25 years of dental assisting bliss, but it was not bully-free: my story
ADAA president Natalie Kaweckyj did not realize the extent of the bullying in her career until she started researching the subject. She wants her peers to know they are not alone if they're being bullied.
This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting Digest e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative monthly ENL designed specifically for the dental assistant here.
The series of articles about bullying in dentistry that Kevin Henry and I wrote were an interesting experience for us. It made each of us think long and hard and brought to the forefront a problem that has long been swept under the rug in our profession.
We learned that more dental assistants were impacted by bullying than we could have ever imagined. It made many people realize that they are not alone. What bothers me the most is that if everyone practiced common sense, courtesy, and professionalism in the workplace, we wouldn’t have this issue. But we all know that common sense is not a flower that grows in everyone’s garden.
Kevin asked that I share my personal experiences in this last article of the series. For someone who loves to write, I thought the assignment would be a piece of cake. Wow, was I wrong! Those who know me well know that I can be reserved at times, always thinking about something and sharing very little until I’m ready to disclose what’s on my mind. Other times, there’s no stopping me and what I want to get done, and I will tell it like it is. Writing this article brought these traits together.
As a career dental assistant of 25 years, I can honestly say I have done it all. From private practice, to public health, to academia and organized dental assisting, from administrative to clinical to practice management and human resources—I accepted just about every opportunity that came along. Some of the behaviors that I experienced through the years did not strike me as bullying until I began researching for our articles. I reflected on the past and realized the horrible truth—I had been bullied.
Some of the things I experienced would make you cringe, and others you would laugh off as a prank. I’m fortunate in that I love the team I currently work with. I also have a strong support system of friends and colleagues. If you do not have a strong network of peers, develop one. No one else knows what you go through each day and the challenges you face. We like to commiserate and celebrate with like-minded people. It’s one of the reasons we are so social and enjoy occupational forums and chat groups.
Now, on to some of my experiences with bullying:
• A new administrative team member, who was insecure in her skills because she had embellished her resume, blamed errors on me that did not fall into my realm of office tasks.
• I was assigned a different schedule than the rest of the team, just because. No reasons were given, and the schedule lasted three months.
• I was badmouthed by the second person in charge and accused of not being a team player or completing my assignments. It turned out that half of the time the information was not relayed to me about what was due when. I also learned that when the accuser left, the knowledge needed for that position was not available. Jealousy caused this person to lash out, deny requests for time off, and paint a completely opposite picture of my work ethic.
• A fellow staff member searched through my email looking for anything that would make her look better.
• I once brought forward a concern to the bosses that could have resulted in penalties, such as termination. Yet the problem continued until it was “discovered” by someone else. Staff members were penalized. This actually turned out to be a blessing for me because it opened a whole new chapter in my professional life.
• I was not included in important meetings. These were instances of passive aggressiveness, and those who have experienced passive aggression know there is no place in the dental profession for this behavior.
• I was reprimanded for telling another team member to “google it” when she asked me a question I could not answer.
• I was gossiped about and bad mouthed for doing what I’m supposed to do because I did it thoroughly and efficiently without complaint. I tend to be a perfectionist and always try to give 500%. Let’s just say, karma paid a visit to these people.
• When giving a briefing to a particular group, I was talked down to because I was not their “equal” and they assumed I was not knowledgeable on the topic. I proved them wrong when I posed questions they had trouble answering.
• As someone who enjoys challenges, I was often asked by superiors, “Why would you want to do that?” I recall once needing a signature in order to take a certification exam and the person said, “No, you don’t need it.” I eventually got a signature from someone else, but I no longer thought of the person who refused me as a mentor.
• The worst bullying experience I ever had was having my professionalism, integrity, and reputation maligned in order for some people to cover up their wrong doing. This incident involved legal counsel and the threat of a lawsuit to cease the activity. But the damage had already been done to me emotionally. I leaned on my supporters, and together we got through this challenging time.
So many years and so many incidents. Each of these experiences has made me a better dental assistant and has added to my character. As ADAA president, I get to meet dental assistants from all over, and some of the stories I hear are heartbreaking. My heart goes out to those who leave the profession because of bullying. I would be truly saddened if I ever felt so low that I would leave something I truly love.
It’s time we take a stand and stop bullying in our field. I hope my words comfort those of you who feel alone in your experiences. Know that you are not alone, and if I can help in any way, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com, or contact Kevin Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natalie Kaweckyj, LDARF, CDA, is president of the American Dental Assistants Association.