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388: 3 Tips to Be a Rockstar Associate

Kiera is joined by Dr. Jenny Perna to discuss steps associate doctors can take to be A+ — three specific steps, in fact, to get you there.

  1. Be a leader (listen to episode 367 to hear Dr. Perna’s thoughts on leadership without a title)

  2. Think like an owner (learn more about the business side!)

  3. Advance your skill (do right by your patients and seek out continuing education)

Taking these tasks on separates the wheat from the chaff, showing who is truly committed to the practice of dentistry. Dr. Perna also shares the benefits she’s seen in her own life from functioning as a rockstar associate.

Episode resources:

Follow Dr. Perna on Instagram

Listen to episode #367: How to Lead Without a Title

Listen to episode #320: Plans Derailed? Here’s What to Do.

Reach out to Kiera

Subscribe to The Dental A-Team podcast

Become Dental A-Team Platinum!

Review the podcast on iTunes

Podcast Transcript

Kiera Dent:

Hey, everyone. Welcome to The Dental A Team podcast. I'm your host, Kiera Dent, and I had this crazy idea that maybe I could combine a doctor and a team member's perspective, because let's face it, dentistry can be a challenging profession with those two perspectives. I've been a dental assistant, treatment coordinator, scheduler, office manager, regional manager, practice owner. I have a team of traveling consultants where we have traveled to over 165 different offices coaching teams. Yup, we don't just understand you, we are you.

            Our mission is to positively impact the world of dental. I believe that this podcast is the greatest way I can help elevate teams, grow VIP experiences, reduce stress, and create A teams. Welcome to The Dental A Team podcast. Hello, Dental A Team Team listeners. This is Kiera and you guys, I love this woman. You guys love her. This podcasts get downloaded probably more than any other podcasts. I'm not saying that. We check the stats all the time. Dr. Jenny Perna. She is a Yogi dentist. If you guys are not following her, go follow her. She's got some of the coolest stuff out there.

            I feel like she just brings a perspective that I don't often find in other doctors. She's just so willing to talk about her wins and her failures and really just give back so other people can learn. That's why I have her on the podcast selfishly because I just love talking to her. She's one of those friends that I know I can go deep with, and she's just going to be real and honest, and you guys are not going to get fluff. Also, for you guys, because she has so much wisdom. So welcome back, Dr. Jenny Perna, how are you today?

Dr. Jenny Perna:

I am great. That intro just warmed my heart. Thank you.

Kiera Dent:

You're welcome. You're welcome. That's one of the best things about podcasting, is I get to just relish in on these incredible people and just tell them what I really think of them. So, it's fun. I love to intro awesome people. So, thanks for being here today.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Absolutely, and you're so right. We were just talking about it before we got on. I like to dig deep. When it comes to my friends, they'll say, "Oh, I'm having this issue." We dig deep as to what's the underlying thing. I think in another life I was into psychology. So, I am more than willing to open up and share all of my failures and my successes and just things I've learned along the way in hopes that it inspires others in the same.

Kiera Dent:

Yes. Well, it inspires me. That's why I'm excited because, well, first and foremost, Dr. Jenny's one of my doctor friends that I can just say like, "Hey, tell me about this." Ask those deep questions, because I know you're just going to give it to me straight. So, today you had a great topic that I'm excited to dive into and I literally cannot speak to this at all. So, this is fully you. I'm obviously going to chime in, but you had a really cool topic of three tips to be a rock star associate, which I'm so excited about, because this is going to be ... I know we have associate doctors that are listening.

            I also know we have owner doctors that wish their associate would be like this. So, I'm super excited. We're creating something, such a great tool that I can't speak to authentically. So, Dr. Jenny, you've been an associate for a while. If you guys did not hear Dr. Jenny's other podcasts that we've done together, she talked about one when you're going to be an owner doctor and that just derailed, and what did you learn from that? So, I think it's like, when your plans derail, I think is the name of that podcast, which was so fantastic.

