Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2017 04 Worried 1

Thursday Troubleshooter: Dental assistant worried she isn't doing her job well

April 27, 2017
This dental assistant has been having some bad experiences in the dental offices where she's worked recently. What can she do to change her situation? And is it her, or the offices she's choosing?

Do you have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed? Each week the experts on Team Troubleshooter will tackle those issues and provide you with answers. Send questions to [email protected].

QUESTION: I got my first dental assisting job two years ago. While the staff was great, I could not handle working with the dentist. I was the only assistant and he micromanaged me like crazy. He constantly watched everything I did, called and texted me about work when I was home, begged me to come into work when I called in sick, used patient time to lecture me, and even told me the times I went to the bathroom were inconvenient for him. I decided to give my notice but he countered with a raise, so I stayed. I soon saw that more money did not change the way he treated me, so I finally left. The whole experience left me feeling somewhat traumatized.

About two weeks later I accepted a position in which I'm the second dental assistant, hired to help the RDA. My boss (who works front office) told me it takes about three months to become comfortable with the job. (I've been there for almost one month now). The RDA told me one afternoon last week that I'm really annoying the dentist, I'm working too slowly, I'm asking the dentist questions I shouldn't be asking, and that she would assist him the rest of the day. I felt unwanted and underappreciated and I’m wondering if I will be let go. That same day, I ended up making some mistakes, which caused the dentist to shake his head and ignore me for the rest of the day. (While curing a comp restoration, I accidently hit his kidney bean band with the curing light and he had to re-bond the tooth. Later I tried to prevent the cotton roll from rising up but it was too late and it got twined into his bur. )

So now my problem is, I am very sensitive to work criticism. I feel like I go to work to be put down in exchange for money. I do not know how to put on a happy face like this never happened. Can you please help?

ANSWER FROM PETER CARGILL,DentReps, The Dental Jobs Site, and DR Recruiting:
It sounds like you have had two somewhat traumatic and non-motivating work experiences. The good news is, you are not alone. The bad news is, it probably will not be the last time that you will work in similar environments. However, it is obvious by your question that you are very passionate about your career! I applaud you for reaching out and sharing your story with others so that you and others can learn to grow not only professionally, but personally.

There is no doubt that our industry does bring much stress to all professionals—doctors, hygienists, front office staff, and especially dental assistants. In a recent article I wrote for DIQ, I discussed the qualities of a successful dental assistant. The very first quality is respect and empathy. Although the article refers to the respect and empathy toward patients, it is just as important to receive the same respect and empathy from coworkers, especially the dentist(s). Unfortunately, not all dentists are cognizant of how they’re treating their employees or peers because they’re often focused on helping patients and treating the clinical issues at hand. Dentists are educated to perform at their peak as clinicians. They’re seldom trained on how to act as business owners. Managing people is one of the most difficult and overlooked aspects to every successful practice.

The old sayings that the “customer is always right” or “patients come first” aren’t always the case. I believe that the employees are the most important asset to every practice. Without good, talented, thoughtful, kind, and passionate professionals like you, the practice could never be successful, and in turn could see a lot of patient attrition and even staff turnover. This seemed to be the case in your first assisting job. I applaud you for making the decision to eventually leave for good, and staying for the money is not always the best solution.

Money is very important, especially in today’s world. However, I have always been taught to appreciate money but not focus on it. When you work hard and are passionate about something, the value that you take out of it will bring you happiness and money at the same time! Learning from your experiences, I would suggest that you address any concerns you have as soon as they arise. If you feel that pressure and criticism are being unfairly put on you, ask the doctor for some time alone to discuss these matters. Many times, the boss may not be aware of how you’re feeling and will appreciate you addressing the issues in a respectful way. Some people just need to understand their peers in order to bring out the best in them.

The same goes for your current job. Mistakes happen! I believe your office manager was right, it often does take at least 90 days to become comfortable with any job. Then again, it’s not 100% your responsibility to become comfortable in the job. It’s also the responsibility of your peers and doctor to become comfortable in working with people like you. I don’t blame you for being sensitive and nervous, but never should you feel like you’re being put down. The doctor and your peers should take responsibility for helping you grow and learn, and should encourage you to become the best you can be. People should step up and address any matters that they’re having immediately, yet in a professional and confidential way. If that doesn’t work, then maybe it’s time to move on. Money is never that important and it will come to you as long as you remain focused, passionate, and know what you want out of your job.

There are so many variables and factors beyond just knowing how to do a job, such as the culture of the office—the camaraderie or teamwork possessed in an office. What does the office do to bring happiness and fun to the workplace? How do managers and doctors address issues as well as successes? It unfortunately seems like neither office you’ve worked in has any such tools or resources and certainly no ability to address issues appropriately or in a timely manner.

Give your situation some serious thought over the next few days. Walk into your office every morning and leave every night knowing that you are the best, that you deserve every penny you’re paid for the energy, effort, and passion you bring to the office. One person can change the way an office works and feels, and I’m confident that you can do that, all while learning and building your experience so you do become the best dental assistant.

If you feel you can’t continue down this path with your current doctor, then consider moving on or least start searching dental jobs, and leave the door open for interviews. But this time be sure to interview the people you’d be working with and not just let them interview you. You want to understand the culture of the office as best you can prior to making the major decision like working for the practice. Therefore, when issues like those that you have experienced do arise, you can address them immediately and appropriately so they do not hinder you or the practice.

As I mentioned, you’re not alone. You might be surprised that there may be more people in those same two offices that feel the same as you. If things work out, you will be responsible for making the practice a better place for not only patients, but for the employees too. So, walk in next week with your head high and put on a happy face. And check out another article I wrote, Behind every great dentist is an amazing assistant. Prove to your dentist that you’re an amazing assistant who deserves every dollar you earn. Happy employees, retain happy patients! 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.

All inquiries will be answered anonymously each Thursday here on DIQ.

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About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

Send your question or issue for an expert to address to [email protected].. You'll be glad you did.