Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2018 05 Prima Donna 1

How to cure the prima donna syndrome in dental offices

May 22, 2018
You might be familiar with the dental office prima donna. If you work in a less than team-centered environment, this dental assistant has been there and can offer some help.

This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting Digest e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative monthly ENL designed specifically for the dental assistant here.

If you’ve been in the dental world for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly noticed an unspoken divide, a deeply entrenched chasm, bridged only by presumptions of roles and responsibilities by the dental auxiliary who crosses that chasm. Perhaps my headline has conjured up visions of your office’s prima donna.

Maybe this prima donna is a member of the hygiene or front office team who enjoys thumbing through a magazine while you run around trying to keep up with the doctor’s hectic schedule. Or maybe it’s the dental assistant who spends more time in the back office “ordering” than actually assisting, and who passively refuses to process x-rays or periochart, let alone turn a hygiene room.

Let’s face it. It’s no secret that there are some long-held assumptions about the varied responsibilities of dental team members. Accordingly, we can choose to remain siloed in our roles, dutifully (and perhaps stubbornly) operating within ritual norms. But much better, we can approach our workdays with a shared sense of purpose, working in tandem to provide exceptional patient care while creating a positive office culture.

Here are five steps that I believe can cure the prima donna syndrome you may be experiencing in your practice.

1) Give the benefit of the doubt

As if moving out of state was not hard enough, feeling less than welcome in a new state was even harder. This was my experience as I left behind a well-oiled machine, a practice where all members operated as a team and functioned like a family. I left it for a practice that segregated roles and was stalled by antiquated and dysfunctional workplace antics.

My welcome was initially warm, but as schedules got behind, sterilization got backed up, and patients waited for disinfected and newly set rooms, the roles became clear. While I’m now a hygienist, this practice experience was as a proud dental assisting team member. In other words, I know both roles well. Nonetheless, I quickly learned that the dental hygiene prima donna in this particular practice had done little to help her team members, and I was now the target of her resentment. For this reason I was often left to my own resources, no matter how jam packed or behind my schedule became.

2) Be the change you want to see

Dare I say it’s second nature to want to reciprocate with an eye for an eye, or in this case, a tooth for a tooth? It’s easy to fall into the trap of self-righteous resentment. I was working a solid eight hours, with all eight patients making their appointments on most days. There was barely time outside of patient care to write my notes, turn my room, ultrasonic, bag, and sterilize my instruments, much less attend to the needs of the other team members.

On the rare occasion that a patient did cancel, it felt like I was coming up for much needed air. It was a chance to run to the restroom, restock my room, catch up on notes, or maybe snarf a snack in the break room.

Complacency can creep in and take over even the most well intentioned people. Truthfully, it would have been easy for me to respond to this hygienist with the same attitude and presumptive behavior. I have to admit there were times that I succumbed to self-satisfaction by taking a little longer to write a note or clean a room. After all, no one was much help to me, no matter how noble my attempts were to help them.

Then it hit me. I needed to do the things I wished others were doing. I needed to be the change I wanted to see.

3) Start a conversation

Festering frustration will never produce meaningful resolution. To the contrary, it will gnaw at workplace peace and productivity and lead to tension between all team members, which will ultimately impact patient care. This is the time to act professionally and constructively. Share ideas about how to better work together. Better yet, authentically be the change you want to see. Often times, modeling a behavior speaks louder than words. But remember that starting a conversation does not necessarily usher in an instant fix. Give it time.

4) Face the music

Take a moment to perform some honest introspection. Do you make assumptions about the motives of your coworkers? Do you judge them, perhaps unfairly, based on past experiences? Do you practice what you expect?

Then again, what if you’re the office prima donna? I know. The horror of such a suggestion! But let’s be real. Somewhere along the way, someone sat idly by, reading a magazine, sipping a bottle of water, and watching team members fulfill their duties while the divide grew deeper. Maybe it’s time you start to fill in the gap, one sincere shovelful at a time.

5) Focus on your purpose and passion

Finally, and most importantly, no matter what role you have in your dental practice, remember you are instrumental in delivering value-based patient care and supporting positive patient outcomes. When faced with the temptation to reciprocate prima donna behaviors, consider your purpose. If your patients guide your decisions—their comfort, outcomes, and oral health and well-being—then stepping in to bridge the gap is a deliberate step toward providing quality care.

Your actions just might be the medicine that cures any prima donna syndrome that plagues your practice, and you just might be the catalyst that bridges the chasm dug by past prima donnas. Will you pick up your shovel?

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Jennifer Zabel, RDH, CDA, MHA, is a dental professional with more than 20 years of combined practice as a dental assistant and hygienist. Jennifer is the dental assisting program director at ECPI University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where she serves as the faculty onboarding coordinator for her campus’ health science programs. She is a workplace culture warrior and believes in the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to dental and health care. She can be reached at [email protected].