Hiring for Dental Practice Vacancies: Do You Focus on the Right Traits?

A hygenist prepares a bay
What makes a good team member?


When a team member moves on to another position, what traits do you look for in their replacement? Two researchers writing in the Harvard Business Review found that most dental and medical offices currently select for the wrong traits in new hires.

In “Health Care Providers are Hiring the Wrong People,” Elena Butler and Shreya Kangovi found that too many practices focus on hiring for past experience, education and hard skills, and then attempt to train their employees in soft skills after hiring.   However, it’s easier to help an employee earn certifications and teach them hard skills than it is to teach them to be caring, compassionate communicators who can connect with patients.  In the current, complex dental environment, you need team members who can help your patients feel at home while explaining complex dental conditions and treatment options.

The research team pointed out that hiring for social skills and cultural competency becomes especially important if your practice is seeking to reach out to underserved demographics.  How can your team help potential patients see your practice as a place where they belong?  Are they rooted in the communities you hope to serve?

Hiring Mistakes Dental Offices Make

While the article focused on medical practices, dental practices also hire for the wrong things.  In a quick Google survey of current dental openings, I found numerous practices hiring for front office, customer service, and scheduler positions.  Some of the most common requirements that I saw included:

  • Associates or Bachelor’s degree
  • 2-5 years in sales
  • 2+ years of previous dental or medical office experience
  • “Expert level” on specific software packages

One office even wanted candidates to have radiology certification – for a front desk job that consisted of greeting patients, answering the phone, and checking patients in!

Offices with these sorts of requirements are going to run into several problems.  In the first place, unemployment is low. It may be difficult to find candidates with such an extensive list of qualifications, and if you do find them, you’ll need to offer inflated pay and benefits to attract them.  The second issue is that these advertisements are asking for the wrong skills.  Your front desk team members don’t need college degrees.  They don’t really need previous dental experience – you can teach them what they need to know. They certainly don’t need radiology certification to greet patients and answer the phone.

What they actually need is the ability to be friendly, attentive, and warm.   When a patient comes into the office, the first thing they want to see is a sympathetic face, not a list of degrees and certifications.  Once you’ve found the right fit for your team and community, you can focus on training them in specific terminology, computer programs, or billing and scheduling procedures.

By being willing to hire for soft skills and community involvement, you widen your pool of potential team members and increase your appeal to new patients.