July/Aug 2014
Volume 11, Issue 4

Suzanne M. Kump,CDA, LDA, MBA

Lake Elmo, Minnesota

Orthodontics literally changed Suzanne Kump’s life.

“Going to the orthodontist and having braces really was life-changing for me. The staff was always happy to see me and they were all very encouraging. That experience really made me want to become a dentist,” Kump says.

It was an abrupt change from her experience as a child, when her crooked teeth made her the target of teasing and name-calling. “It made it really hard for me to want to smile, to show my teeth. I would look in the mirror and all I would see was my crooked smile. I was certain that it was the only thing others saw as well.”

During her junior year of high school, Kump enrolled in a dental assisting program at a vocational institute and then worked as a dental assistant after school, “because I wanted to get a jump-start on my dental education,” she says. “I graduated from high school and dental assisting school in the same month of the same year. Unfortunately, my college plans were put on hold due to a few life events, but I stuck with dental assisting.”

Her first mentor was Dr. Paul W. Johnson, whom she met because of her sheer tenacity. “When I was looking for a job as a dental assistant while still in school, I just started cold-calling dentists in the area,” she says, “Everyone said no except Dr. Johnson. He said, ‘Sure! Come on in.’ I think it’s funny that a dentist who I cold-called ended up having such an impact on my life today. He wasn’t even looking for an assistant when I called him. He was taking a chance on a high school student with aspirations to join his profession, and that really inspired me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for sure, but he was the inspiration I needed.”

It was a chance that paid off for both of them. Dr. Johnson was a willing teacher, and she a willing student. Through his coaching, Kump gained an ever-increasing knowledge and interest in the practice of dentistry. During procedures, he would explain what he was doing, why he was doing it, and what he was looking for along the way. He taught her what to look for on x-rays, and he taught her the various ways of treating decay. Most importantly, however, he taught her how to practice compassion for her patients.

Kump was only 17 years old at the time, but Dr. Johnson would always compel her to follow her dreams. “He was always saying, ‘You can do that! Go ahead! Take that class! Don’t ever sell yourself short!’” Years later, at his wife’s funeral—just a few months before his own passing—Dr. Johnson introduced Kump to one of his friends as, “the best dental assistant I ever had.” That statement still has a profound impact on her. “Just talking about it makes me tear up,” she says, “he was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“Challenge Yourself”

After spending 8 years in group practice, Kump could hear her mentor’s advice ringing in her ears. “I kept thinking about Dr. Johnson and how he would always tell me, ‘Challenge yourself,’” Kump says. The group practice she was in was unionized, impersonal, and a far cry from the inspiring private practitioner who had launched her career.

“At Dr. Johnson’s office, I often helped out at the front desk. At the group practice we weren’t able to do that because we were crossing union lines. I wanted to learn the business side of dentistry, because what happens in the front office greatly affects the smooth, profitable operation of the practice as a whole and how the patient perceives their experience. My goal was to find a job where I could create a positive environment, inspired by teamwork,” Kump says. “I wanted to help blend all aspects of a practice and make it a positive, energetic place for everyone to work. When I joined Park Dental as a practice manager, that is exactly the approach I used. My efforts paid off, because I was soon managing multiple offices and had taken on the role of training new practice managers and scheduling coordinators on how to run a practice efficiently.”

Still challenging herself, Kump—who had already earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management by taking classes on nights and weekends while she and her husband raised their daughter—began working on her MBA. The topic of supply chain came up in one of her classes. Kump was intrigued by the importance the supply chain had on the efficient operation of the dental office. This prompted her to pursue a career change.

In 2000, an opportunity came up at Patterson Dental. She became a corporate marketing manager there, a title she still holds today. In her 14 years at Patterson, she has taken on several other responsibilities while maintaining her original role. Early on, she managed the customer service team, and was also the sales training manager for 9 years.

Today, Kump oversees Patterson Advantage, which is Patterson’s customer loyalty program, as well as the process for Academy of General Dentistry PACE accreditation. She is also the company’s trade show manager, ensuring Patterson’s presence and brand identity at tradeshows. With her MBA and extensive background in the dental industry, she is uniquely qualified to handle these responsibilities. Kump finds it “invigorating to work at a company with the type of resources and vibrancy necessary to keep the industry moving forward.”

During her tenure at Patterson, Kump was appointed to the Board of Directors of the American Dental Assistants Association Foundation, on which she currently serves as a corporate sponsor director. She not only wholeheartedly believes in the mission of the ADAA Foundation, she is adamant that every practicing dental assistant should join the ADAA. Kump says, “It is so important to stay connected, and be a voice of the profession that we chose. I chose to be a dental assistant, so I am a voice of that profession. We need passionate members to contribute to the advancement of dental assisting.”

“A Very Specific Role”

Over the years, Kump has achieved the kind of business success that many people only dream of. And while she is extremely proud of all her accomplishments, in her heart she is still the same dental assistant who started her career in Dr. Johnson’s office all those years ago. She is clearly passionate about her profession, because she sees dental assistants as playing a vital role in the dental team. “Everybody has a very specific role in patient care. In many practices the dental assistant is the first clinical person the patient sees. The assistant brings the patient back to the chair, prepares them for the appointment, calms their fears, and explains the treatment. The assistant is there with the dentist during the entire treatment, and the assistant does the postoperative procedures and instructions. It is the dental assistant that is the constant throughout the entire patient experience,” she says, and she emphasizes just how important that role really is. “You are making dentistry more efficient by utilizing your expanded functions. You are not just sucking spit and blowing air, you are actually doing something vital.”

Indeed, when Dr. Johnson challenged his tenacious, eager, teenaged student to keep challenging herself, he taught her very, very well. He would be proud of the inspiring professional she is today.

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