Transitioning from dental assistant to CEO advisor to many DSOs
At the March 2022 inaugural meeting of Women in DSOs (WinDSO), Patient Prism’s CEO, Amol Nirgudkar interviewed Ellie Naderi, the CEO of Dental Solutions by Ellie Naderi. Her story is uniquely wonderful because she has been a dental assistant, hygienist, and practice manager; worked with a large pharmaceutical company; been a CEO with DSOs, some of which were private equity backed; and has transitioned to consulting with the CEOs of DSOs to fast track and improve their leadership of their team leaders.
Nirgudkar asks, “How did you move up the path from dental assistant to hygienist and CEO of multiple DSOs?”
“It was intentional,” says Naderi. “I was always on a quest to learn and know as much about dentistry and the operations of dentistry as I could. So, I ended up working every function in the dental practice. I was a dental assistant, a practice manager, and I practiced hygiene for seven years. I always knew there was going to be more there for me. I didn’t know that I was going to end up being in the DSO space but by transitioning from clinical hygiene to working for a well known pharma company, I was exposed to DSOs and met some wonderful mentors.”
As Naderi stepped into leadership roles in DSOs, she learned what she didn’t like about DSO operations and developed a passion for solving some of the pain points that exist today. “One of the biggest passions I developed was how to get the best out of teams within a DSO,” she says.
Getting DSO team leaders to “paddle in the same direction”
Nirgudkar asks, “What was the one thing that worked well at the larger DSOs you led to get team buy-in?”
“I'm all about being as transparent as possible, communicating as openly as possible, and helping set the vision so everybody can row in the same direction,” says Naderi. “I'll literally make everyone hop into a virtual boat, hand them the paddle, and say, ‘This is the direction we're going. This is what we're trying to accomplish.’"
Nirgudkar remarks, “Clinicians–dentists and hygienists, are motivated by patient care. They want to deliver the best patient care ever.”
“Because I’ve been there,” says Naderi, “I walked a mile in their shoes. I do have a bottom-up lens with all of my communication. My message is always, ‘Do what you would do if your child was in the chair. Do what you would do if your mom was in the chair. I’m not asking you to reinvent dentistry. I’m just asking you to practice the way it was taught to you in dental school–in the most ethical way.’”
Naderi believes when teams focus on patient care, patient experience, and quality dentistry, the rest follows. “I've been in situations where I've inherited clinical protocols and philosophies that were less than desirable and the patient was not winning,” she says. “This was out of fear they were going to lose revenue. They were going to lose EBITDA. But if you do things through that caring lens for your patient as if they were your mother or child, the revenue follows, the buy-in from the clinicians is there. And the respect for the organization is there because you're not trying to get doctors to practice outside of their comfort zone.”
Her advice: Go slow to go fast
Naderi advocates going slow to go fast. Before acquiring offices, first develop your functional areas so you can support the platform. Identify what you need. Does the technology stack need to be a certain way? Do you need HR leaders close to the field versus at the helm?
“Working with the leaders in functional areas to build out their areas is a huge challenge because, as humans, we have emotional attachments to our teams, to the people that we’re working with,” she says. “And so oftentimes CEOs object, saying, ‘Yeah, but Susie and Bob…’ Forget about Susie and Bob. Tell me what you need to support the practices. Let's create the org chart. Let's build out the functional areas, and then let's back in our people and see where there are gaps in talent. And if you have a gap in talent, take your blinders off and bring in people who have scaled organizations,” says Naderi.
“It’s great to promote,” she continues. “And we're here [at WinDSO] talking about empowerment today, especially of women. And I'm all for that … I'm all for loyalty. I'm all for collaboration. And I truly believe that people, if they're in the right seat, will succeed.”
Nirgudkar and Naderi discuss the big but–”but the blind cannot lead the blind.” Leaders need a relevant frame of reference (experience and knowledge). People need to be “in the right seat on the bus.”
Her recommendation is to play off of people's strengths and not focus on their weaknesses. But if you're putting them in roles where their weaknesses are rising to the top, the entire organization is going to be lacking.
“All It takes is one person on the team to not have their ego in check or not pull their weight from a leadership perspective, and it will break the back of the culture in the organization. And CEOs have a responsibility to handle their team and make sure that they are performing at their very best” says Naderi.
Expect to learn (question, listen, consider, research, be mentored, reflect, and try new approaches). This is part of going slow to go fast.
“About a decade ago, I learned a very important lesson. I've been in dentistry for 27 years and for years prior to that, when I was a teen, I was exposed to dentistry while my sister was in dental school. I thought I knew everything. I learned the hard way that I'm learning every single day. I don’t assume that what got us here today is going to get us there tomorrow.”
About Ellie Naderi
Ellie Naderi has worked in the dental industry for over 25 years. She has an extensive background on both the clinical side and the business operations side of the dental field. Ellie spent her early years working in a successful practice learning virtually every function utilized by dental practices including time spent as a dental assistant and an office manager. After years spent in the practice setting, she continued her education and began working as a dental hygienist, which she did for over 7 years. After which she entered the dental pharma world. She worked for a top-notch pharma company for almost 5 years in various roles including Education and Account Management. Ellie has held multiple Senior VP positions and CEO positions with Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) such as Coast Dental, Dental One Partners, and SALT Dental Collective, a pediatric and orthodontic DSO organization in the Pacific Northwest. She has also operated her own dental consulting company, Global Dental Practice Solutions and now Dental Solutions by Ellie Naderi.
Patient Prism Delivers Actionable Intelligence
Patient Prism’s artificial intelligence (A.I.) incorporates machine learning to provide deep insights into dental patient phone calls and conversion analytics.
Managers can easily see how many people asked about implants, the percentage booked, and the revenue opportunity won or lost.
- They can see how many people said they had Delta Dental PPO or spoke Spanish.
- They can see how many called in pain with emergency needs.
- They can see how many prospective patients did not book due to the unavailability of near appointments.
- They can determine if team members are uninformed about advertised promotions, don’t know how to respond well to financial questions, or are so pressed for time they fail to demonstrate empathy for callers’ concerns.
It's really quite simple. Patient Prism's dashboards provide unique insight as to what exactly is happening on the phones in any dental practice, including DSO or enterprise dashboards that include all practices' strengths and opportunities in one view.
These insights help managers identify where to expand services, better coach team members, increase staffing during peak hours, consider participation with an insurance provider, and adjust marketing.