AADOM Members |6 min read

Making the Switch to Practice Management: An Interview with Terri Lenihan, FAADOM

What is it that drives some dental assistants to make shifts in their careers to pursue the role of practice manager?

Heather Colicchio, founder, and president of the American Association of Dental Office Management, recently sat down to speak with Terri Lenihan, FAADOM about her decision to transition out of clinical dental assisting to train in practice management, and what her hands-on experience, physical demands, and procedural stress as a chairside assistant taught her when it comes to leading a productive practice.

Terri is currently the practice administrator of Broadway Family & Cosmetic Dentistry in Council Bluffs, IA, and was named 2017’s AADOM Practice Administrator of the Year.

The Full Interview

HC: Welcome, Terri! For starters, why don’t you tell our readers how long you’ve been in dentistry?

TL: I became a dental assistant in November 1978. In those days back in Ohio, becoming a chairside assistant involved on-the-job training.

HC: What did you love the most about being a chairside assistant?

TL: I loved working with and helping each of the patients. Whether it was getting their smile back to where it needed to be, improving the way it looked or helping to lessen their fears about going to the dentist.

HC: What was it that made you decide to move into practice management?

TL: It was actually a nudge from the doctor who owned the practice I was working for at the time. They asked if I would consider working in the business area. Since I had always asked to help with that part of the office during my downtime, I had already learned a significant amount about that aspect of the practice. Two years later, the existing office manager retired, and I was the one who naturally took over her role. At that point, I also took and passed the DANB exam for my CDPMA to become a Practice Administrator.

HC: How long have you been working as a practice manager?

TL: I became an Office Manager in 1999 (that’s 21 years after becoming an assistant, for anyone doing the math) and then a Practice Administrator in 2007.

HC: Do you think that getting into practice management is a good career move for chairside assistants?

TL: Yes, especially if it’s a personal goal they want to work toward. It’s a big change from assisting, so the shift needs to be something that they personally want if they’re going to be happy going to work every day. There are still days that I miss the connection I had with patients in the operatory, so I try to make up for it by greeting them when I walk them through a treatment plan, or as we’re going through the “check out” process.

HC: Do you think that the physical demands of being an assistant can become a problem over time?

TL: Absolutely. It’s crucial to implement proper ergonomics as much as you can when you’re working chairside. You don’t get that same level of physical strain when you’re working in the front office.

HC: You’re so right. The day-after-day positions that assistants have to sit in or repetitive motions that they make can start to wear you down over time. Not to mention you’re exposed to bloodborne pathogens and things like that. At least as a practice administrator, you’re able to be away from aerosols and can maintain desk ergonomics a bit easier.

But onto another topic…What do you think it is that makes dental assistants specifically, individuals who have the ideal background to transition into dental management?

TL: Aside from understanding dentistry, dental assistants are trained to always be a “step ahead.” Their attention to detail helps a dental practice run efficiently. Most assistants are open to change and willing to learn new things. Taking on the role of a practice manager is a natural career path for individuals who are truly driven.

HC: For managers who are already in the role of running a practice, but they know they have more they need to learn, what do you recommend?

TL: When my doctor asked me to move from the front desk to office manager, I had to learn as I went. I worked for a doctor that loved the business side as much as he loved dentistry, so we shared many of the same tasks throughout my transition.

He did the accounting and payroll and I handled more of the day-to-day scheduling, finances, case presentations, and training. But today, there are so many CE courses out there that are available to learn and build on your management knowledge. If there’s an extra role you want to take on or need help with, AADOM has a tremendous amount of information on its website.

HC: What are some of the benefits you enjoy most from being an AADOM member?

TL: The camaraderie and support that all of the members have for one another. There’s an immense wealth of information that’s available to help practice managers at all stages of their careers.

HC: Do you have any other advice for assistants who are looking into making that transition into practice management?

TL: If management is your goal, start now by asking plenty of questions. Find out where you can help when you have downtime between patients so that you can start cross-training and learning what it takes to run a practice. Be sure to develop an intense familiarity with your practice management software, take management CE courses, and of course, join AADOM!

So, if you’re considering a move from assistant to practice management, the opportunities abound. You might also want to check out the live session “Dental Assistant to Practice Administrator Track” presented by Kevin Henry and Tija Hunter, CDA: www.aadomconference.com/sessions… Opens in a new window to aadomconference.com website…

Meet the Author

Terri Lenihan, FAADOM

Terri Lenihan, DA, FAADOM is the Office Manager at Broadway Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Council Bluffs, IA. She began her career in dentistry in 1978 as a dental assistant.

She keeps her license current and is still a registered dental assistant in the state of IA. Terri received her CDPMA (Certified Dental Practice Management Administrator) through DANB in 2007 and was inducted as an AADOM Fellow in the first class in 2010.

She is a lifetime AADOM member and won AADOM’s prestigious Practice Administrator of the Year award in 2017. Terri is a past member of the AADOM Virtual Study Club and is currently the president of her local study club, (where she has been a member since 2008), Metro Omaha Dental Office Leaders.

Terri loves to volunteer her time, serving as a member of the Dentistry by 1 Coalition, a participant in GKAS for many years, participating in Mission of Mercy in IA, and is a volunteer for her church.

She is married and has two sons and two grandsons. In her spare time, she loves spending time with family and friends.

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