Changes in the practice manager role

smilers smallMichael Bentley discusses how the role of a practice manager has changed and developed over the last 20 years

I am often asked by business owners and PMs how did you do it? How did you gain the confidence for running a dental business? I give them a short answer ‘The right training combined with the right experience and the willingness to resolve any situation or challenge with positivity and of course plenty of hard work!’

However, what I have found today, from when I first started as a PM, is where is the training? Are you that PM or business manager that is in a role you don’t fully understand? Are you a PM that is expected to act in a way with one owner whilst the other owner bellows instructions? How do business owners expect a person to step straight into being a PM with ease and confidence? The answer is they can’t. A PM today needs to be trained like I was, given time to digest, to grow their confidence and at the right pace.

By delivering small reactive successes the larger proactive successes will come. What do I mean by reactive and proactive successes? The 2015 PM now has to deliver on two sides. The first side is reactive management – making sure day-to-day tasks are completed for a smooth running business day.

The second is the proactive PM or most commonly called the business manager. The focus of this manager is to have vision and plan for the business, provide marketing plans and concentrate efforts on maximising everyone’s output within the practice. This new age PM can only get there if they have managed autonomy. I say managed autonomy as it can only be given by the trust of the business owners and it is a relationship that has to be earned, so that that when autonomy is duly given it is handled by the PM with respect.

PMs of the past

Let’s go back to 1998 and 2000 when I was duly given my PM titles. I was firstly sent to boot camps. At both corporates, I shadowed existing PMs and learnt the systems that I needed to know. For Dollond & Aitchison I was sent for intensive training, learning how to open and close the business, merchandising stock, daily banking, tracking KPIs, managing team performance, rotas, appointment diary scheduling, NHS paperwork records and dispensing of glasses. A small list of tasks that equalled a successful reactive practice day.

After three months I was let loose with my new practice in Stratford upon Avon. I can tell you that 12-hour days are what it took me to keep up with all the reactive challenges I faced. I would smile as I closed the door at 5pm and spend hours prepping for the next day of intensive practice life. At Boots, a similar structure was employed, shadowing established PM colleagues with an equalled lists of tasks that incorporated most of the D&A responsibilities with a few new ones. Boots also provided serious HR training – weeks and weeks of it that improved my level incredibly and made me HR safe.

Present day

In the present day, I asked why a boot camp culture was not provided for private PMs? Where is the PM training for nurses that have risen from minor responsibilities into running a business? Would a dentist just become a dentist? In private practice I often slam into massive gaps of core skill knowledge with owners and PMs that should be learnt. And why? No training.

The 2015 PM must be given a clearly defined job description with training to have any chance of managing all reactive responsibilities. The job encompasses CQC (which has provided a clear clinical framework) but this in itself does not manifest a PM to provide a vision for your practice and to become a marketing guru.  This also needs specialist training in the same way a dentist would up-skill to advance their skills.


Michael Bentley has 15 years experience as a practice manager and seven years experience working as a treatment co-ordinator. He is a qualified and GDC registered DCP and first became a PM at age 20 with Dollond & Aitchison before working in dentistry and chiropody with Boots Healthcare. Michael has been working at private dental practice JM Dentalcare in Sutton Coldfield since 2005.He moved into business consultancy in June 2012 and is now working in practices with Horton Consulting.

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