Perspective: Moving to practice administration

Terri Lenihan

AADOM Fellow and DANB certificant Terri Lenihan (above) shares insight about making the switch.

Ask any dental professional what they love about working in dentistry, and you’ll likely hear about all the opportunities to learn and advance. With so many paths to explore, from working chairside as a dental assistant to having a role at the front desk and more, dentistry is an exciting field to enter.

While everyone on the dental team has varying responsibilities, they also share one commonality: All dental professionals can benefit from pursuing education and credentials, plus networking with and learning from colleagues.

Terri Lenihan, CDPMA, FAADOM, office manager at Broadway Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Council Bluffs, Iowa, knows firsthand that professional proactivity is the key to finding the perfect role in dentistry, as well as staying a step ahead in the field. For this reason, she’s been a longtime active member of the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM) and continues to maintain certification with DANB. Here, Lenihan shares her story and advice for those looking to transition to practice administration, too.

Certified Press: Thank you for speaking with us about your dental career path! First things first: What brought you to the dental assisting profession?

Lenihan: It all began when my friend called to ask whether I wanted a job working with her as a dental assistant. At the time, I was going to college and working as an assistant manager at a fast-food restaurant. Unhappy with the major I had chosen in school, but also knowing that I enjoyed working with people, I figured that a change in direction was worth a try!

It wasn’t long into my on-the-job-training in dental assisting that I fell in love with helping people as part of my role, and that I discovered there was a lot more involved in dentistry than I ever realized. It was interesting to learn about all the areas of the practice. Since I love learning new things, I made sure to help in whatever dental office areas I could, soaking up new information like a sponge.

Sounds exciting! Why did you decide to pursue dental practice administration?

I was working for a few offices as an assistant when, to my surprise, one of the doctors approached me and asked if I would be interested in moving into the front-desk position. Having been finding that I truly enjoyed the business side of dentistry, the decision to make the change was an easy one for me.

Within a few years, the office manager I worked with announced her retirement, and it was a natural transition for me to move into that role. With this new responsibility came an entirely new set of skills and processes to learn.

During this transition, how did you gain the dental office management knowledge you needed?

In 2007, I completed the exam through DANB to become a Certified Dental Practice Management Administrator (CDPMA) certificant, and I continue to maintain DANB certification to this day.

In this same year, I also received a fax from Heather Colicchio, AADOM founder and president, asking if I was a dental office manager seeking peer support. Well, yes, that was me! Becoming a member of AADOM and attending my first management conference was an easy decision, which has made all the difference.

Then in 2010, I invested more in myself professionally and completed AADOM’s Fellowship program. It was so rewarding to be inducted into the first class of Fellows in 2010 … and then in 2017, to be nominated by my doctor and team for the prestigious AADOM Practice Administrator of the Year Award — which I won! It was an honor just to be nominated then, but to actually receive this award has been one of the most fulfilling moments in my career.

Would you recommend dental practice administration to those considering the change?

Yes! While the move to practice administrator was huge and scary, it also has been life-changing for me. I love my career and can’t imagine doing anything else. I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I was given early on in my career to become a dental assistant, and then to move to office management. Now, being cross-trained to work in both areas of the dental office is so rewarding; I do still keep my dental assistant license current through the state of Iowa, since I help out in the clinical area occasionally.

Whatever career path you choose, I simply say, embrace the change and enjoy the journey! And remember, AADOM and your peers (including me) are always here to support you.

Office manager at desk

Ready to Become a Dental Office Manager?

The DALE Foundation offers several courses on a variety of dental office management topics. Visit to learn more.

Explore AADOM’s Resources

AADOM offers a variety of resources, education and networking opportunities for dental office managers. AADOM is offering a complimentary membership “test drive” to see what being an AADOM member is all about. For more information, visit