You might be shocked to learn that most managers are perplexed by this title. Every week, I read social posts seeking clarification because their responsibilities, compensation, and benefits significantly differ in comparison to their peers. Dentists are scratching their heads on this one also, leading to this article’s writing.
Here’s the question, does the title Dental Office Manager fit? That’s up for debate. There is a mix who believe that it represents their skills, and expertise, while others believe that it does not truly highlight their education, experience, responsibilities, and career accomplishments.
I believe that the title has become obsolete. Yep, I said it! And here is why.
Throughout my 40-year career, I have experienced this title’s disparity. Times have changed, and the needs and demands are drastically different from when I was aspiring to be a manager. The responsibilities and duties in this position are dissimilar from a solo or smaller practice compared to a multidoctor or corporate practice.
While job titles do help classify structure within a practice, job titles themselves can be confusing particularly when it comes to the title “Dental Office Manager.” The reason is that this title has been so universally used that it has had a disproportionate impact. Don’t believe me, search for the title Dental Office Manager on any job posting site and you will find ads requiring lesser or greater responsibilities and compensation.
There is more to this than nomenclature and knowing this can help you assign the appropriate job title and develop a compensation and benefit package that is best suited for the role, education, experience, and responsibilities needed in your practice.
Below are examples where I feel the title of Dental Office Manager may or may not fit. I have served in each example. Therefore, my opinion on this matter is based on personal experience.
There is a considerable number of individuals who hold the title of Dental Office Manager, yet they are solely responsible for overseeing the administrative processes and systems to improve efficiency, insurance, and billing, providing training and monitoring the workflow of the admin team, creating a positive patient experience from the first call through the check-in and check-out process, and/or other responsibilities related to the front office admin area.
They work under the direction, supervision, guidance, and mentorship of a dentist-owner. In this situation, they have little to no involvement with the business side of dentistry such as payroll, human resources, financial planning, and budgets.
In this role, they are often provided opportunities to expand their knowledge and experience in readiness to take on other complex assignments that prepare them to lead and manage a practice.
I by no means want to demean the relevance of this position, because it plays a key role in the success of a dental practice. Speaking from someone who previously held this position, it’s harder than one would think. It provided me with an opportunity to strengthen my leadership skills and to have a better understanding of what was required in a management position. No doubt about it, it helped me advance my career.
Education and experience requirements will often be derived from having worked in the front office for years with a clear understanding of the processes involved in that area. It could also be gained from an assistant who transitioned into an admin role and whose clinical experience becomes extremely complementary to this role.
To me, this is an entry-level leadership and management position. I do not feel that the title of Dental Office Manager title is best suited for this situation. I believe a better title would be that of Dental Front Office Team Lead or Supervisor. The compensation should be reflective of the demands and responsibilities required of the position. It should be viewed as the top tier of the front office administration role or slightly higher depending on other responsibilities that may be added or required of the person in that position. Typically, the annual salary would range from $36,000-$50,000 +. (1) I lean more towards the mid to higher end of that compensation range, because I know what it takes to oversee that area and supervise the admin team.
As an employer, you would be doing a disservice to the person by classifying them as Dental Office Manager when they are not at that level yet. It will mislead prospective employers who see this listed on their resume, yet they have not performed in that capacity. This is happening to individuals across the U.S. which is part of why we have so much confusion about the title.
Other individuals may have responsibilities that include but are not limited to improving office efficiency and workflow, team management, human resources, patient management, records management, regulatory compliance, and social media, along with having situational awareness of the financial aspects involved in running the business. Education and experience will often be a high school diploma or equivalent, college and/or dental experience, knowledge of dental software and reports, and team management. (2)
They often pick up the jobs that fall by the wayside in other departments which, depending on their clinical experience, may be in patient care. There is no doubt that they play an integral part in the success of a practice. They set the tone of the practice and keep the team motivated and productive They are the glue that holds everyone together for the benefit of the entire practice.
In this position, they are also being groomed and are receiving additional training and experience that prepares them for the additional responsibilities needed to advance their career. (3)
The title of Dental Office Manager is appropriately assigned to the responsibilities outlined above by the American Dental Association (ADA). Dental Office Managers manage the expectations of the dentist/owner and oversee the teams and processes needed for a successful practice. My education, and clinical background in dentistry combined with my experience as a Dental Front Office Supervisor allowed me to easily transition into this position.
As mentioned earlier, the landscape of this position is ever-changing and evolving. Because of this, I highly encourage that a dentist-owner provide ongoing educational opportunities and support to their dental managers. The American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM) has been a great resource for me and others serving in this role.
The compensation should reflect that of a mid-level leadership and management position and will often have an incentive for the bonus. For example, the annual salary range of a Dental Office Manager across the U.S. average ranges from $55,000 to $70,000. (4) It requires advanced knowledge, experience, commitment to continuing education, and long hours to successfully navigate the needs and demands of this role and responsibilities. For that reason, compensation needs to be based on the mid to higher end of the compensation noted above.
