By Kevin Henry
Editor, Dental Assisting Digest™
Let’s face it ... dental assisting is a tough profession. There’s a lot you have to deal with on a daily basis ... everything from keeping patients satisfied to unhappy coworkers to your life AFTER you leave the dental practice. Some days, it’s not an easy task to be you.
We recently asked five experts their opinions on a single question. We asked them to keep their answers brief and give their honest thoughts on the subject. I think you’ll find their answers interesting and helpful, and if you’d like to contact the experts for more information, you’ll find their contact information at the end of their answer.
I hope these questions and answers will be helpful to you as you tackle the daily grind.
MONEY: How should I approach the dentist if I feel a raise is in order?
The seven most dreaded words a dentist hears from a team member during the workday are, "May I speak with you after work?" Does this mean she's quitting, needs maternity leave, or wants a raise? Whatever the situation, the doctor hopes he or she can handle it well.
For an employee who feels the need to ask for a raise, it often takes days or weeks to muster up the courage! With the slow economy of the past few years, raises have been few and far between. Some dental employees have not had a raise in two or three years, yet they feel they work harder than ever to maintain the practice goals. They often report going above and beyond their call of duty to keep the schedule full and to work in emergencies. This is much harder now than when a practice is fruitful and everyone's happy.
The best way to ask for a raise is to keep a record of the date of the last pay increase, along with the history of what all you have done personally for the patients, practice, and coworkers since your last raise. What CE or online courses have you taken? What above-the-call-of-duty projects have you done? Examples might be that you volunteered for a community activity that promoted the practice, worked on the marketing committee that met six times during lunch in the past six months, developed an in-school program for elementary schools on your own time, and participated in the reactivation process of inactive patients. I personally called 45 patients and rescheduled 17 of them, as well as got four new patients by asking about relatives who might not be seeing a dentist.
In defense of dentists, they are busy taking care of patients and running a business, so they often don’t remember anyone's last pay raise or what each employee has done for the practice since that pay raise. Don't go to your doctor with the "I need a raise because I DESERVE it” attitude; go with an attitude of gratitude and show your personal value to the practice. Dentists are human. They like that you come to them with the right spirit of "Here's how hard I've been working; can we discuss it please?" Does this guarantee a raise? No, but it greatly increases your chances of being considered. It also lets your employer know that you are not only assertive, but you value yourself.
Linda Miles, CSP, CMC
VALUE: Sometimes I feel like the low person in the pecking order. How can I make myself more valuable in the eyes of the dentist and my coworkers?
Communication, willingness, and hard work make all the difference. Do a terrific job. If you’re in the clinical area with the doctor, find out ways to communicate with patients — prepare them at the beginning of the appointment, and educate them so that you’re giving third party support to the doctor. “Today the doctor will be seeing you for about 90 minutes,” explain why, and then ask if they have any questions.
Work diligently with the doctor’s approval to give third party backup support that can help prevent potential broken appointments and no-shows. Knowing what the doctor is going to do allows you not only to aid in patient education, but also make sure the room is prepped and ready before the doctor walks in. Then find out what may be delegated to you, according to the laws of your state. If there’s something you can be doing that you aren’t doing now, point that out to the doctor. The Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB) has an easy, quick reference to allowable duties for dental assistants in each state. Go to www.danb.org and click on State Specific Information.
If you need certification, express your interest and the justification for making that investment. “I could help you by doing xyz. I know this task currently takes you 10 minutes per patient. We do that about four times per day. That’s 40 minutes per day, so if I help, you will have quite a bit more time to do what you need or want to do — more treatment and more profitable procedures.”
Let the doctor show you what he or she wants you to do and then work out a plan for practicing as you watch the doctor, and then as the doctor supervises you so he or she can build confidence in your abilities. Show the doctor how many minutes are being spent and how much time would be saved if you helped. If the doctor knows what he or she is producing in an hour, and what time can be saved, that could add up to more productivity, more profitability and less stress!
Learn about technology like CEREC, intraoral cameras, and digital photography so the doctor can completely trust you to maximize technology. The more an assistant can help a doctor to maximize technological investments, the more the patient and the team’s productivity can be helped. You may also offer to do an educational program for the team on temporization, CEREC, MSDS sheets, OSHA compliance, nutrition, communication — there are many things you can do to help the team better understand what goes on clinically. If the team can see how much you do, that builds your credibility.
Also, remember to dress well and be outstandingly attired every day. We often recommend uniforms or three-quarter-length lab coats in a different color than the doctor with your name and credentials. Nice-looking dress pants and shoes, with minimal jewelry and appropriate makeup, tie together your well-groomed, appropriate style.
As always, communication will be key. Be a student of communication. We’re constantly learning how to communicate more effectively. Sincerely offer to be an assistant to the other team members. Go to your coworkers, the dentist, or both to express your interest in helping the practice run smoothly and being a valuable part of the team. If you feel there’s more you can do, present what you’re doing in terms of how it benefits others. For example, “I would like to have some more responsibilities. Is there something I could do that would relieve some of your stress?” If someone suggests something, if at all possible, do it. Then get feedback from that person. Don’t check in with a “Gee, how am I doing, aren’t I great?” attitude, but a sincere, “I see how much pressure you’re under and I want to help” angle.
Perform excellently, learn always, and communicate well. You will be valued!
