Your Spouse Is the Dentist: Who’s the Boss? (Defining Roles At the Dental Office)

Teresa Berry Williams, MAADOM with text, "Real-world insights from AADOM authors"

Defining roles at the office makes for good bedfellows.

“So, you are the doctor’s wife? Are you his assistant?”

How many times have I been asked that question? I can not remember. My response was, “No, but I am his office manager!” My husband Brad and I have been married for 9 years.

We work together every day, and yes, we are happily married even though I had no prior dental experience.

Through our working relationship, we have learned how to better communicate and problem-solve together.

We have come to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This process has allowed us to work together to become a strong, united team, which has resulted in a flourishing practice.

Proactively defining my role in dental practice management before I started working for my husband was critical to our success.

We divided up the practice into three main areas:

  1. Clinical
  2. Administrative
  3. HR

And then we decided who would manage each.

Dr. Brad has complete control of the clinical area of the practice. After all, he is the doctor. He selects all equipment and decides on what products he wants to use and leaves the purchasing to me and our lead assistant. This leaves him free to do what he loves, dentistry.

I would oversee the administrative and HR areas

Those duties included:

  • Bookkeeping payroll
  • Advertising
  • Inventory ordering
  • Cost control

It was an easy transition for me because of my previous business experience. I immersed myself in all things dental, including online office management articles, books, and taking courses.

My success depended on preparing myself for the dental side of the business

Who knew teeth were numbered! My self-imposed dental training included learning the workflow of all procedures we offered.

Understanding this specific information was essential in order to present patient treatment plans and secure firm financial arrangements, which ultimately establishes good patient relationships.

Probably the most difficult area to manage together in any practice is the team. We made it clear to the employees that any issues are to be directed to me only, not to Dr. Brad.

This should be a firm line in the sand in any business so employees do not play one leader against the other.

My responsibilities also include running the daily morning huddle, employee monthly meetings, and all HR issues.

My husband led his dental education for over 30 years before we started working together. He has employees that have worked for him for over 20 years.

It speaks volumes about an employer that does not have much employee turnover. Thankfully, the team was very accepting and helpful in my transitioning to the dental office manager role.

Working with my spouse was not uncharted waters for me. I had worked well with my late husband in our business for over 25 years and I understood that problems with spouses working together were common.

This past experience was invaluable to making this work with my new “dental husband”. We agreed that our marriage was more important than the practice and if we discover that we could not work together, I will retire.

Defining roles and responsibilities is the beginning of a husband and wife working together in harmony. Is it always easy? No, but open communication and defined roles is a particularly good start. At the end of the day, our marriage is what is most important, and my husband is the head of our home and his practice.

When working with a spouse in the dental office, this formula was essential in defining our roles:

  • Determine the overarching areas in the practice that require supervising or leadership.
  • Decide who is best suited to “wear the hat” in each of these divisions.
  • Once determined, strive not to step on each other’s toes, i.e., do not allow yourself to be drawn into decisions that are the other’s responsibility.
  • Communicate. When faced with tough decisions that impact the business, especially problems that involve multiple areas, confer. This way you are less apt to be blind-sided by one another.

For example: caught up in employees playing the ends against the middle, choosing the wrong vendor or contractor, purchasing the wrong software, equipment, or supplies. Have regular meetings to make each other aware of such issues. (We have “working lunches” almost every day).

  • There can be only one boss, CEO, president, or high hat. When faced with difficult decisions, and differences of opinion, the doctor should have the last say. If he or she is wise, this final call is made with tremendous respect and careful consideration of the spouse’s opinion and input.

But the buck must stop somewhere, and the boss should be the one who learned and earned the top spot. (Most of the time, my husband is more than ready to delegate decisions that are non-clinical, he trusts my business instincts and training).

Finally, do not make every minute of your home life and time together, work. This sounds absurd but you will be surprised how much of your outside of work time ends up being more work and business review sessions. Make time for your marriage as well as the business. It’s easier said than done.

MeTeresa Berry Williams, MAADOM headshotet the Author

Teresa Berry Williams, MAADOM is the current office manager for Williams Dental & Orthodontics. She has been leading the business management team at Williams GP Orthodontic Seminars for the last 5 years.

She holds degrees in Business Administration & Commercial Art. She and her late husband managed multiple businesses in Oklahoma, where The Journal Record named her Woman of the Year “50 Making a Difference”.

Teresa married Dr. Brad Williams in 2012 and began to use her business experience in managing his practice. With his encouragement, Teresa developed Managing Orthodontics, a one-day training management seminar for fellow dental professionals.

Teresa is a lifetime AADOM member, receiving her Fellowship designation in 2018 and most recently was inducted as an AADOM Master, (MAADOM) in 2021.

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