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Troubleshooter: ‘Favorite’ dental assistant makes others miserable

Oct. 1, 2020
This "entitled" dental assistant is making the job harder for her fellow assistants. It's obvious the dentist favors her and she does receive special treatment. Does this happen in your practice?

This column is here to guide dental professionals with advice from the experts . . . because they've been there. Remember, you are not alone! Send your questions to [email protected]. Those who reach out will remain anonymous if their questions are used on DentistryIQ.

QUESTION: I work at a small dental practice in a small town. We have an office manager, three assistants, and one dentist. I’ve been working at this office for almost eight years. One assistant has been here since the office opened, and the other has just over one year of experience.

The dentist doesn't communicate very well and doesn't like confrontation. There was some recent conflict and I was ready to walk. I asked to share my concerns and was able to do this mainly through email. During this same time the other two assistants were able to sit down with the dentist and his wife and discuss their concerns. I don’t understand why I wasn’t able to do the same.

The main problem with one of the assistants is that she has been with the practice the longest. She seems to have an entitlement issue and believes that because she’s been here the longest, she’s no longer required to perform many of the tasks. She also spends too much time with patients. Since we don’t have a hygienist in our office, we rotate between procedures and recalls. This assistant makes appointments much longer than they need to be. This backs up our schedule and puts more pressure and work on the other assistant and me to move things along. I’m exhausted. Time management and efficiency are rules that only apply to the less experienced assistant and me. This “entitled” assistant seems to be held to another standard. The dentist communicates with her, they sit in his office or the break room and waste time, and she always gets the extra hours. She has run off many good employees. I just don’t know how to share what I’m experiencing so my boss can understand. I can’t take much more.

ANSWER FROM TIJA HUNTER, CDA, EFDA, editor of Dental Assisting Digest:
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this scenario has played out in a dental office. Too often we see someone take advantage of their relationship with the doctor and use it to their advantage, and this makes life miserable for the other team members. 

I would make a list of all of your frustrations and concerns. Write it all down. Don't be accusatory in this list, simply state facts. Don't use the "I" word; structure it as "we." Don't say "she did this" or "she did that.” Focus on how the time spent with patients is putting stress on the other team members.

Be confident and professional. Communication is always the best way to go, but it’s important to choose your words wisely. Then ask to have a meeting with the office manager and doctor. If they feel you are attacking this other assistant, they will immediately become defensive and not truly listen to what you have to say. Talk to them in terms of the practice and the patients, not in terms of you. I repeat, do not make it about you! Focus on how this all affects the team.

Ultimately, it's not worth being miserable. Voice your concerns, but it’s important to take care of yourself first. Good luck!

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Do YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed? Send your questions to [email protected] for the experts to answer. Responses will come from various dental consultants, as well as other experts in the areas of human resources, coding, front office management, and more. These folks will assist dental professionals with their various issues on DentistryIQ because they're very familiar with the tough challenges day-to-day practice can bring.

Originally posted in 2020 and updated regularly