PASSION: I don't like my job. I used to enjoy what I did, but I don't any more. How can I recapture my enthusiasm?
Recapturing your enthusiasm is the recognized secret to success!
"I don't like my job. I used to enjoy what I do, but I don't anymore. How can I recapture my enthusiasm?"
The very first lesson learned in the Dale Carnegie leadership course is, “Think enthusiastic and you will be enthusiastic!” By the time you finish the 12-week course, all attendees are shouting this phrase at the top of their lungs, and it works! Being enthusiastic is not difficult when you have passion in your life. The secret to success is to possess enthusiasm for who you are, what you do, and whom you are with.
If this is the missing link in your life/career, then how do you recapture it? The answer may be different for everyone, depending on your goals. Reigniting your enthusiasm when you’re in a rut means you will have to think differently so that you don’t stay in a rut for long. The action step is to surround yourself with close friends and mentors who make you think. These are the people who have a positive outlook on life, the go-getters who are able to point out a different perspective in a situation. Take time to consider their perspectives and apply an action step. If you do not have positive peers, you will have to seek them out. You may not have to look very far.
To enhance your career growth, take the initiative and become involved in your profession by joining local, state, and national organizations and projects. By being involved you meet new friends and colleagues who share the same enthusiasm, who can become a driving force in your accomplishments.
Setting goals for your career as a clinical/business assistant is essential. Map out a plan for your long- and short-term goals. Ask yourself, “What is it that I wish to accomplish in my personal life and career?” How will you accomplish this goal and by when? Also consider possible obstacles and how you will get through them. It is always wise to have an accountability partner whom you can trust, to share your goals and keep you on track.
If you are seeking projects or organizations in which to become involved, call your state dental assisting association or the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) and let them know you want to help. For instance, if writing is an interest of yours, call or e-mail the editor of your favorite dental journal/e-newsletter and ask, “What articles may be of interest and suitable for your journal?” Perhaps you are interested in product research analysis with clinical materials. Speak with your local dental representatives and let them know that you and your dentist are willing to participate in product surveys. Networking with dental professionals who share your interests will help open the door of opportunity toward success and reignite your enthusiasm!
Tina M. Calloway, CDA
CREDENTIALS: Are those letters and designations at the end of my name really worth the cost and trouble?
I am an Expanded Functions Dental Assistant (EFDA) in Missouri. Depending on what state you’re in and your state laws governing expanded functions, the duties can vary. The titles for varying levels of dental assistant vary by state, too.
I hold a certificate for expanded functions in three of the four categories offered in my state — prosthodontics, restorative I and II, and orthodontics. Having the expanded functions allows me to do much more with patients and be more involved in their treatment. I have a greater amount of satisfaction upon treatment completion, knowing I was so involved in the process.
As of this writing, I’m getting ready to take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam through DANB. The dental assisting school I attended 29 years ago was not accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) at the time, so I had to gain work experience and approval from an employer in order to take the CDA exam. But over the years things came up and I just never got around to it. Now for me it's more of a "validation" of everything I’ve learned, taught, and preached. This network of professionals is just as passionate as I am about our profession. You realize that this isn't just a "job," it's a career, and one I’m very proud to be associated with. What’s the cost and trouble of taking the CDA exam? It will be minimal compared to the benefits of having a long and satisfying life.
Tija Hunter, EFDA
GETTING ALONG: How do I handle a coworker who isn't pulling her fair share of the load?
This can be a frustrating situation that can really tear a team apart. The conventional wisdom calls for you to approach the coworker to solve the problem yourself. I’d like to add a suggestion: keep your manager or the owner/dentist in the loop during your outreach. It shows that you are willing to tackle the issue yourself, but also prepares the manager in case he or she has to step in to settle things.
First step is to find a quiet time to approach your coworker and discuss the issue. I don’t recommend waiting until the end of the day — inevitably it will end up being a very busy one. Late afternoon emotional discussions invite overthinking, which can turn into resentment. Discussing the issue during the day keeps the focus on the task at hand. Both of you will be very aware of each other’s behavior, and your manager/dentist can pay attention to attitude and effort.
Although the issue is very important to you (you brought it up), try to keep the conversation professional, not personal. I know you want to shake the person and say, “Just do the job!” but trust me — it won’t work! Come to the conversation with specific examples of the poor behavior and tie it to how it affected your day, not how upset you became. Here is an example:
Cathy – “When you didn’t sterilize your instruments this morning, it caused a backlog. For the last appointment this morning we had to search for a backup handpiece because none were sterilized. We ended up running behind and the patient noticed we weren’t on our A-game.”
Let her know that by not performing her duties, she put a strain on the whole team. Your day is already busy, and for everyone to provide the best care, you all have to function together and at full speed.
Your coworker will either talk to you about the issue or, worst-case scenario, become angry. Try hard to keep your cool and calmly tell your coworker that you would really like to handle this situation before it becomes a bigger issue. If it does not go well, then it’s time to move it up the ladder.
Your manager should have a solid system of how to deal with employees who aren’t pulling their weight. This starts with a solid job description, followed by conversations that include expectations of improved behavior. A common flaw in many office human resource plans is the failure to enforce consequences if behavior does not improve. Hopefully it will not reach that point, and your efforts to settle the issue will work well. A team can accomplish many goals when they share the same work ethic and vision.
Answers to five tough questions
By Kevin Henry