It feels good to guide people in how to best care for our patients.
Aileen Del Riego
Director of Operations
I’m the director of operations of a privately owned dental practice. I had a really nontraditional journey to getting to my job. Before I started managing a dental practice I was teaching preschool, which actually is not very much different, as it turns out, than managing a dental practice. And then I was the director on the board of Wagging Dog Rescue, and that’s a volunteer position but it was a lot of dealing with different people and personalities and things that people are really passionate about. You just have to play into what people need, in that position. Same thing with the preschool that I worked at. It was kind of interesting because it’s a parent co-op preschool so I was the only teacher in the room and then I’d be working with three volunteer parents every day. It was the same 15 parents, because I had 15 kids, so it wasn’t like new people every day but it was on a rotating schedule and so managing all of that was a lot. I ran parent education nights, and all those things. I never really thought of myself as a manager, but then looking back at my experience in those two professions, it definitely was a lot of management.
I got this job because my boss actually went to high school with me. We went out for tacos and he was like, “You are literally the smartest person I know, and just based on you talking about your current job, I think you should come manage my dental office.” I’m sorry, what? When he said that to me, I was like, “Absolutely not, I love my job.” And I did love my job. I still miss that job; it was an amazing school and I loved the kids, I still miss doing it. But I was kind of on the cusp of: “I feel like I’ve maxed out what I can do here.” I always want to continue to evolve and I felt that in that position, there was nowhere else for me to grow. But I finally decided to do it after thinking about it for six months; I took a long time to think about it.
He had an office manager — he bought the practice from his dad, so our practice has been open for 50 years. His dad had the same office manager for 30 years and when his dad retired she announced that she was retiring. I started in our dental office in July and the current office manager was still there. She was like, “I’m going to train you until March” and in October she was like, “I am no longer needed here. You literally have mastered everything and I’m retiring early.” And I’m like, “Wait a minute, what?? What the heck am I going to do? I don’t know what I’m doing, what are you talking about?” I was freaked out because I was thinking I have until March. That was five years ago that she retired and it’s been really awesome.
I get to meet so many people and our patients are amazing; it feels good to guide people in how to best care for our patients. I have an amazing staff, they are unbelievable. We have three people that worked there when I first started and everybody else I’ve hired. I’ve hired people who had zero experience in the dental field, like for our front desk. Obviously, if you’re going to be a dental assistant or a dental hygienist, you need training, but as far as our front desk goes, it comes back to intuition. I look at people in interviews and I think, “Are you really being authentic and candid with me?” People seem like they’re too nervous and they’re not really talking… unfortunately, I can’t hire that person because I can’t get a feel for who they are. I need someone who’s in an interview, talking and laughing and they can engage on a level where I can read them a little bit more. Especially in our office because everyone is so close and everyone cares about each other so much and you have to really work.
Part of the dental office karma — they call it the front office and the back office. Like people who are greeting the patients and doing all of the administrative stuff, and then you have the people who are hands on, they’re in the back literally working on people. A lot of times there is a huge divide, and our office is not like that. There’s a perfect symbiotic relationship. I didn’t even know that other offices weren’t like that until I started going to dental conventions or a couple of management conferences and people are like, “I have this problem in my office…” That is your problem; that’s not your staff, that is you. You’re not guiding them into being copacetic with each other. You’re leaving something open where they are feeling that they have to manage that and that is why you’re not succeeding and having good relationships.
Sometimes the back office will come to me and say, “I don’t have my schedule booked, what is going on?” I’ve already checked in with the front office because I’ve seen that too, and actually they’ve called 26 patients this morning, they’ve literally given me the list of how many people they’ve called for one appointment. They are working on it even if you don’t hear them on the phone because we have a texting system and they have texted so many people; I’m watching all the texts go by. And then the back office person is like, “Ok, cool, thanks.” At least they know that we are just as concerned with their schedule as they are.
Our team is really awesome. We have a lot of people who are really invested in anything that they’re doing. They’re passionate people. Which is amazing for our patients because without passionate people, your patient care is always going to lack. If you don’t have an emotional connection to your patient’s well-being, you’re never going to be on the pulse of what’s going on with them. We’re just lucky that our whole staff really care about our patients. In dentistry, if you’ve had any metal plates or pins placed, or if you’ve had certain heart surgeries, you have to take a prophylactic antibiotic before getting your teeth cleaned. So our front desk will come to me and go, “So-and-so says they had surgery last week and that’s why they had to reschedule. We need to ask them about that because we need to know if it’s something that’s going to interfere with their dental work or put them at risk.” Little things like that, they are really paying attention. They are detail-oriented, but it’s because they really care about our patients. They have an emotional attachment to our patients, which is really rare. They could just say, “Well, the patient never informed us.” And that would get you off the hook, really. We’re doing our mandated health history once a year, so if the patient doesn’t tell you stuff in between… you could say that patient didn’t inform us. But if you’re paying attention, the patient doesn’t have to directly say it. Our team really makes my job easier. And I’ve hired them for that reason, because I knew they would make my job easier.
Day-to-day, I do a lot of stuff on the computer as far as our accounts payable, our accounts receivable, I’m constantly running through our production numbers just to be sure that we’re on track and if we’re not, then I’m checking in with our treatment coordinator going, “Hey, I noticed there are three days where we have the following things that aren’t booked.” And she’s so on it, she’s always like, “Yes, I know. I have a call out to so-and-so and so-and-so and I think they’re all going to take those appointments, and if they don’t, I have a backup.” She’s amazing. I work really closely with her on a lot of things.