            You gave so much goodness in that podcast, but now we're going to shift gears to associate. So, walk us through, how long have you been an associate and then let's just dive right into what we can do, what associates can do to be a rockstar.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Yeah. I have been an associate for about six years. I graduated from dental school in 2014. I did a residency in Asheville, North Carolina, and graduated in 2015. So, I've been an associate ever since and I've been an associate in a different atmosphere as well. So, I've worked for groups. I worked for a private office that was owned by a periodontist, which is a very cool opportunity. I worked in a corporate setting as well. So, I've seen the plethora of different avenues in which you can be an associate.

            I think that you can be a rock star associate if you just are hyper-focused in your goals and your vision, and you can be able to shine that within your position.

Kiera Dent:

Yes. I love that. I love how you have so many different varied ways that you've an associate. It's not like you just had a one track process of being an associate, but you've done a lot of other paths. So, let's dive in. What are some of the things, and also, one day you are going to be an owner, you're going to be hiring an associate. So, let's just talk through some of the things, and I will chime in of things that I've noticed on associates that I think make them rock stars as well. But you've been that rock star associate. I'm sure all the offices you worked with just loved you.

            I know you've taken on leadership roles. You've done other things. So, I won't spill all beans, but let's just dive into this. What are some of the tips that you have to being that really awesome rock star associate?

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Well, thank you for all of that. I hope that all of my opportunities, they enjoyed working with me. It appears they have.

Kiera Dent:

Well, that's good. I'm like, "I don't know." So, we're just going to make this up. I could call all your references if you desire, but I'm sure they love you. I'm sure they love you.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Well, you said something and you touched on something and it is my number one tip and we just podcasted on it, is be a leader. I think that is number one, is that as an associate, and we've talked about this before, is that you're inherently a leader when you're a doctor and it's important to take on that role. It's important to lead your assistant. Your hygienists look at you as well as a leader. I love working with my hygienists as a co-diagnoser. I think that gives them a lot of autonomy. So, being able to take on that leadership role, I think, is probably one of the best things that you can do as an associate.

            It shows to your employer that you really care, that you're not expected to, you're not maybe profit sharing. You're not taking on the business side of things, but that you are willing to stand up as a leader. That ultimately leads to a better team culture.

Kiera Dent:

I cannot tell you how much I guarantee you so many doctors listening right now are like, yes, the associate taking on that leadership role and really investing in the practice. Being more than just somebody there for a job. Talking about it, is this a job or is it a career? I had another podcast earlier today and they talked about how people that really own their position as a career and not just a job. I think associates coming in seeing this as, you get to be a leader and you are a leader, and taking some of that weight off of the owner doctor's plate is incredible.

            You can talk to your owner doctor and make sure, but a lot of times they don't want to make the decisions. I get massive decision fatigue. So, for Tiffany taking ownership of the consultants, I just want to hug her because in my world, consultants are the same as associates. Tiffany is our lead and I love that she's taken ownership of that. It takes a huge burden off of me as the owner. I feel like I've got somebody in my court that I trust, that I can rely on, that is just as equally invested in this business succeeding as I am.

            So, I could not agree with that more. I can only imagine how doctors feel having an associate who takes leadership on and really owns that practice as their own.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Right, and you can problem solve with that. No owner doc, no one wants anyone on the team just coming to them with complaints. You want to be able, as the associate, to problem solve situations. Let's say your assistant keeps dropping the ball with making temporaries. That's a procedure that you've decided to delegate to your assistant. Well, are you just going to go and complain about it all the time or are you going to do something about it? Are you going to set up some trainings with the SSM? Are you going to ask them, "Hey, by the end of the week I want to see five temporaries and we'll go over it."

            Are you going to sit their chair aside and explain everything to them? I think that taking that on and being able to lead the team and letting the owner know, "Don't worry, I've got this." I think shows a lot of value to the owner of the practice.

Kiera Dent:

For sure, because those are the things that you can do that add value, that just are time consuming. It's not that they're not important. They're just time-consuming. For you to take that on and to train up a team, as you said that I was like, "Holy cow, how great would that be as a team member?" I was terrible at temporaries. So, to have a doctor sit with me, I did not want to ask our owner doctor. No, thank you. I knew they were busy and that was just going to be a recipe for disaster because my temps did not look great.

