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Myth busters for dental assistants: The office will fall apart without me!

Oct. 20, 2020
Never forget how valuable you are to your practice. But you can step away from too much work without the office falling apart. Ask for help. Delegate. And don't work overtime without expecting pay.

I am under extreme pressure to do my job the best I can at all times. This office needs me and if I don’t come through, it will all fall apart! Right? Wrong!

Yes, you are valuable and you are needed. But you’re not alone.

People on social media share horrific stories about how they have to work overtime with no extra pay. Or they go in on their days off to complete the work they didn’t get to during the week, and receive no extra pay. I understand the stress of trying to get it all done and be the perfect assistant, and I feel sad for these people.

But who is putting all that stress on you? You! You need to stop it! When you don’t get everything done, it means you’re trying to do too much. It sounds like you need help, perhaps another assistant? What’s that? Your doctor can’t afford another assistant? That’s not your problem, and by working too hard and trying to do it all, the doctor knows he or she doesn’t have to hire anyone else because you’ll do the work of two people for the price of one.

Dental assisting is a great career, but you can burn out fast and hate what you do if you don’t stop stressing about being everything to everyone. You must accept yourself.

I take pride in my office and I love our team, but I don’t expect that I can do it all. We can’t have the attitude of, “If I don’t do it, nobody will.” You’re right. Other people will not step up if you keep doing it all.

We are parts of a team, and therefore, we are supposed to jump in and help others. I know, there is always that one team member who knows how to get out of doing their fair share. Don’t allow that. Engage them, don’t babysit them. “Hey, can you go grab the trash out of room one?” “I’ll clean the sterilization room if you can vacuum.”

I know it sucks because people should jump in and help out, but truly it’s more frustrating to have to do it all. Ask for help! That’s not being weak, that’s working smart.

You’re not perfect and you will make mistakes, and that’s OK. We all do it. Own up and learn from your mistakes. Learn to laugh at yourself for being silly and move on. Don’t take your work home, and if you need help, tell your doctor.

If you find yourself working extra hours to get everything done, it’s time for a talk with your boss. Make sure you’re getting paid for the work you do but remember that you have a life and a family, and they need you. Don’t marry your work, especially work where you aren’t paid for all the hours you put in. That’s called being taken advantage of, and that’s not cool. Respect yourself more than that!

The stress of trying to make everyone happy is a huge burden, and it’s totally unrealistic. You are human, and there is only so much you can do. When you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath and ask for help. I don’t know why it’s so hard for us to do that, but it is. We keep going like Energizer bunnies and we don’t say a word. We build up resentment and our frustration boils over, yet we keep it all in.

We end our days seeing only what went wrong and never looking at what we did right. Why is that? We hate confronting people and we hate asking, but the truth is, asking for help is not a bad thing. And if you go home at the end of the day feeling a little better about yourself, isn’t that worth it? Yes!

You are amazing, you are strong, you are one hell of a worker. You don’t give that up by asking for help, you only get stronger. When you feel good about your day, you gain so much more positivity from it. You grow more, and you allow yourself to feel good about all you’ve done.

Remember that you are in control, and rest easy in the fact that you’ve got this!

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, CDIA, CDSO, CDSH, MADAA, is a member and current vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master. Tija is the editor of Dental Assisting Digest and contributes to Dental Economics magazine. She is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, a dental assisting and dental continuing education program, and an international speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states.