Center Stage – DSO Influencer, Linda Ryan

For the past nine years, Group Dentistry Now has been committed to the success of emerging dental groups & DSOs and the people who work for them. 

In January 2019, we began recognizing DSO influencers with our annual ‘DSO Influencers to Watch’ list. Since then, we have pivoted from an annual list to a regular featured article, Center Stage, which highlights an individual DSO influencer. 

Who is a DSO influencer? Someone who impacts and influences not just their dental group, but the DSO industry at large. With well-honed leadership skills, they inspire positivity, exhibit vision, and display entrepreneurial energy. Outside-the-box thinkers, they have extraordinary business acumen and philanthropic interest.  

Linda Ryan started her dental journey as a clinical dental assistant. Over her four-decade career, through grit and perseverance, she has mastered virtually every aspect of clinical and operational dentistry. Her diverse experience and expertise have been integral to the success of multiple dental support organizations. She is currently the director of territory recruiting for Pacific Dental Services.

An early pioneer of the DSO model, Linda had a critical role in the development and implementation of best practices, including staff training and development, procurement, facilities management, compliance, marketing, recruiting, and opening and managing the process of over 100 DeNovo practices.

Her passion for dentistry is only rivaled by her love for people. Her dedication to leading teams and creating a people-centric culture is admirable. Linda is a positive role model and a mentor to many. She always makes herself available to serve others and has been instrumental in helping the people she leads grow and advance in their careers.

Linda currently is an award-winning talent acquisition director setting records for attracting and retaining talent. Linda’ s career trajectory and success are proof that hard work and commitment to excellence pays off. She wants every dental aspirant to know that regardless of where your journey starts, barriers are meant to be broken and to always believe in yourself and your ability to succeed.

GDN: What is your background? How did you get into the dental space and what did you do before you entered it?

LR: I started as a dental assistant immediately out of college in 1980 and have been in the dental industry my entire career. I was fortunate along the way to work alongside exceptional dentists and other leaders that taught me everything about the business and were fantastic mentors.

GDN: What prompted you to enter the dental support market?

LR: I worked for, Dr. James Abramowitz chairside in the late 80s when he decided he wanted to open more locations across Colorado, long before DSOs were trending, or even had an official name for that matter. He was extremely visionary and driven, and he asked my colleague, Marvine Martinez, and I both if we wanted to help him accomplish this goal. We were thrilled as his longtime dental assistants to be chosen and included in this journey, and we still work together to this day- 35 years later! We did everything from top to bottom with him and opened eight additional locations over several years. He personally mentored and trained every associate he hired. He was extremely industrious and handy and did most of the interior design build- out himself. We identified the real estate locations, ordered all the supplies and equipment, set up the offices, hired and trained the staff etc. It is with him that I learned everything about opening a Denovo, including choosing the correct size compressors, implementing optimal operatory design, selecting the best equipment needed, and working closely with contractors. As we opened the locations one by one, Marvine and I managed them, she managed all the insurance, the payor mix, fee schedules, payroll, accounts receivables and credentialing, and I took care of staff and provider recruiting, accounts payables, labs and supplies, and repairs and maintenance. I standardized the labs and the supply ordering and devised a formulary of approved products, created a master opening supply and equipment list and managed vendor relationships etc. I manually ordered all the supplies and managed the inventory for the nine locations, and I even kept a complete inventory of the most needed supplies stored in my basement to take to the offices in case of emergency shortages. This was such an incredible and valuable learning experience in my career, and it eventually led me to where I am today with Pacific Dental Services. Looking back now, it was impressive what the three of us accomplished together during that time!

GDN: What is your biggest recruiting challenge and how do you tackle that challenge?

LR: Currently the biggest challenge is the ongoing shortage of hygienists and dental assistants after Covid, many have simply left the industry and every DSO and solo practice is trying to acquire the remaining available talent from an exceedingly small pool of available candidates. To tackle the challenge, we are enthusiastic about highlighting our people centric culture to attract candidates and to showcase the growth and development opportunities that exist in our organization, including a robust college tuition benefit. We utilize social media to the fullest and promote internal referrals diligently to obtain the best talent. Clinicians cannot provide proper access to care or an optimal patient experience without the clinical roles to support them. Implementing a meaningful retention strategy of your current valued staff is more important now than ever. Make every effort to keep your valuable team members happy, paid well, and appreciated!

GDN: What advice do you have for new recruiters entering the DSO space?