            I dread it every time an owner doctor would walk in and he was like, "Oh, great." Judge me, did I get an, A, B, C, D, or F on this temporary today? So, the fact that you said, give them accountability and then help train up the team. There's so many things that associates can do if they look for it. I really do think chairside clinical hygiene, creating hygiene protocols, obviously run it by your owner doctor, so they're involved, but you can do a lot of that front load. Then, you're very invested in the practice and your team also is more invested in you as an associate.

            It's crazy. I don't want to put this out there because I hope and pray that front office are not this way, but I do know that there are some teams, hygienist for an office, that if they don't like their associates, they don't completely a hundred percent sabotage their schedule, but they do have the power to do that. They will say, "I don't like that associate care. I'm not filling their schedule." I'm like, "Okay, they're a doctor. What do you not like?" But I will say as associates that love on the team, that invest in the team, that want them to be better, that take that ownership leadership role, your team's also more invested in you as well, because they know you're going to stay.

            You're more invested. They love you. They want to make your schedules full. They want to work for you. It's that gift of ... I don't even know how to say this word, reciprocity, there we go.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Yup, you got it.

Kiera Dent:

But really just giving back. But I think it helps set a tone that you are here and you are here to stay and that you want to invest in the practice as well.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Yeah, I completely agree, and that's something. You don't want to be an associate or maybe you do, but I don't think that this will benefit anyone if you're just an associate that clocks in and clocks out. Maybe that's what you envisioned in dentistry, but I think you're absolutely right. The more that you're able to lead the team, incorporate the team, help train the team and show, I am invested in our success, they're going to respect you more and it's going to be a better environment for everybody.

Kiera Dent:

Yes. Completely agree, 100%. So, okay. So, tip number one, be a leader in the practice.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Yes.

Kiera Dent:

You just listed so many ideas. I hope you guys took notes and docs. Don't be afraid to send this over to team members or associate doctors. That's another reason we actually create this podcast, is to give you resources that's not just coming from you but from other people that are trying to give back and share. Okay, tip number two. I'm ready for it.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Tip number two is think like an owner. That means, think about the business, understand the business. A lot of times, associates, you have absolutely no idea what overhead is going on. You want to order a $5,000 piece of equipment and can't understand why your owner won't buy it for you. You want certain materials. It's something that I think is really important. The reason that I got into it is actually, I'll call it a funny story. So, early in my career I was in a group practice and we had a lot of doctors.

            I started to notice that things would be billed out under other doctors, but it was a procedure I did. If anyone listening, doesn't you know that dentists are typically paid a percentage of their collections or production? So, it's important that if you do the procedure and you saw that patient, that it's billed out under you. So, early in my career I realized that I needed to start tracking my numbers. I needed to pay attention to that. Then, throughout associateships I had a thirst to understand what the business side of dentistry was, because how am I going to understand my owner or employer's mindset if I don't understand the business side of it?

            So, I took it upon myself to understand insurances, billing, what can we do if a claim gets denied by an insurance, what are the steps to take? What are our overhead budgets? How are we getting that budget? Is there a month where, "Hey, we didn't have to buy a bunch of supplies, and that's when I could sneak in that $200 cement that I wanted and the owner would be okay with it." So, I think that the second that you try to learn more about the business side of things, the owner's going to appreciate it and open that dialogue, and you'll be more of a team member on that on her level.

Kiera Dent:

Hello, Dental A Team listeners. All right. One of my absolute favorite quotes is, you are always one decision away from a totally different life. So, what life do you want to have? Do you want more accountability? Do you want a team that's trained? Do you want to have somebody who think outside the box and create just for you? Do you want to have a coach? Do you want to have team training? Do you just need somebody to kick you in the rear and get you going? Don't worry. I'm in every single one of those boxes. That's why we created Dental A Team silver, gold, and platinum.

