015th March 2023 • The Best Practices Show with Kirk Behrendt • ACT Dental
00:00:00 00:27:15

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Real Talk About the Dentist-Assistant Relationship

Episode #550 with Kevin Henry

If you’ve ever wondered what your dental assistant is thinking, don't miss this crossover episode! Kirk Behrendt brings back Kevin Henry, co-founder of IgniteDA and host of the Dental Assistant Nation podcast, to demystify and help improve dentist-assistant relationships. He highlights common roadblocks that each side faces, and solutions you can start applying today. Your dental assistants deserve more than they're getting! To hear what they're really thinking and to learn how to help them, listen to Episode 550 of The Best Practices Show!

Episode Resources:

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Dental Assistant Nation podcast:

Rocky Mountain Dental Convention:

Traction by Gino Wickman:

Main Takeaways:

Learn how to communicate.

Stop playing the blame game.

Prevent favoritism and learn how to fix it.

Value and appreciate your assistants so they stay.

Help train your dental assistants so that they become great.

Money won't fix everything. If assistants are unhappy, they will leave.


“It’s absolutely true [that great dental assistants are hard to find]. And let's define what great is. Because I think a lot of times, we have assistants who are coming into this industry right now, some of them are actually coming from outside of dentistry, being taught from the ground level all the way up. So, I've heard the same thing from dentists. And assistants who are listening to this podcast, yeah, I have heard there aren't a lot of great ones out there. But I always say, ‘What's the definition of great? And how are you, as a dentist, actually helping to train them to become great? And how much leeway do you give in that time?’ But absolutely, there's a huge shortage out there of dental assistants.” (4:13—4:45) -Kevin

“We have to make sure that the assistants who are here feel valued, feel appreciated, and they stay.” (4:53—4:58) -Kevin

“I always tell my assistants, ‘You can't sit back and expect somebody to come to you and say, we need you to do this. You have to tell them, what are your passions, what do you look forward to doing this year, and then work on a plan with the dentist on how you become a better assistant and work together on that.’” (5:41—5:55) -Kevin

“Over communicate. There should be incredible clarity around job descriptions. And you should treat everybody with the same respect. When somebody excels, then that opens the door for them to be a leader. You can talk to them, and they could potentially be the lead. But I think you also have to be vulnerable with your team. If you're doing favoritism, you should give people license to call you out and go, ‘Listen, I need to talk to you about something. It’s what I'm experiencing. You have a favorite here.’” (8:01—8:32) -Kirk

“I was speaking to the assistant, and I said, ‘Whenever we know that somebody is a favorite and we’re not that person, sometimes, we pull back.’ Right? And so, I said, ‘Are you the one pulling back instead of pushing forward?’ And like you said, having that open conversation about, ‘This is how I feel,’ and really bringing it forward, or you’re just taking it home and grumbling. I think that we’ve got to get past the point where we’re talking to others about it instead of talking to the person that we have the issue with.” (8:44—9:12) -Kevin

“If you're truly going to create a team, you have to have high levels of trust where they can give you feedback. And you have to be emotionally intelligent as a leader and go, ‘This is going to hurt, but it’s the truth.’” (9:26—9:35) -Kirk

“The dentist has to be open to hearing [feedback], and the assistant has to have enough guts, shall we say, to actually have that conversation too.” (10:03—10:09) -Kevin

“Data removes all emotion. There's nothing that fixes [the doctor blaming the assistant] faster than a time study. Here’s what a time study is. It’s recorded time in and out on a patient when the patient arrives and the patient leaves for a procedure. So, if you're an assistant, pick the top ten procedures this is happening in. Create a time study sheet. Patient came in, patient left for this procedure. Doctors are going to hate it because “everything is an hour” — and it’s not true! They're going to look at it and go, ‘Wow . . .’ There are a couple things to this. It’s a time stamp. All it is is time in, time out. Doctors only notice when the patient is there. They don't know when the patient arrived. They don't know when the patient left. And so, now, the blame goes away. We’re just looking at data. If you and I don't have any data, we’re talking about how we feel. And that's going to be emotionally charged.” (10:35—11:30) -Kirk