LR: Recruiting is very rewarding, and it is also fulfilling being instrumental with helping candidates find wonderful opportunities to be successful. Being a recruiter in the dental industry post Covid, is not for the weary, it can be demanding and stressful, and your strategy to attract talent is ever- changing and evolving. Gone are the days of posting an open position on Job Boards and magically the next day, you have loads of candidates to sift through to set up interviews with. You must become savvy on social media, have a strong personal brand as a recruiter, think creatively, be able to navigate hiring managers and executives’ talent expectations and timelines, and be consultive and able multitask at the highest level. Being very disciplined to source, hunt, and stalk potential candidates every single day, is imperative to get results. If you are enthusiastic and have a high sense of urgency, you will be better positioned to deliver the needed talent for your organization and become an asset to candidates and to your employer.

GDN: Who are some leaders that you look up to (past or present) and why?

LR: I would have to say, without a doubt, the industry legend, Kathleen Titus, has been the most inspirational mentor and incredible leader I have had the pleasure to be on this journey with. We have known each other for 30+ years and she has been instrumental in guiding me in my career success! Her knowledge of the dental industry, her relationships and connections, and her incredible leadership and love for people are without a doubt, unmatched. She is humble and kind, visionary, inspiring, thoughtful, incredibly intelligent, genuine, caring, selfless, and the most passionate and dedicated friend to all that are lucky enough to know her! Kathleen is a treasure, and I am forever grateful for her guidance and mentorship through the years.

GDN: What book has provided you the most inspiration?

LR: I absolutely love the book “Training Camp” by Jon Gordon, I read it when I was trying to navigate a toxic leader in my professional life, and I was losing steam. This book really shaped how I could change my own outlook and focus on what was important and regain my composure and self-esteem. Being an avid football fan, I was able to make the connections to my career with the story he was trying to tell, and it was life changing for me! Though this book is a fable and quick read, the message is impactful for anyone, in any industry! I really enjoy reading all Jon Gordon books, as they are not super lengthy and are always inspirational and positive. I highly recommend for those who are busy with life and just need some quick inspiration and an attitude reset!

GDN: What advice would you give a new dentist? A newly formed emerging DSO?

LR: As a new dentist you should look for mentorship initially and verify that another dentist will be practicing in the office or nearby to help should any challenges arise. Consider the continuing education (CE) opportunities available. Will courses be paid for by the DSO? What are those opportunities and is CE offered for the more expansive procedures? Make sure the available courses align with the dentistry you want to provide to patients. Do not be afraid to ask for help and for guidance, many experienced dentists are more than willing to show you tips and tricks that will save you a ton of time, money, and frustration. Clearly understand how you are paid and what additional benefits are included. Find out if there are ownership opportunities or profit sharing, what types of insurance plans are accepted and the overall payor mix. Know and understand the business model and what your path for growth and development will be. Clearly understand your contract terms and any non-compete clause language and negotiate not getting caught up in a lengthy notice period, should things are not work out as planned.

My advice to newly forming DSOs, validate your people are well trained and all your systems, computer and digital software and all dental equipment is in optimal working order. Ensure a proper supply and instrument inventory. Foster great relationships and partnerships with your supply vendors, so you can get issues fixed quickly when they arise. You will not keep providers long-term if they are frustrated with ill- working equipment or they do not have optimal dental supplies and a competent staff to help them be successful. I have many dentists reach out looking for another opportunity due to these very reasons. Help your dentists and teams be successful, so you do not lose them to a competitor.

GDN: What do you think the next five years looks like for the DSO industry?

LR: There are many different predictions and trends depending on who you talk to, and we know that dentists are joining DSOs at a rising rate, especially new grads. In 2017, 7.4% of all practicing dentists were affiliated with a DSO. This number grew to 10.4% in 2020 – a 40% increase. The desire for a greater work-life harmony and the difficulty of increasing student loan debt can be reasons why in 2019, only 1 in 4 dentists under 35 were in a solo practice. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, the average cost of a dental education has doubled since 2000, leaving the average dental school grad with $292,169 in student loan debt. (I personally believe this is a conservative number and it is actually much higher, depending on the school.) This debt burden limits younger dentists’ ability to access the money needed to invest in private practices. DSOs of all sizes large and small are here to stay and will continue to grow, acquire more practices, and continue to emerge in greater numbers. Staffing DSOs will continue to be an ongoing challenge for the entire industry over at least the next 5 years. Most of my peers agree understaffing will continue to create havoc and competition within the industry, patient demand will continue to increase, and medical and dental care will integrate to offer more complete care to their patients. Clinicians within a DSO model have the resources and support to implement modern technology that attracts patients and improves their overall health. There is also an increasing patient demand for cosmetic dentistry, holistic dentistry, OSA treatment, and services like cosmetic Botox and fillers. I am confident we will see the dental industry and profession continue to prosper and evolve!

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