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 (AADOM), sought to answer this question by speaking recently with Terri Lenihan, FAADOM: the practice administrator of Broadway Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Council Bluffs, Iowa, who was named AADOM’s 2017 Practice Administrator of the Year.

Here, Terri discusses her decision to transition out of clinical dental assisting to train in practice management, what her hands-on experience taught her when it comes to leading a productive practice, and more.


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

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


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

Terri: 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.


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

Terri: 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 Certified Dental Practice Management Administrator (CDPMA) certification exam and became a practice administrator.


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

Terri: 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.


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

Terri: 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 they arrive at the office, when I walk them through a treatment plan, or as we’re going through the checkout process.


Heather: Why do you think dental assistants, specifically, are well suited to the transition into dental office management?

Terri: Aside from understanding dentistry, dental assistants are trained to always be a step ahead. Their attention to the details 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.


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

Terri: 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 who 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 continuing education (CE) courses out there that are available to help you 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.

And the DALE Foundation, DANB’s official affiliate, offers online courses in dental office management.


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

Terri: 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.


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

Terri: 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!


Access a new virtual course from AADOM

If you’re considering a move from assistant to practice management, AADOM can help! Our new virtual course, DA to PA: Dental Assistant to Practice Administrator, presented by Kevin Henry and Tija Hunter, CDA, will give you the knowledge, confidence, and help to build a plan to reach your goal. If you have questions, email info@dentalmanagers.com or call (732) 842-9977.