Working Outside the Operatory


Dental professionals have more options than ever when it comes to their dental career path. Here is a look at just some of the options available in the industry.

Working Outside the Operatory. Image: © Cagkan -

Working Outside the Operatory. Image: © Cagkan -

Taking the first steps into the world of dentistry can be daunting and overwhelming. Between private practice, dental support organizations (DSOs), and different types of dental practices, there are a plethora of choices that dental professionals must reckon with.

Practice Development

But to some dental professionals, the best path for them might not be in the operatory at all. The best path forward might just be outside the operatory, even if that may be a challenging transition for dental professionals who were expecting to be chairside all day, every day, according to Lauren McDonough, DMD, vice president of practice owner development at Aspen Dental.

“I honestly never dreamed I would be doing anything other than chairside clinical dentistry. I truly love the artistry of working with my hands and the thrill and satisfaction of helping a patient to finally realize their optimal oral health,” Dr McDonough says. “But I also loved developing my teams. The offer to impact the careers of thousands of dentists, their teams, and thereby their patients was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Dr McDonough’s role at Aspen Dental is to support and train Aspen Dental practitioners to grow and learn clinically, enabling them to take better care of patients and take ownership of their practices. This comes after years of personal experience, as Dr McDonough and her husband owned 6 Aspen Dental practices.

And while Dr McDonough was in a new position with Aspen Dental, her new path provided new opportunities, new experiences, and a sense of satisfaction that matched her joy in the operatory.

“I found a lot of personal satisfaction in the operatory and prided myself on understanding the intricacies of my patients’ lives. Changing lives through healing smiles is incredibly rewarding. I thrive in fast-paced environments where problems need immediate solutions. Helping dentists realize their career potential, especially when that is with Aspen Dental, is also rewarding and is accompanied with more steadiness in my day-to-day,” Dr McDonough says. “Gone are the days of high highs, when you nail a case, and low lows, when a patient writes a negative review. I can’t say that I don’t sometimes miss the environment in the dental office, but I can travel to practice owners’ offices across the country and coach them to practice management success, which fulfills that need in me.”

Those first steps out of the operatory might require a little bit of flexibility and bravery, per Dr McDonough, and this includes bravery from practice owners too. Though these conversations focused on leaving might be a little bit scary for practice owners, it’s best to be supportive in helping develop the person beyond their role at the practice.

“I have found that having development plans with all members of the office team to help them realize their potential in their current role and beyond shows that you care about their success as a person and not just a part of the office’s revenue stream,” Dr McDonough says. “Their current role might not be their forever position, and that’s OK. Constant development is a mantra I live by.”

This individual development can also be supported by a key role that can exist outside the operatory––mentorship.

Innovation in Products and Procedures

While dental school may not focus so much on the business side of things, learning this vital part of the dental practice may be key for some staff, according to Laura Kibbe, RDH, Manager of Clinical Innovation at CareQuest Innovation Partners.

Kibbe began her career as a dental receptionist, then a dental assistant, and next a dental hygienist, before she was offered an opportunity to apply for a job with Safety Net Solutions, a legacy program of what is now CareQuest Institute. Safety Net Solutions is a practice management consulting resource, with a focus on technical expertise and assistance to safety net dental programs.

“The job title was project manager of technical assistance, and it had this long list of job tasks that I had never done. The very bottom bullet of the list said ‘dental experience preferred.’ I thought to myself, ‘I’m not sure if I can do this, but I'm going to try,’” Kibbe says. “So, I sent them my dental hygiene-focused resume, which was very clinically focused including things like applying sealants and fluoride varnish. I had low expectations on hearing back, but they called me. When I went in for an interview, I said, ‘I can promise you 2 things: I am a very fast learner and a very hard worker.’ Thankfully that was enough, because they were looking for someone who was a go-getter and someone with clinical experience.”

Eventually, CareQuest Institute created a for-profit subsidiary, CareQuest Innovation Partners, where Kibbe rose in the ranks to become the Manager of Clinical Innovation, calling on her experience inside the operatory to inform best practices. The clinical innovation group at CareQuest Innovation Partners evaluates dental products and services, aiming to validate and scale particularly innovative solutions, according to Kibbe.

This transition from the operatory to a more business-focused role came with unique changes, but Kibbe says CareQuest Innovation Partners did a great job at showing her support.

“I was able to lean on my background and the dental experience that I had in those first years with the practice management consulting. Then once I switched to the business side of things, I knew I needed to increase my business acumen,” Kibbe says. “I decided to pursue a Masters of Business Administration degree, and the company was supportive of that, which is really awesome.”

This has been a “full circle” moment, described by Kibbe, who started her college experience with a business major before switching to dental hygiene to work with her mother who was also a dental hygienist.

And while she does miss the direct patient engagement that chairside hygiene in a dental practice offers, Kibbe is grateful for the opportunity to impact even more patients on a larger scale with CareQuest Innovation Partners.

“Now instead of just trying to change the way care is delivered 1 patient at a time, I'm really blessed to have this opportunity with a national platform where I can ideally change the way that care is delivered for all patients in the United States,” she says.

An Open Mind

Whether it’s becoming an educator, informing practice owners how to transition, assisting on the business side of things, or becoming a mentor through a DSO, there are many branching paths that one can take if they are considering leaving the operatory. And while it may be a frightening prospect to move away from what is familiar and comfortable, the results can truly be worthwhile.

Sometimes growth just means being open to new things, according to Dr McDonough.

“Being a dentist is more than direct patient care. There are so many avenues you can take. Just like going to dental school doesn’t fully prepare one for clinical practice, being a practicing dentist doesn’t fully prepare one for stepping away from the practice,” she says. “For me, it required openness to learn new things—from facilitation skills for lectures and becoming a better coach to measuring impact through key performance indicators and scaling projects across 1000+ locations. Those who embrace change and want to explore something new might find their success differently but are typically hungry to achieve it.”

Related Videos
Mastermind - Episode 31 - Retaining Dental Staff
Mastermind - Episode 30 - Tackling Today's Tough Challenges
AHDA23 Annual Conference in 4 Minutes
Mastermind - Episode 29 - Addressing Racial Disparities in Hiring at Dental Practices
Mastermind - Episode 28 - How Artificial Intelligence is Changing Dentistry
Mastermind - Episode 27 - Ethical Dilemmas in the Dental Practice
Mastermind - Episode 26 - Let's Talk Money
2023 Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting, Interview with Dr Lauren McDonough, VP, Practice Owner Development at Aspen Dental
2023 Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting, Interview with Sam Halabo, DMD, Catapult Educator
Mastermind - Episode 25 - Building a Strong Dental Team
© 2023 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.