            It's going to be customized team training for you on the terms you want. So, silver, silver is more for accountability. Gold, gold includes all of our online training plus the accountability. Platinum includes all of that, and an office. You guys, I would strongly suggest you go join Dental A Team gold today because you're always one decision away from a totally different life. So, what are you waiting for? Hop on over to thedentalateam.com today. You guys, we only have so many spaces. So, get over there today and sign up for Dental A Team, silver, gold, or platinum.

            Yes. I can't agree with you more because those things seem so silly. Some people will say like, "But I just want to become an associate, not to be an owner." I will agree. That's totally fine. You don't have to, but thinking like an owner helps you be more educated, it helps you think more intelligently. You just understand the process of how the business runs. So, you can be more of a joint, just a better, like you said, a rockstar associate. These are the rockstar associates. These are not just your average status quo.

            These are those associates that, I don't know, if partnership's something that you want. If it's that you just get a dreamy schedule and your schedule is always full. The perks of these types of associates are awesome. But I love that you said, think like an owner because knowing those pieces, and I'm sure knowing that you want to go into ownership probably spurred a lot of those ideas. But I'd say even if you don't want to go into ownership, ask those questions. Go sit at the front desk, find out how it's done. What is the overhead?

            Because the more you know, I used to think I hate numbers, I don't care about it. I just want to run a business. Bottom line is, numbers tell you the secret to everything. They will tell you everything. So, doctors, the more you know about associates, the more you know the better your schedule can be. The more you can make in a year and not have to do as much work. Like you said, I love how you're sneaking that cement that you want because you know overhead wasn't as high. That's a smart move.

            That's a real smart move, because they're much more likely to say yes to you that month than the month when it's sky high overhead. Like, "We're not buying cement. You're fine with this one."

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Right, exactly.

Kiera Dent:

It's just so many opportunities are there, and I love that you said, "Think like an owner." So, what were some of the pieces? You mentioned overhead, you mentioned tracking your numbers, supply costs, claims, how long it takes to get paid. Any other things that you found really beneficial when you started thinking more like an owner?

Dr. Jenny Perna:

It's just everything across the board. What are we doing? I would try to take leadership in the sense of like, "Okay, our schedule's a little light. What can we do right now? Who can we get calling on unscheduled treatment? How many unscheduled treatments are we doing today?" I didn't always play a hand so much in the collections. I understood collections and what it meant, but I didn't try to rectify those problems. That's not what I'm saying. It's not really your job to run the business.

Kiera Dent:

Totally.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

But just to understand the business and the business side of things. Let me think, is there anything else? Hiring and firing. I became a very big, crucial part in that. I wanted to be a part of that. I remember there was one day that we had to let someone go and I asked to be part of the conversation. Even though I did not want to be part of the conversation, because I knew that if I was going to be an owner one day, that I would have to have those conversations. So, just basically anything that made me uncomfortable, I dove head first into it.

Kiera Dent:

Okay, perfect. So, guys, that's her a barometer, if you will. Like, "Oh, I feel uncomfortable about that." Great, jump in there. That's where you're going to know where to be. I do agree, hiring, firing, nobody enjoys doing that. Nobody does. So, helping with that hiring, you could screen, you could do other things. I do love that thought process, but also you're making your dream team. There are perks to you as well of that hiring process that I would say coming along with that.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Right. Actually, I read a lot of business books as well, Traction. I know you love that.

Kiera Dent:

I do.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

That's one of my favorites. E-Myth is really good as well. Anything that I got from those, I tried to incorporate it into the office because I knew an owner would want to do this. Or, it made more sense why we were having meetings so often. It was for the benefit of the team. So, I would want to maybe sneak away for lunch, but I go to the meeting and be a leader and think about, "If this where my office my butt would be in that chair at the meeting." So, those are a few things that I think are really important.

            I think, like we said, an owner ... Think about it. You're an associate. The owner of the office is going to be a dentist as well, and you're colleagues. The more that you can show that you are colleagues and you have their best interests and their business's best interests at heart, and obviously the patient's best interests at heart, the more I think that you're going to be respected and really shine as a rock star.

Kiera Dent:

Yes, I agree with you a hundred percent. Gosh, you said something that ... I loved how you talked about, "If I was an owner, I would be at this meeting and investing in the meeting and reading books." Because I've had associates actually hire, convinced their owner doctor to hire the Dental A Team. They're listening to the podcast. They're reading the books.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Awesome.