I’m going through all our practice metrics to see where we’re at, and where we’re not hitting out goals. I’m the one that does our goal planning for the entire year for the financial goal plan. It’s a lot of responsibility. How’s this decision going to affect all the goals that I have for the practice? I’m directing that — we do an annual meeting at the beginning of the year and then we do once a month. At the very beginning of the month, we go over the goal for that month. I had to learn how to do that because I had never managed something at this level — like literally every aspect of a business. It’s like owning a business only I don’t own it. I had to learn how to do all of that. I really had to research what are the best ways are to do that and who’s been successful. In the dental world, just like in any world, there’s a lot of opinions on how to handle different situations and different financial goals and even how to pay your staff. There’s so many different ways of doing that, that I had to research and look at the people who I really respected in that field and I felt like they were already successful and I had to follow their business models.
I have a lot of e-mailing because I’m doing our website — we redesigned our website two years ago, but I’m constantly dealing with that, updating it. We just started doing SEO, so I’m dealing with a company to do that and anyone we’re doing marketing with I’m dealing with that. I helped with the redesign of our website, and I had a vision for what I wanted that to be like, so I implemented that with our website company, which is also really awesome – they’re called Wonderful, and they are wonderful. They did such a great job redesigning our website; I had a vision, and they implemented it. I really want people to come to our website when they’re like, “I’m thinking about going to the dentist but I freakin’ hate the dentist…” Because this is my experience with going to the dentist, even now. It freaks me out. I know patients have that, and it’s a financial commitment going to the dentist and there’s so many aspects of it that aren’t great, but our office is great. I love our staff and I love our patient experience. I wanted to portray that on our website, so we put a video of what it looks like when you walk into our office, down to our front desk people sitting in their chairs, what it looks like when a dental assistant opens the door and brings you back and you’re sitting in the chair. It wasn’t a scary video where you’re sitting in the chair and there’s a light on you! Our doctor’s smiling and talking to you… 90% of your appointment is all those things. The doctor’s only working on you for a very minimal amount of time. So I obviously didn’t want to focus on that part of it, I wanted to focus on all the parts that make our office amazing.
I order all our supplies for our office; I don’t order directly all the dental supplies for our office because our dental assistant does that job. But I still deal with the vendors because I’m the one that pays the bills. I also order all of the marketing materials for our office — all the little stuff like pens and stickers and everything we give out. I also designed the look of our office, the aesthetic, because I just like doing that so I’m lucky that I can do that. I re-did our entire back office area where the doctor and I sit, and our treatment coordinator sits in there now, too. When I first started working there, there were these old school giant desks and that was it. They took up the entire room so I asked our doctor if I could take all those desks out and put one big table in the middle where we could have meetings and staff development and everybody could eat lunch. I wanted more team building room than the desks where the doctors sit.
The doctor is literally probably about 70% of my job… I don’t know exactly but a huge part of my job is being there to listen to what he wants, and getting it done. He knows now to tell me the one that’s the priority. I’m going to prioritize the stuff for our office functioning. So he has learned, and I have learned, that when he has something that he prioritizes, he goes, “And just to let you know, THAT is what I want you to work on today.” And then I have had to let go of what is important to me to do what he wants me to do. Because ultimately, that’s what I’m there for. He hired me to run the office, but he hired me to do what is important to him. Working for anybody and with anybody, you have to learn what’s important to them. You’re not working smarter, you’re working harder because you’re battling them. It’s like swimming upstream if you’re not doing what your employer asks you to do.
I feel like I have a five-year turn around on everything that I do, and I’ve been there for five years but this job is interesting in the fact that my boss is always adding another layer of things that he wants for our practice. I feel like in the long-run, I would like to do more. I feel like now that I’ve achieved a level where I feel like I’m doing everything that I can do for our practice… I would have actually liked to see our practice grow more over the last five years. Then I feel like we’d be on a timeline to open another practice and managing multiple practices would be great. That’s what I’d like to do. I think doing it for multiple locations would be so rewarding because you’d get to work with different teams. I love the idea of training people to manage other people. Even doing practice consulting would be amazing. Going into dental practices and saying, “Ok, this is where your disconnect is.” It’s not just in your dollars and cents, it’s in your team, how you’re managing that and how can you set up expectations for your team and how can you tell them how grateful you are that they met those expectations.
I think my job is ever-evolving and as long as I’m willing to evolve with it, then I’m successful. I like to constantly be challenged, enough that I feel like I’m using my full potential to handle things. Managing people, and then the financial part — a lot of people have a hard time doing both. They’re a numbers nerd, but not really a people person… and it didn’t always overlap for me, either. It’s more about the people and the numbers and having that all come together for a complete picture. I don’t feel like I would have to stay in the dental field. In my position, it doesn’t really matter. It could be anything. It could be cookies and it would still be the same thing: you still need to sell a certain number of cookies and you still need to make sure that your customers are happy and customers are finding you. It’s the same thing. Except then I would know a lot more about what temperature to bake macarons at. This is totally a transferable skill set.
I never really thought of myself in a managerial role. If you asked me, “What are you going to do with your career?” I wouldn’t have said that, just because I never thought about it, but it fit me really well. I dove right in and I feel like a lot of managing people is intuition. I’m not always fair to everybody because life’s not fair and it doesn’t work. I’m always looking out for what’s best for our business but I’m also looking out for what’s best for our employees. It’s fair as far as if I tell one person they can do something, I tell everybody else they can do that same thing, so I always have to think about that. I’m always thinking about our bottom line, financially, because I’m the one that’s ultimately accountable for all of that. The doctor I work for, he does dentistry, and I do pretty much everything else. It’s my own sense of doing what’s right for our business. I want to know that no one can ever say, “You weren’t thinking about how this was going to affect the business in ten years.”