When dental assistants are starting their careers or looking for new positions, there’s usually an emphasis on what dental practices are seeking — from certain qualifications and experience to the ability to work on a team and pay attention to detail. But it’s just as important for dental assistants to think about what they want from potential employers. And with the profession continuing to face a shortage of qualified dental assistants, dentists and practice owners need to know what can attract talented dental assistants.
Below are some of the top qualities dental assistants seek when evaluating employers.
Pay is cited by dental assistants as the top factor in their job satisfaction, according to DANB’s Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey. Like employees in any other profession, dental assistants want to receive wages and benefits that reflect their many contributions, help them take care of their families, and show they’re appreciated by their employers. Many dental assistants feel well-compensated and receive strong benefits from their employers.
But that isn’t the case for everyone. Dissatisfaction with pay is one of the most common reasons dental assistants leave their jobs. And some feel that dental assistants are underpaid overall. Those who are happy with their pay, however, are more motivated to perform at their very best and stay with their current practices.
“As we are able to do more, the pay and respect should reflect that,” says Jessica.
Appreciation and encouragement
Dental assistants are the backbone of their practices. They are committed to providing the best care to patients and helping out teammates however they can, often taking care of the small details that no one else sees. Dental assistants have a hand in almost every aspect of the dental office — from preparing and disinfecting exam rooms to answering patient questions, taking x-rays, and assisting dentists during procedures.
“Not only do we keep the back office running smoothly, but we also strive to take excellent care of our patients,” says Taelor.
Ronda agrees: “Without dental assistants, the office cannot function. They make everything run smoothly for the dentists and hygienists.”
For all their hard work, dental assistants want to feel appreciated. However, just a little over half (54%) of dental assistants in DANB’s most recent Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey said they feel valued by their employer. When dental assistants do feel appreciated, it improves their morale, motivates them to continue their hard work, and makes them want to stay at the practice long-term.
“People like to feel appreciated for what they do. Dental assisting is no different,” says Travis. “Regardless of what your job title is or who you work for, your employees want to feel appreciated for their contributions to a company.”
Dental assistants perform important and fulfilling work. But like anyone, they need time to enjoy their lives and manage responsibilities outside the office. According to research by the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute, feeling overworked is the second-leading reason dental assistants feel dissatisfied with their jobs, behind only insufficient pay. In DANB’s salary and satisfaction survey, 55% of dental assistants who changed jobs in the previous year did so to seek better work-life balance.
Dental assistants are looking for practices that encourage a healthy work-life balance and take specific actions to support it, such as offering paid time off. A well-staffed practice can also foster better work-life balance for everyone. It can help spread the workload among the team, keep the schedule on track, and allow the staff to go home on time.
“My boss is the best in the business,” says Meridith. “He is understanding of my personal responsibilities outside of work, and he allows me to work part time and take off when I need to care for my family.”
Support for professional development
Dental assistants strive to further their knowledge and skills through continuing education and certifications. However, these efforts require time commitments outside of normal working hours, and they’re not free. While practices might encourage staff to seek professional development, only 27% of dental assistants receive reimbursement for continuing education, according to DANB’s salary and satisfaction survey. Just 20% are reimbursed for DANB certification.
When dental practices encourage professional development for assistants and provide financial support, it’s mutually beneficial. Highly trained and educated dental assistants can take on expanded functions, which elevates the entire office. The dental staff can work more efficiently and patients receive better care. Additionally, it shows dental assistants that their employer is invested in their success and career growth, making them more likely to stay at the practice.
“The dentist I work with is very appreciative and encourages my learning,” says Becca. “I learn something new every day, and that’s the main reason I stay in the dental assisting profession.”