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Thursday Troubleshooter: Dental assistant kicked out of position and struggling with new management

Feb. 6, 2020
This dental assistant was moved to the front desk. That's been hard enough, and now her replacement is spreading gossip about her. She's stressed and depressed. Find out what Ryan Vet advises.
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QUESTION: I’m hoping you can help me deal with a very stressful situation in my office. I was hired as an assistant several months ago. I worked well with the doctor who hired me, then she took another job. A new doctor started, and after I worked with him for one week, he brought in his previous assistant and hired an expanded function dental assistant (EFDA) as well. I was moved to the front desk, which I don’t like. I feel like I was pushed out from the clinical side, and I agreed to the change because I want to keep my job. The new assistant has been bad mouthing me to the other staff members. I informed my office manager and she addressed the issue. But I still feel very stressed with all of the changes and I know people are still talking about me. I’m learning the front desk duties and the new assistant takes every opportunity to point out my mistakes to everyone. I’m overwhelmed and stressed out. I don’t feel like I have any options to work any other position in our office. I would welcome any recommendations. Thank you.

ANSWER FROM RYAN VET, dental consultant at RyanVet.com:
I’m sorry to hear about the difficult situation in your office. Change is always hard, especially when it’s not communicated well, or it happens suddenly. It can also be overwhelming and defeating when you’re moved from something you care about (the clinical side) to something that you don’t like (the front desk). To top it off, having team members speak negatively about you can undoubtedly make your job stressful and make you feel isolated. All of these feelings are completely natural. This is a complex situation and I will try to break down some ways to navigate your circumstances. 

First of all, let’s take the role itself. Being in a role that does not bring you joy and is not fulfilling can exacerbate an already challenging situation. Most clinicians enter the clinical side because they want to provide care. Think back to what led you to become a dental assistant. Even in your administrative role there may be similar foundational principles that align with the reasons you entered dentistry. You can still help people receive necessary care and give patients wonderful experiences. While admittedly this technique will not change your situation, it can help reframe your outlook and add a glimmer of hope to a discouraging situation. 

Let’s discuss the skills necessary to do your role. There is often a steep learning curve switching from the clinical side to the front office. This is normal. It’s impossible for anyone to step into a new role and know the minutia of the role and get every detail correct. Think about when you started assisting. There was a period of learning. It’s important to be OK with not getting everything right the first time as long as you’re learning and growing. From what you’ve written, it seems like you’re taking ownership and that is crucial. There is a great book called Extreme Ownership that talks about this. It can feel deflating when you miss the mark. However, it is evident you want to do the best that you can and that you’re willing to learn. 

This brings me to team dynamic. When a team member points out your mistakes, one of the best ways to diffuse the situation, albeit the most challenging way, is to be humble and gracious. When in fact there may have been a better way to do something and a team member broadcasts this to the office, open up a conversation. Use the feedback as a springboard for discussion. Your team member has given you a perfect platform to a) have a conversation that there may be a better or different way to do something, and b) show your willingness to learn and improve by asking how you can do better next time. This can be very humbling for you and it takes a tremendous amount of courage. Trying to land on common ground can also go a long way. A great book to read is Crucial Conversations

Now about the gossip and bad mouthing. This is one of the hardest things to overcome as it often feels like personal attacks and can be very discouraging. Working with the practice owner to put some team building activities in place is a great way to start, but in your current situation that may not be possible. The other, and again, humbling alternative is to think of the value that your other team members add to the mix and thank them specifically for their roles in the practice, regardless of what they’re saying about you. This kindness can often disarm negativity and promote a healthy environment, though that’s not always the case. 

Overall, you have a number of factors that have created an extremely challenging situation. While I always recommend trying to resolve differences and encourage people to be change-agents in their practices, it may not always be possible. You do need to take care of yourself and make sure that you’re getting the respect you deserve and that you’re in a job that promotes a healthy mental lifestyle. If the issues cannot be resolved or you feel that you’re in an impossible situation that’s causing personal strife, it is OK to look for other opportunities. If you do explore new opportunities, be very careful to vet the new workplaces for practice culture. During interviews, feel free to set expectations. While doing so, be mindful not to badmouth your current practice. You do not need to share concrete examples from the past, just share your hopes for a future work environment.  

Best of luck as you navigate this extremely difficult situation. Remember, you have the freedom to make the choices that are most healthy for you and your career.

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