This is where the tensions rise. Dentists, not all, are of the mindset that this position is equivalent to a supervisor or team lead outlined in Example 1. Again, speaking from personal experience they are drastically different in comparison. I trust that once dentists have a better understanding of this, they can provide the appropriate compensation and ongoing resources to assist in the development of their managers.
Next, we have those who are functioning in a senior-level management and leadership capacity. They oversee the big picture of their practice. Their role is critical in ensuring that the practice runs smoothly.
Their responsibilities are vast in comparison to the ones previously noted. They are often overseeing the day-to-day operations of one or multiple dental practices. They teach, guide, oversee, and mentor team members, supervisors, managers, and team leaders.
On top of the usual management responsibilities, they are responsible for certain elements of accounting/bookkeeping, partnering with the accountant and dentist/owner to create business plans and establish annual budgets and goals along with strategies that help to reach certain financial benchmarks. They often negotiate with vendors for considerable cost savings that drastically affect the bottom line, freeing up money that can be allocated towards equipment/technology and team raises. They also manage each department’s overall performance in conjunction with the human resources aspect. They participate in ongoing leadership meetings reviewing key performance indicators (KPI) and whether the implemented processes and policies are meeting the demands of the practice or determining if a change is required to achieve the desired outcome.
I can truthfully say that my responsibilities in this capacity are on a broader scale and the demands of this position are greater in comparison to years as a Dental Office Manager. It requires ongoing training, awareness, and education to stay on top of HR and other regulatory changes, etc.
In the beginning, my compensation and job title did not accurately reflect the education, experience, demands, and level of responsibilities of this position. I had to research, educate myself, and advocate that the position be retitled, and proper compensation assigned. This is why I believe that a title such as Dental Operations Director is better suited for someone in a senior-level management and leadership position. (5) A bachelor’s degree in business is needed for this position, but this alone isn’t going to land this position. You will start in a more entry-level position and work your way up. (6) This is exactly what I did. I continued to build upon my education, credentials, and experience. The pursuit of personal and professional development is ongoing. In addition, I continue to receive mentorship from an accountant, a lawyer, and consultants all of whom are well-versed in running a successful dental practice.
The compensation in this position would range from $75,000 to $98,000 (+) along with an incentive for bonuses, and other benefits not awarded to entry-level and mid-level management. (7) I feel that a mid to higher end of that compensation scale is ideal contingent upon the responsibilities.
Once again, I realize this strikes a chord when it comes down to compensation. Dentists, not all, often feel that managers or directors are not producers in the same respect as hygienists. I beg to differ. Speaking for myself and others, I know that we play a significant role in increasing production and collection which have yielded financial growth year after year even through the pandemic, and economic and labor challenges.
Highly performing managers and directors can produce equal to greater results in their role just in a different capacity as a hygienist. Not to mention, they shoulder the burden of running and overseeing the practice often with limited input, time, or oversight from the dentist-owner. This provides dentists with time to focus on patient care and spend time with their families without the stress of running all aspects of their business.
On rare occasions, you find someone such as me who is serving in the dual position of Dental Operation Director and in-house Dental Coach. As you advance in your career, you elevate your experience, knowledge, and education in leadership and management to master-level status. In return, the transition into consulting and coaching comes with ease or at least it did for me.
I started my coaching and speaking business LEAP2 Solutions in 2019. I still work in a practice serving in the dual positions noted above. I love being a part of the daily grind. It provides me with clear insight into the challenges plaguing our managers and dentists while providing solutions and strategies to successfully navigate them.
If you have this analogous situation talk with your accountant, should you wish to compensate them when they provide consulting/coaching services. They can best advise you on the best way to manage this out-of-the-norm situation. They may suggest establishing a reasonable monthly or quarterly stipend or suggest that they submit an invoice whenever they provide consulting/coaching services to your practice. A 1099 would be issued, separately from their W2, for their consulting/coaching services. It would be issued to them personally or to their business unless they have established a C or S corporation that exempts them.
The most important thing to keep in mind in these examples is that no matter their variations in responsibility or title they are ALL essential to a productive and successful practice. Their contribution enhances the best parts of the workplace while they simultaneously navigate and minimize the worst ones. The titles are not necessarily mutually exclusive, directors can also be managers and consultants and vice versa depending on a practice’s particular structure. The responsibilities are similar, often overlapping, yet drastically different at the same time! (8)
Do I believe that having a job title is important? Yes, I do! They signal to your team that they have acquired the skills, have achieved a level of competence, have the expertise, and have been awarded the responsibilities required to supervise, lead, and manage a dental practice. Titles also prevent you from overly compensating those not fully immersed in the duties and responsibilities while appropriately compensating those who are.
I encourage you to review the term “Dental Office Manager” to determine if the title, compensation, and responsibilities are appropriately aligned or if it is time to retitle the role and rebalance the compensation structure. Once you have identified the appropriate job title that best syncs with the responsibilities needed for your practice you can write your job description, establish the appropriate compensation, and draft a job post that attracts and retains the best fit for the position.
If we don’t do something to distinguish the differences, we will continue to have this conundrum. Please reach out to me if you have any questions or need more clarification.