Kiera Dent:

They'll bring in marketers. So, I think associates don't realize how much pull they do have, because you have time to do research. You have time to look for the best. If you're listening to the podcasts or you're watching different things that people are doing, I've literally been hired by an office from an associate suggesting that they should hire the Dental A Team.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

That's great.

Kiera Dent:

I thought that was so cool. One, to the owner doctor for empowering the associate team, but also second, to this associate, which I know they listened to the podcast. So, shout out to you guys and thank you, but the crazy cool stuff we've done with this office in less than a year. They hired me through COVID and it was from this associate literally saying, "We need the Dental A Team. They're going to transform us." The stuff we've been able to do. But that came from an associate, that wasn't the owner doctor fighting it. Owner doctors don't always know best.

            Associates know a ton. You guys just got out of school. A lot of you are fresh on certain things. So, this other associate helped hire a marketing company that really has transformed their practice. So, I think that there's so much the owner doc or associate doctors can do when thinking like an owner, that you might not give yourself credit for that I've seen work firsthand from associates.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

I love that, and that's the role that I think a rock star associate can play, as an ally to the owner. You guys can work together to help grow the office in any facet in which you want to see that growth.

Kiera Dent:

For sure. Okay. So, we've got tip one, be a leader. Tip two, think like an owner to be a rock star associate, what's your tip three?

Dr. Jenny Perna:

My tip number three is going to be a little more on the clinical side, but I think it's very, very important as dentists, as associates, as owners, I guess, whoever you are, is to always be looking to advance your skill. That means that we're here as healthcare providers. We want to be serving our patients to the utmost degree. I think finding those valuable continuing education, whether it's in business, if it's in team culture or if it's that you're doing full mouth rehabilitations, or you're doing implant placements.

            I think it's important to continually be growing. Our profession's always growing. Technology's always growing. I think it's really important for us to be at the forefront of that.

Kiera Dent:

I'm not a dentist. I will say though that the doctors who stay on top of their clinical, they stay on top of the CE, you just have more confidence in your treatment planning. Bottom line is, you're more confident in your clinical skills. You're more competent in your treatment planning. Your team's more confident in you. I think as a team member, when my doctors were doing advanced training, they're doing their CE. That was great for me to know, especially as a TC, because then I could say, "Well, Dr. Perna just attended blah, blah, blah. She's phenomenal at this."

            I had more backing as a treatment coordinator to help close cases to put on your schedule as well. So, I think that it advances you clinically, but also from a team standpoint, I also see that you're invested in your skills and I can then also use that to help close cases and various other things that benefit you financially and also personally in the practice as well.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

Absolutely. It takes care of the patients, right? I always use the analogy and oftentimes I use this with patients, is that every chip is like a tree in the forest, but we have to take care of the whole forest. So, when you start to advance your skills through multiple CE educations and you feel confident in bringing that care to your patients, you're only serving our patients more. It'll also create, like you said, a really fun environment in the office. Every single day, if you're doing the same things day in and day out, it can get a little tedious.

            So, the team really enjoys it. I've brought team members to continuing education that I've taken. I brought my lead assistant to Botox and filler course, and she was my patient. Then, when we got back, she was ready to rock and roll and had everything set up, and she was fired up. So, I think that it brings a lot of joy in our profession if you're just continually trying to learn and do the right thing by our patients.

Kiera Dent:

I love that you talked about that it's the whole mouth too. That CE, it helps you, I don't know, I feel like so many docs when they walk out of school working at the dental college, you're really great at bread and butter dentistry, like crowns, fillings, root canals. That's like the main thing. But then, like you said, there's so many problems, I guess, in the mouth that are not just tied to those basic bread and butter. Looking for ortho to correct a bite so we're preventing recession is so cool to me, and looking for ways too.

