Organizing the Chaos: The Role of a Dental Office Manager

Jane Walkley smiling with text "Real-world insights from AADOM authors" and the AADOM logo

Through my 40 years in dentistry, I’ve met hundreds of dental office managers. Our love and enjoyment of dentistry are evident. We work for great dentists, have amazing teams and wonderful patients. The role of a dental office manager can be very rewarding. The glow on our faces shows that we are on top of the world!

Okay, that might be a bit over the top because I’m also wise enough to know this feeling of euphoria can be short-lived and turn to chaos at the drop of a paper clip!

The role of a dental office manager

Being in dental management can be very challenging. We are constantly juggling multiple tasks. We also are keenly aware of everything going on around us. I’m somewhat joking when I say that I’m convinced our brains are wired differently! If you are a dental office manager reading this article, you get it!

I start my day with a quiet drive to the office. It is during this time that I gather my thoughts for the day. I reflect on yesterday and anticipate what the new day will bring. It’s a great way to set up a good day. Your positive thoughts for the day will influence the day. Will it last?

You arrive at the office ready to start the day by reviewing the schedule, and it is the epitome of scheduling perfection! Then the phone rings and… boom! The schedule starts to crumble. The text goes off on your cell phone and… boom! The hygienist is out sick. The anticipated perfect day is now teetering on collapse. Then your doctor needs a report or has a question about treatment for a patient. Boom! More challenges!

How are you handling these challenges?

It is easy to tell yourself to remain calm, to tell yourself that everything will work out. Of course, it will! The end of the day has to come at some point. If you are in dental office management, your doctor and team are likely looking to you to work through the issues. Chaos could take over.

Hang in there! Most of all, remember that those around you, including patients, can sense when we are in chaos. Remain as settled as possible and put on a smile! You have the choice to be frustrated and grumpy, or you can choose to tackle the day with a smile and get it back on track.

My outline for organizing the chaos…

FOCUS. Handle the challenges the day is giving you with a focused approach. Give yourself a few minutes to gather your thoughts. Take a deep breath and know that you can do this!

PRIORITIZE. Start a priority list and tackle it one item at a time. Some use their software to compile to-do lists. I personally like using post-it notes. There’s something completely satisfying when I complete a task and shred a post-it note!

DELEGATE. In many offices, there is a team that can help you through the list. Assign tasks according to the ability and training level of your team. I am a huge proponent of training and educating the administrative team so that I feel comfortable delegating tasks. This being said, you wouldn’t ask a new hire to do something for which they have not been trained. For those not surrounded by a team, your role as a dental office manager can be more challenging to get through the list.

REVIEW. Throughout the day, review the list. Don’t be discouraged if there are still items not completed. I’ve learned that, as long as I attempt to get through the list, I’ve done my best. Some issues take more than one day to resolve. Many times, our patients aren’t able to return calls the same day, or the emails don’t get answered. Those will likely be resolved in the next business day. Don’t be hard on yourself or your team; tomorrow will bring another day.

REMEMBER. It is easy to get through a day that has no challenges. Those are rare. When you have a system in place, you can handle the days that bring chaos and frustration, and you will get to the end of that day and know that you made it!

Meet the Author

Jane Walkley smiling in navy and white striped top with jewelry
Jane Walkley, FAADOM, has been living her dream in dentistry since 1979 when she graduated at the top of her dental assisting class. She worked as an assistant for several years before moving to “the front.”

She was instrumental in facilitating the office growth and subsequent move to a larger location in 1994. It was then that she was given the title of office manager. In 2011, she learned of ADDOM and joined immediately. Attaining Fellowship in 2012 was a highlight of her career.

Jane loves learning and sharing her knowledge with others! She has supported local offices with software and dental manager insurance training and has assisted offices in implementing systems and protocols. In addition to full-time employment, Jane volunteers year-round with a local nonprofit that facilitates a cold-weather shelter, serving on their Board of Directors, Leadership team, and mentor team. She is married and lives in rural Maryland with her husband and their four cats.

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