In my first clinical semester of nursing school, I quickly realized it was not the field for me, that’s ok, I would be married soon and live happily ever after. Shortly after the wedding, a friend of a friend knew of a dental assistant opening in a pediatric office. Perfect opportunity! I’ll see if hygiene may be an option for me by working as an assistant! I left the hospital I was working at and my career as a woman in dentistry began! After a fast year of being a dental assistant I was offered an opening in the business office of the practice. I found the perfect position for me and before I knew it almost 17 years had passed, 2 children, 2 houses, several cars, pets and gray hairs later I knew the position had run its course and I went off to seek other adventures.
I worked in a library for 6 hours, not my bliss. I worked as an accountant at an auto dealership, not my bliss, I was a full-time stay at home Mom, found my bliss but reality check was that we were a 2- income household for so long, it was difficult with 2 pre-teens to suddenly to be a 1 income household.
Back to being a woman in dentistry!
I accepted a position as an office manager for a general dental office and that’s where my real journey begins!
“YES!! I would love to go with you when you open your new practice” said an unsuspecting office manager to the associate dentist after just 4 days in that position (gulp…me)!
A few months later I find myself in a beautiful, brand new office learning by trial and error how to bill medical insurance in a dental office. As the doctor was learning how to treat patients diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea with oral appliances I was learning the administrative aspects of dental sleep. We were now following a medical model and working with medical insurances which were as far from working with what I had known for so many years in dental. A dental office working with medical insurance? That was completely unheard of back in the olden days, try explaining that to a patient! I had to work closely with the medical insurance companies, so they could understand what we were treating and why. There were no policies in their systems for these services. I was a long way from the earlier years of my career as a woman dentistry at the pediatric office. Billing for a diagnosed medical condition is as far from billing a crown and pulpotomy on tooth j as you can get. Talk about frightening, but I embraced the challenge!
A few years later, I was asked to co-present with the doctor on medical insurance in the dental office at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. In preparing for the presentation, I put pen to paper and started documenting what I was presently doing, what had worked and what hadn’t worked. Shortly after, at the urge of my dentist, I was consulting offices all over the country to get dental sleep policies and protocols in place, how to work with medical insurance companies and procedures to make their office run smoother and provide the best care for the patient.
Then Medicare came on the scene! Just when you think you know something, everything changes. I learned early that one of the basics of understanding Medicare is knowing how it runs. Congress makes a governing decision and it then filters to the local jurisdictions and it is up to them to implement the ruling- this is an important thing to understand when working with Medicare, the driving force isn’t as we would see things from our view regarding this medical service, it is mixed with government views, this may be why it can be so confusing. But fear not, all the rules and regulations are in black and white and readily available for you to peruse. One of the hardest parts of starting with Medicare is that you must make some business model decisions before you enroll. It is simple to decide what is best for you once you understand your options and yes, doing nothing is an option, a very poor option but an option.
With Medicare knowledge under my belt, I was on top of the world, my claims were being authorized when needed and paid when submitted, smooth procedures were in place….and then the doctor decided to move and sold the practice, MY practice, my baby! My professional space in the world was gone. I had all this knowledge and nowhere to implement it. After several months of remote freelancing, I found a part-time position with a dental office starting dental sleep medicine. It was exciting to get another practice up and thriving, once it was I realized I was getting stagnant, so I once again ventured out and accepted more consulting and speaking engagements and became a remote employee for a sleep office in Boston and continue to be a remote employee to this day.
I am so grateful to the dentist that dragged me into this field even though I was kicking and screaming (in my head anyway).
In the decade and a half in this field, I have had more personal and professional disappointments than I can recall. A child deployed to the middle east, cancers, losses and more proposals that I have submitted to various organizations than I can mention have been rejected, and yet, as us gals do, we can stay strong and carry on. One of the most disappointing or disheartening things I have seen in this profession are the ethics of some of the companies that are marketing to dentists and selling them unnecessary products and services and teaching them unethical ways of submitting claims.
Even with so many ups and downs, my career in dental sleep medicine has been amazing. A small group of women in dentistry that are pioneers in this field took me under their wings and helped me immensely. Along the way, I was honored to be nominated for office manager of the year for the American Academy of Dental Office Managers (AADOM) and was recognized as being an office manager of distinction that year. I completed the fellowship with AADOM that same year and found a local dental study group. Among other highlights of my career was being invited to join the Medicare DME Outreach and Education Provider Advisory Group (POEG) for jurisdictions A and D. It has been quite a journey and I still find this field fascinating and just when you think you know all the ins and outs, something changes! I continue to work as a practice administrator in a dental office limited to dental sleep medicine, putting my theories into practice every day and keeping my finger on the pulse of the field.
That is my story in a nutshell and why I can truly sympathize with the office team that says “My doctor came back from a meeting and now we are treating sleep apnea, I don’t know where to start! I was once there too, feeling like a deer in the headlights, wanting to talk patients out of scheduling appointments because I didn’t know where to start or what to do. That is MY WHY- the reason why I coach, continue to learn and work with offices that are implementing dental sleep medicine in the practice. As I reflect the years since starting in dental sleep medicine, the field has come so far and is still on the cusp of being something bigger.