This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting Digest e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative monthly ENL designed specifically for the dental assistant here.
Last month, we tackled apathy in the dental practice. This month, we’re tackling how a dental assistant earns respect from his or her dentist. As a dental assistant, I’ll look at the inside view. As a consultant and advocate for assistants Kevin Henry, of IgniteDA and editorial director for Dental Assisting Digest, will look at the outside view.
Respect from the inside looking out (Natalie's view)
Lack of respect between you and your dentist can impact so much in your world. It can affect whether the dentist delegates duties to you, whether you get a raise, your personal health, and eventually, whether you continue to work for the practice. When practice dynamics change in a negative way, employers are forced to terminate employees or reduce employee hours to make ends meet.
Many of us may go through our careers searching for that perfect dental home, whether it’s a dental clinic or teaching institution. Each work environment has its own culture that defines the institution’s mission and values. This culture may change occasionally. Your workplace should have an employee handbook readily available that includes the office’s code of conduct and workplace policies. Employees should read the handbook to gain an understanding of what’s expected of them. These include sticking to the dress code, getting to work on time, avoiding frequent absences, and exhibiting acceptable behavior in the workplace. Employers respect employees who follow the rules, which for some people can be difficult. I for one like to toe the line.
Gain your employer’s respect by getting the person to believe in you and realize how terrible the practice’s day would be without you. Express yourself confidently and enthusiastically, rather than with hesitation and insecurity. Work hard to develop a strong work ethic so the dentist knows that he or she can count on you. If you provide good service to your patients with a positive attitude, the dentist and your teammates will see your true value.
Bosses have a lot on their plate juggling work, family, and finding the time to participate in their professional organization. This means they might not always recognize your value to the practice. It's up to you to keep your boss in the loop because you rely on each other as a team. It’s important to remember to take care of number one—you! Sometimes we just need to step back and take a good look at what’s going on around us. Other times, retail therapy may be in order. Everybody does need a mental vacation from time to time!
DENTAL ASSISTING IS NOT AN EASY PROFESSION. We face so many obstacles, and some make you scratch your head and say “huh?” We stand united as a profession and feel each other’s pain when we hear about something that dampens another assistant’s spirits. Increase your network of colleagues who truly understand what you do. By gaining the respect you deserve, you stand a better chance of retaining your job, health, and sanity. It’s all in the day in the life of a dental assistant. Thank you for all you do!
Respect from the outside looking in (Kevin's view)
How does a dental assistant earn respect from the dentist? For some of you, this is not a problem. You’re lucky enough to work with a dentist who values what you do and knows how much of a difference you make in the practice’s success.
However, there are some of you who struggle with earning respect on a daily basis. You’re viewed as “a spit sucker” and nothing more. These are the dental assistants who talk to me after my lectures around the country and have a look in their eyes of sadness and frustration that I hate to see.
For those of you who are hoping to gain that respect from your dentist, here is my best advice—you have to shake him or her out of the mentality that you are “just an assistant.” By the way, those are three words I absolutely hate, but I know there are dentists and team members out there who could well view you like that.
So how do you shake off that mentality? I won’t break into a Taylor Swift song here, but I will tell you this. It’s important to show that you believe you are a health-care professional and that you are in your career because you believe patients matter. Have you ever told your dentist why you’re a dental assistant? Have you ever told your dentist what procedures or parts of your day are your favorites? These are important things for him or her to know. It shows that you’re invested in what you do every day and not just in “punching a clock” or working at a job just to pay your bills.
Sit down and start a conversation with your dentist. Ask how he or she became interested in dentistry, and then tell your story. Share some of your passions and why you love what you do. I know assistants who have done this and it has made a world of difference in their practices.
Some of you may be saying, “I couldn’t do that. That’s just not going to work.” You have to believe in yourself and the power that you hold every day or, you’re right, it’s not going to work.
My daughter just turned 20 and I'm so proud of her. She's a strong woman who has goals and dreams and she's working hard to achieve those through her education at The University of Oklahoma. I have seen her continue her evolution into this person from a very young age. One of the things I’ve told her so often from the days when I knew she could comprehend what I was saying is, “If you don’t believe in yourself, who else is going to?”
I also tell dental assistants this all the time. You have to believe in yourself and the power that you possess to change lives. That belief will show in what you do every day and will eventually be noticed (if it hasn’t been already). It may take a nudge or a conversation to start, but it can happen, if you believe in yourself and why you should have that respect.
You each work hard every day. You wear multiple hats and go above and beyond to help the practice function properly. You’ve worked hard to earn that respect. Now take the next step and start a conversation. Believe in yourself and the power you hold!