            Botox for TMJ pain and different pieces there. There's also sleep apnea for your patients that I know isn't ... Maybe it's being taught now in school more so, but I just feel like school teaches you ... I remember one of the professors, he said, "We teach you how to be basically dangerous and not kill anybody in school. Then, the rest is on you. Good luck." This is coming from [inaudible 00:24:32], which I think is an incredible school from the dental colleges I've seen. They give so much hands-on experience.

            But I think you're right. How can you treat the entire mouth, not just the basics, and expanding yourself out and seeing the whole mouth, and how you can really take care of it. That expands your clinical skills. Implants are incredible. There's so many cool things that you guys get to do that I just hope they get amped up and ramped up. Even if you aren't crazy about it. I've had so many doctors take a course that they didn't think that they would like implants. I have a husband-wife duo, they're so cute. She said, "Oh, he's just going to do the implants." She went and took the course and she was like, "I actually loved that."

            So, I think don't underestimate. If you have an interest in it or not even an interest, at least try it, because then you're only going to be educated for how to treat the patient longterm. I know I took a whole maxi implant course, literally nine months. Went to every single of the courses. I did not take the test because clearly that's not allowed, but I went to every single course. Although I was bored out of my mind on some of those areas, I feel I can speak so clearly on implants even though I never will place an implant in my life. That's not something I would do.

            I learned how to suture on a typodont. I definitely took out a nerve on a cadaver, which was so gross. I was dry heaving like crazy. I am not made for that stuff, but that's as far as I'll ever go, but I learned so much about it that I can confidently speak. So, I think even if you're not going to do the treatment at least knowing it, like you said, can just expand you to do better patient care.

Dr. Jenny Perna:

I think you went above and beyond. I think you could probably speak on implants than some docs out there taking the maxi course. But yeah, I completely agree. That's something that I'm very passionate about, is continually growing within the skillset that I have. It brings me a lot of joy and I know that it's bringing excellent care to my patients. That's really at the bottom of all of it.

Kiera Dent:

Dang girl, those are some amazing tips. So, you guys, be Jenny is what we're trying to say. I'm trying to say she might not be, but I'm going to say it because the stuff you just brought to the table of be a leader, think like an owner, and then continually advance yourself in your clinical suite. Those are such impressive skills that I think even if 40% of our associates or 20% of our associates took on even one of those, how much better would every practice, every patient, every experience be. Associates, these are great ways for you to expand yourself within the realm.

            Because I think so many associates are like, "Well, I'm just an associate." Again, drop that phrase. These are so many ways. I actually want my associate to start saying, "I'm a rock associate." Taking on that mindset versus, "I'm just an associate." I'm a rockstar associate and I love what I do. Just the two different phrases. I think it just brings a whole different character personality to the table when you think of yourself as a rockstar associate versus just an associate. So, Jenny, as always, so much goodness you bring to the table.

            I love this topic. Again, one that I can't bring up like, "Hey, guys, here's how you're an awesome associate." Cool. I can't hold credibility on that one but you can, and these are things you've actually done. What would you say are some of the benefits that you've seen from being a leader, of taking ownership, of increasing your clinical suite? What are some of the biggest things that you've taken away personally from being that rockstar associate?

Dr. Jenny Perna:

I think that it's made my career very fulfilling so far. I think that's probably one of the biggest things, is that I'm not the type of person that can just like show up, do the thing, and leave. I take ownership of who I am as a practitioner, who I am as a leader, and then also having that owner mindset. It's just created a fulfilling environment with my team, with my patients. I think that's just really important. I think I've met a lot of different doctors in different phases in their career and I've seen doctors that are late in their careers and they're miserable.

            I refuse to be that doctor. I want to always have a fun career, to have a career that inspires me. These are the things that have helped me in my associateships, show up to work and love what I do.

Kiera Dent:

I love that. I think that everyone's looking for fulfillment. We're looking for how do we really get the most out of this life that we're given. So, I love that you brought this up, of really investing in yourself, investing in having a more fulfilling career. Hearing the excitement, the passion, the love that you have, I just think I wanted people to hear the tangible pieces that you've been able to have, of just a more fulfilling career by being this rock star associate. That wraps it up for another episode of the Dental A Team podcast. Thank you so much for listening and we'll talk to you next time.

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