Don’t worry. I didn’t think it was possible either! I firmly believed it took 6 months to two years to train an employee properly and, because I believed that, it did! And no, I’m not saying they will be experts or be able to handle crazy situations in two weeks, just that they will be competent to change wires, do repairs, do bonds/debonds and make appointments. And yes, they will even need a little help with these things from time to time at this early stage in the game but they will be able to run their own chair most of the time and in most situations. No, we don’t hire experienced employees because most other offices don’t do well and I don’t want people who “know what they are doing” to try and tell us how we should be doing things or “the way that Dr. Smith does it”.

Honesty the toughest thing to train a new employee to do is to make good impressions but they even get the hang of that eventually.

Why does it matter how long you take to train an employee? Well, it doesn’t really matter that much if you only have to do it once but in my experience, life doesn’t work out that way. In fact, what I see in the majority of mature offices is at least one or two overpaid, entitled, lazy employees. The doctor and the rest of the team know that the employee(s) I’m describing needs to go because he/she is a cancer, killing the office, but they will rarely take action because, “she knows everyone” or “he’s my right hand” or whatever. Getting held hostage by bad employees is a terrible experience for all involved. Being able to train employees quickly makes it less painful for the old and the new when the time for change arises. It’s not personal. This is just business. I believe in taking great care of employees who work hard and have a positive attitude just as much as I believe in parting ways with those who don’t.

So how do we train rookies with zero experience to be able to handle chairside duties so quickly? Like so many other things in life, it’s simple but it ain’t easy!

First, we have a professional HR person and she has a system that makes sure we don’t hire any thieves, druggies or other criminals and she also makes sure that the new employees understand the job, what’s involved, what’s expected and what the pay will be. This eliminates confusion in most cases and she discovers problems before we hire. You can do this too but you’ll need to decide what is important to you, make a checklist and follow it every time you hire. Use whatever tests you like but keep track of how people do on your selection criteria and how that translates into job performance. Also be sure to run a background check, call references and do a drug screening.

Next, we don’t mess around. We let the new person observe for a day and then he or she is doing the work under the supervision of one of our best clinicians. Deciding who will train in your office is crucial and the right person makes all the difference. I usually tell trainers not to wear gloves and to put their hands in their pockets because otherwise they will do what we doctors are so fond of doing and do things themselves rather than letting the trainee do the work. I can hear you now – you’re worried about rookies working on patients. Well, this isn’t brain surgery but if you’re that concerned then give away a bunch of cases and let the rookie work on pro bono cases or on fellow staff members with braces.

We also understand that by doing our training this way we will have high turnover on new employees in the first two weeks. Basically it’s sink or swim with us and those who can’t, don’t. No hard feelings – it’s better for them and for us to find out quickly that chairside assisting is not their bag. Just know this will happen.

Ok, so that’s it. You’re good to go, right?


The training is the easy part. The hard part is simplifying your practice, your mechanics, your schedule and your other systems to the point that they are easy enough that even a rookie can do it. What do I mean?

How many wires do you use in a typical case?

How often do you use steel ties?

How many different appointment types do you have and how many different time slots in your template?

Do you have a computer at every chair?

Do you have a curing light at each chair?

Do you allow parents to come back in the treatment area?

Do you let kids schedule their own appointments?

How many different types of elastics and how many different configurations do you have?

Do you use class II correctors?

And on and on and on…


We are a low-tech office meaning we use the simplest approach that works well. We only need 3-4 wires per case, very rarely steel tie, only have 5 different appointment types and 3 time slots, I have very few types of elastics and only a few configurations and I don’t use class II correctors. I’m not saying that this is the right way or the only way of doing things but I can tell you that our simplicity has a lot to do with how quickly a rookie can learn what he or she needs to know.

I can also tell you that the very best assistant I’ve ever worked with has been doing this less than 6 months…