Growing up near Dr. Rick Workman, Debbie Steppe had always known of him and later became familiar with his dental practice in Effingham, Ilinois. In 1987, she filled in at his office as a dental assistant, and in 1988 she became his full-time dental assistant. She recalls that Dr. Workman always had dreams of growing his business and he soon got the opportunity. Debbie let him know that she was interested in helping him do that and wanted to be a part of his journey.
“I was just a dental assistant,” she said, “But he put me in charge of ordering all of the supplies and equipment for supported offices. When Dr. Workman’s business started to expand, I remember my husband and I had just built a house. Dr. Workman loved the way I decorated it and asked if I could help decorate and setup new supported offices.”
Things took off from there. You might even say Debbie was the inaugural member of what is now Heartland Dental’s development department. She continued to use her keen eye for decor and clinical knowledge to support offices in receiving new equipment. She also expanded her duties to include lease negotiations and selecting new sites for upcoming De Novos (brand-new supported offices built by Heartland Dental).
“It’s funny to think about how small we were back then compared to now,” she laughed. “We would meet at Dr. Workman’s house and the entire team would pile into his Chrysler mini-van. Dr. Workman would go through McDonald’s every morning and order a cheese danish and chocolate milk, and off we’d go from supported office to supported office.”
When growth started to happen quickly, there were times when an office would be shorthanded a supported doctor or team members. Dr. Workman, Debbie and the rest of the group would have to assume responsibility. Back in the van they’d go, driving sometimes more than four hours each way, to work in a supported office.
“We were like a little family back then. We still are, things are just much bigger now, but we still talk and enjoy each other’s company as much as we can.”
As Heartland Dental continued to grow, so the team members’ families. Julie Thomas and Debbie, within a month of each other, had grown their families to include Julie’s daughter, Taylor, and Debbie’s son, John, who would follow in their mothers’ footsteps in joining the Heartland Dental team.
Fast forward to 2009, John job shadowed at Heartland Dental. The experience he had during those few weeks made a life-changing impression on him, directing him towards the dental field. As soon as Dr. Workman heard John was pursuing dentistry, he picked up the phone and called him.
“He encouraged me to pursue dentistry,” said the newly Dr. Steppe. “He actually brought me to his house and told me all the pros and cons of becoming a dentist. He explained why it was a great career choice, and that interaction was a big reason why I ultimately pursued the profession.”
Debbie had previously talked to John about dentistry previously, but at the time he wasn’t interested. It was something he had to figure out on his own. When he decided on a career in dentistry, Debbie was elated. She always knew he would be a great dentist.
“He’s a good person and a good man, and he’s always had focus,” she said. “When he was younger, his focus was basketball. He’d ask his dad, ‘How do you dribble with your left hand?’ Now that he’s part of the dental industry, I get all his questions,” she smiled.
John will be a supported dentist at a De Novo office in Myrtle Beach, SC. Living in the Midwest his whole life, he’s excited for a new adventure. As a child, he always had a great experience at the dentist and wants to give that positive experience to all his patients.
“I’m going to take a page from my mom’s book and just be a good person and hard worker. She accomplished so much without a standard path. Becoming a dentist wasn’t easy, and I don’t know if I could have done it without her support,” he said.
Today, Debbie supports Heartland Dental as a De Novo Project Manager and she leads the communication, coordination and construction of newly built supported offices in her region. She appreciates that Dr. Workman has allowed her to grow with the company and doesn’t limit his team members because of what they went to school for or where they originally started with the company. He allows his people to flourish as the company flourishes.
“Dr. Workman is very good at enabling people that want to do the right thing, and helping them develop into whatever role they desire. I think that speaks very highly of him. He has confidence in his people, and he doesn’t have to find somebody with a degree to hold an open position. He allows his people to grow.”
Debbie is excited about what the future holds for Heartland Dental and dental support organizations as a whole. A lot has changed since she first started in the industry, and John says stigmas around DSOs are lessening. He keeps as open mind when listening to all sides of the discussion, but knows this is the right path for him.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who have become supported by Heartland Dental, and overall, it’s just less headache. The stress is significantly less. I need that peace of mind, especially just starting out. I imagine my stress level is going to be high as a new dentist, so whatever I can do to combat that is going to be beneficial for me.”
As for what the immediate future holds for the mother-son duo? John might have a new neighbor in Myrtle Beach.