Make room for CE

by Linda L. Miles, CSP, CMC

Dental practices that learn together usually will stay together. That's a well-known fact. However, this necessary aspect of a successful work environment is often neglected. With a little planning and dedication, implementing continuing education (CE) is a lot easier than you might think (and rewarding for the practice's bottom line).

Here are two perspectives I often overhear regarding CE issues.

The dentist's view — "My staff should contribute to their professional growth and development by participating in six to 10 days of continuing education annually. But I don't think it should be my responsibility to pay a salary as well as CE tuition and related expenses."

The staff's view — "I cannot believe our doctor expects us to 'donate' our time to make the practice better. I have family obligations and babysitting fees to pay when I attend seminars."

In many states, if CE credits are mandatory, law obligates the dentist to compensate for time spent at seminars. Refer to your local and state employment agencies, or consult Bent Ericksen, an expert in employer/employee issues — (916) 933-5117 PST — to thoroughly review your obligations.

The dentist's view — "Some of my employees do not want to leave their home and family to go out of town for seminars. This really puts a damper on the team-building philosophy of learning as a group."

The staff's view — "My husband has a tremendous burden placed on him when I must participate in two- or three-day office trips. He has a night-shift position, and with three children under the age of seven, it's a real hardship to find overnight care. I'm a dedicated employee, but I'm a mother first. I shouldn't be made to feel guilty when I don't participate in out-of-town continuing-education courses."

While I respect the fact that some staff members cannot leave home for several days, I, too, feel it is a drain on team motivation before, during, and after the classes. Knowing that one or two people will not be attending diminishes the excitement of planning the trip. During the course, the absent team members are missed. After the trip, it is difficult, if not impossible, to convey the information and inspiration these trips provide.

To minimize the problem, discuss this issue during the initial interview: "Once or twice a year, our office attends a major meeting or office retreat, which results in two or three nights away from home. How do you feel about this?"

If CE is an important part of the practice's growth plan, everyone should be responsible for making the necessary arrangements to participate. The expense of CE can be lessened by implementing Miles & Associates' "Continuing Education Trip Kitty Incentive Plan."

In this plan, everyone in the office agrees to work one half day per month, donating their time in exchange for money contributed to the CE office fund. (If an employee should leave the office prior to the trip, he or she is reimbursed for the time contributed). To implement the Trip Kitty, figure the office's average daily production and divide by two (for the half day). This amount is placed monthly into an interest-bearing trip fund.

For example, if the practice produces $4,000 per day, you would set aside $2,000 monthly ($24,000 per year). If staff salaries are 25 percent, the dentist would contribute 75 percent of the trip.

Continuing education that is earned is appreciated and implemented more successfully than "gift" trips. Dentistry is changing rapidly. It is essential for practices to have some form of CE structured into their schedule so they won't lag behind. The money spent — if used wisely — will bring much more to the practice than the initial investment. Find a happy medium without overloading your bottom line, and you will reap the benefits of a well-trained, well-informed staff to serve your patients well for years to come.

Linda Miles, founder and CEO of the dental-management consulting firm Miles & Associates, has spent four decades as a dental employee and employer. She instinctively resolves sensitive issues in dental practices that ultimately become triple wins — for the dentist, the staff, and the patients. She believes that happy employees perform at far higher levels than those with hidden issues that are only discussed at lunch without the dentist present. Her third-party, experienced-based opinions are not pro-doctor or pro-staff, but always pro-practice. You may contact Ms. Miles at (800) 922-0866 or LLMiles@ix.netcom.com

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