“Remember, the doc was blaming the assistant because the room wasn't set up properly according to his standards. That's why I said, ‘Is there some truth in there?’ We don't often like to be told that we didn't do the right thing. So, I asked, ‘Was there some truth to it that the room maybe wasn't set up properly? Or is there a communication problem between expectations?’ And if that's the blame game that's going on there, then eliminate that part of it. Make sure that you understand exactly how it should be, and eliminate that part of the blame game, and then see how the timing does.” (12:32—13:06) -Kevin

“If you're saying that the assistant can't read your mind, don't you already know the problem here? Don't you already know that you're not communicating?” (16:49—16:55) -Kevin

“Dentists and assistants spend so much time together. You've got to ask, ‘How do I communicate with you? What do I need to know from you, even if it’s just short, sweet stuff?’ This dentist may not want to talk a bunch. Get in, get out. Fine. Just give me the little bit of information I need to know.” (17:13—17:29) -Kevin

“Communication is always the responsibility of one person: the sender of the information. It’s never the [receiver’s responsibility] to understand all the details.” (17:33—17:41) -Kirk

“Pay scales are going up and up and up for hygienists, for assistants, for front office because docs don't want to lose them. They're willing to pay over the top to keep them. And team members know that now. So, it’s a different game, I think, than it even was for COVID-19.” (18:42—18:56) -Kevin

“As a dentist, as an entrepreneur, you have to run a profitable business. When your pay compensation across the board is in its 33% range, I can already tell you a couple of things. I don't even need to know your name. You already have a people-dependent practice. Your practice is pretty chaotic. You throw person after person. Everybody is tired and everybody feels underpaid. And that is true. And it’s not because you overpay people. The truth is you don't have a business that collects enough money to support the payroll that you have. Because if you're really good at running a business, you should know where your pay compensation number should be. And when you keep them in the 20%, 25% range and you're collecting enough, now you can pay people top level. You should pay people top level. It’s on you as the business owner to make sure you've got great systems. If you don't have any systems in place, you're doomed. Now, it’s just a free-for-all, and you're probably giving what's called a hush raise.” (19:10—20:10) -Kirk

“You're not just running a practice. You're running a small business. Just like the local florist, the funeral home, the hamburger stand, whatever you want to pick in your hometown, it’s a business, just like yours should be. And every one of those employees are part of your business.” (21:19—21:32) -Kevin

“People often think that money will fix everything. And I will tell you, from the assistant side of things, it’s a very temporary Band-Aid. Because I guarantee you, if they're not happy, they’ll look for somewhere else. Even if it’s a dollar more an hour, they’ll take it.” (21:38—21:52) -Kevin

“People won't leave unless they're unhappy . . . The best [dental team members] never say, ‘Money is the reason I'm here.’ It’s on there — don't get me wrong. It’s two, three, or four, but it’s never number one.” (21:54—22:09) -Kirk

“[Dental team members] want to feel appreciated. They want to feel like they belong. They want the culture thing that people sometimes roll their eyes about. I guarantee you, it’s so important, and so often overlooked.” (22:10—22:19) -Kevin


0:00 Introduction.

1:42 Kevin’s background.

2:14 Roadblocks in the dentist-assistant relationship.

3:09 Why Kevin started Dental Assistant Nation.

4:01 The shortage of great dental assistants.

5:57 Roadblocks created by dentists to assistants: favoritism.

10:12 Roadblocks created by dentists to assistants: blaming assistants.

14:15 Roadblocks created by assistants to dentists: lack of communication.

18:12 Roadblocks created by dentists to assistants: expecting more work for no extra pay.

21:07 You're running a business, not just a practice.

22:20 Dentists and assistants need to collaborate.

24:11 More about Dental Assistant Nation, Ignite DA, and how to get in touch with Kevin.

Kevin Henry Bio: 

With 16 years in the dental publishing industry, Kevin is the former group editorial director for UBM Medica’s dental division, consisting of: Dental Products Report, Modern Dental Assistant, Dental Practice Management, Digital Esthetics, Modern Hygienist, Modern Dental Business, and more. He was named as one of the top five influential voices in the industry on Twitter (@kgh23). 

In Kevin’s former life, he was a public relations director for NAIA, a national small college sports organization. He is currently a beat writer for the Colorado Rockies and the Denver Nuggets. Living in Colorado, Kevin loves to be outdoors, whether it be hiking, skiing, or white-water rafting.



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