Plan For the Unplanned
One thing I have learned as an office manager is to learn to plan for the unplanned.
That’s exactly how my position fell into my lap. After Covid hit and our office was closed for several weeks, our office manager decided to not return to work. Soon after, I went to my doctor with something that had been weighing on my heart.
I simply said, “I’m not sure if you feel I’d be qualified for such a title, but if you do, I would be more than willing to step up to the plate and give it my all.” Mind you, I came to his office less than two years prior with zero admin experience. My background included 13 years as an orthodontic assistant and here I was, trying to become a dental office manager in a general practice.
Soon after, he would give me the title, and I knew at that time, I had a lot to prove. But I wanted more than just the title; I wanted to lead in a way that the results were very much visible.
Tackling Challenges in the Practice
In the past couple years as an office manager, I learned that as soon as you think you have it all figured out, you find out that you are just building yourself up for the next big thing.
I lost two great team members this year due to things personally beyond our control. Of course, this would always happen when the doctor went on vacation. It’s not the most joyful news to deliver upon his return. “Well hello, Dr. Clark, I hope your trip was fantastic, and I’m also hoping you met a hygienist while you were there because we are in need of one in approximately two weeks.”
The hiring process is not for the weak. I found myself with candidates playing between doctors to see which would pay them more. I found interviewees that made a great impression, were highly qualified, but then never heard from them again. I also found myself in very awkward “in-person interviews” that seemed to last for hours upon hours.
With that being said, we learned to interview differently. Now, I comb through the candidates that apply much more closely and I follow up on qualified applicants with a Zoom interview. If they make it through the Zoom interview, they come into our office to meet with Dr. Clark and me in person.
Twice this year, we settled for the best applicants based on the cards we were being dealt.
Note to self, never settle.
You can teach dentistry, administrative work, and assisting, but you cannot teach someone a good work ethic. Find applicants that demonstrate loyalty, are a great team player, and have a personality that truly fits with your team. I had to learn that the hard way, after letting two team members go for this reason. I learned to be pickier about my choices and to listen to my gut first.
If something is telling you that it isn’t going to work, there is a logical reason you are feeling that way; listen to it! Even if that person is qualified, but one thing seems to be questionable, do not settle for less. Following those trials, we brought in three new team members this year and I can proudly say we have an exceptional team. Well, that is, at least until the doctor’s next vacation (knocks on wood).
In November 2022, our team was hit with the hardest “unplanned” trial yet. Our beloved doctor unexpectedly lost his twenty-year-old son in a motorcycle accident. During hard times, you really discover a lot about your team and yourself. Our hearts all shattered that day. We work for such a selfless, kind man and to hear the pain in his voice tore me apart. I learned that day that I wasn’t just a manager. I was a counselor. I was a friend, a mentor, an advisor… your job title may be “office manager,” but I can assure you that you wear a lot more hats than just that in your doctor’s and team’s eyes.
That day I learned that the man who we all knew to be selfless, even at the lowest point in his life, was still putting others before himself. I quickly asked, “Are you headed to Arizona?” as that is where his son was, and he answered, “Not yet, I am at the office finishing up stuff and getting things in order, but I have my flight booked.” That man just lost his youngest son and he is messaging me things to do for his patients. Let me tell you, just as we are not just “office managers,” they are not just “doctors.” You make your job title what it is. The love I saw from his patients and his team following this devastating event was remarkable. The tears that were shed from patients, his team, patients dropping off money and wanting to help in any way possible. While he was in Arizona learning what a huge impact his son had on his community, we were at home learning exactly how much of an impact Dr. Clark had on all of us.
So, as you see, there is no manual or handbook in thirty different languages for being a good office manager. I wasn’t sure if I was qualified in 2020, but my heart and mind was in the right place. That is what matters.
Take the lead and the results will reflect based on your actions. Our production has been the best yet. Our team is the closest they have ever been. I’m never looking for recognition, just simply speaking from experience.
Value your team. When you’re mentally exhausted from carrying the load, just carry it a little bit further. You are making a difference among your patients and your team. Hang in there and when you finally sit back to take that deep breath and think to yourself, finally, we are in a good place.
Go ahead and plan for the next unplanned thing; it’s just a matter of time, but it will come and when it does, you will find that you are more than qualified to handle anything life throws at you!
About the Author
Megan Williams is an office manager at Piedmont Dental in Lake Anna, VA, the same small town she was born and raised. Megan has worked in the dental field for nearly two decades, both serving in clinical and administrative roles, and is a lifetime member of AADOM. Outside of work, she enjoys photography, home décor, renovation projects, camping, concerts, and spending time with her three beautiful daughters and better half, Justin.