Lorie Streeter has been in the entertainment world since she could walk, making appearances on “The Gong Show,” “The New Mickey Mouse Club” and even opening for major musical acts like Rascal Flatts. She also has three decades of experience in the dental industry, including 12 years as a dental office manager. This may seem like a strange career trajectory, but according to Streeter, who still manages to moonlight as a performer, it actually isn’t that unusual.
“There’s no dental office manager school,” Streeter said. “These people fell into the profession just like I did and made a career out of it. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.”
She was singing in a nightclub when a dentist friend offered Streeter a day job at his practice. She accepted and now 30 years later, her career has taken a turn toward advocacy for others in dentistry’s front office roles, as the vice president of the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM).
Since its inception in 2005, AADOM has aimed to champion the people filling this crucial and sometimes overlooked role. Needless to say, Streeter knows a thing or two about what it takes to run a dental office and the best ways to offer support to the people who do.
So you want to be a dental office manager…
There are more than half a million dental office managers in the United States, according to a 2020 study by Zippia, and a large majority of them are women. The study also revealed that most practices require an associate degree and that candidates with experience with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, patient care, daily operations and finance are the most desirable in the field.
“A day in the life of a dental office manager is a screamingly loud carnival ride of adventure,” Streeter said. “My very first day of work, the assistant came up and she had this big orange book with all the information on the teeth. She set it on my desk and said, ‘Here, learn it.’ I was scared, but I did.”
At any given moment, a dental office manager may be multitasking as your insurance liaison, scheduling manager, HIPAA compliance officer or staff supervisor. Often times, it’s a combination of all four, plus various other duties. For dental assistants who move into to this role, some of these responsibilities may be second nature. For those just entering the world of dentistry, however, learning medical terminology and the ins and outs of insurance may be a whole new skillset to tackle.
“I think as clinicians, there’s always a procedure that they can follow,” Streeter said. “For an office manager, the cards fall differently every day, and they’re touching all aspects of the practice. It’s always something different.”
Nailing down all of the most important qualifications for dental office managers is one of the challenges faced in the profession. Every practice is different and the size and needs of an office can vary greatly from location to location, so there isn’t much of a one size fits all job description for the role. That said, some skills are universally appreciated.
“AADOM did a study that found that most office managers are perfectionists,” Streeter said. “It isn’t a bad quality to have when you’re trying to juggle a lot of tasks in a day. The No. 1 skill that I think a dental office manager needs is patience. Patience for your team, for yourself, for your doctor, for the schedule.”
A need for advocacy
Since there’s no particular school to prepare someone for the job of a dental office manager (as in other aspects of dentistry), the opportunity to meet peers, learn and grow only arise once someone has taken the plunge with their career.
“We tell AADOM members that they’re not on an island,” Streeter said. “At my first dental job, there were several other practices nearby, but if I had a question about insurance or something, I couldn’t just go next door and ask their office manager. They were competition.”
The organization not only advocates for dental office managers but helps link them with others in their role, Streeter said. It’s as much a social network as it is resource for development and growth.
“AADOM removes the barrier,” she said. “We give them an opportunity to talk to their peers and connect. They can answer each other’s questions.”
Room to bloom
Dental office managers are the backbone of many practices. They’re the face of the front office while keeping everything running smoothly behind the scenes, and yet, they’re often stretched thin with limited options for educational and growth resources.
So, what’s the best way to show your office manager your appreciation? Streeter suggests that a little understanding can go a long way.
“A lot of times an office manager might seem frustrated, overwhelmed or stressed,” Streeter said. “That’s only because we’ve been on hold with insurance for two hours or something got denied that the doctor already finished — all of those challenges. Having some empathy for your multitasking office manager is so important.”
As for growth opportunities, investing in your staff can be an investment in your practice. Streeter said that’s where AADOM comes in. The organization offers an annual conference packed with educational talks and networking opportunities. It also offers a vast assortment of online courses for everyone — from those new to the industry to office veterans looking to learn something new.
“The magic of AADOM is the people looking for it,” Streeter said. “It’s the office managers who are looking for a sense of belonging and an association that only serves them… AADOM caters to anyone who touches the front of the office. One course can change your mindset about doing something, and we have some of the best educators in dentistry working with office managers all the time.”
By empowering people in the role, Streeter hopes to flourish the careers of those considering dental office management and those already in it. She says that creating more resources and advancement opportunities is a huge step towards that goal.
“Energy goes where attention flows,” Streeter said. “Once our team put a spotlight on office managers, we managed to professionalize the role. Years ago, offices didn’t look at the office manager as an opinion leader or someone with an important role in the process, but now they’re an entire target audience. The office manager role is far more understood than ever before and far more valued.”