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The hard lesson I learned from a day working in another office

May 30, 2018
Problems or imperfections in their home offices can leave dental hygienists feeling frustrated—but is the grass always greener on the other side? As Amber Metro-Sanchez, BA, RDH, found out recently, the answer can be an emphatic "no." But hygienists should always use the opportunity to work in another office for a day as a chance to learn and improve their own practice of hygiene. Read more here.

How dental hygienists can appreciate and improve their own home offices

Recently, I got the chance to work for a day in an outside office—and a good reality check. I have been working for the same dentist for the past 13 years, and for the past 10 years I have rarely had the experience of working somewhere different. I am accustomed the same work conditions day in and day out, and as a result, I had lost sight of what I could learn by exposing myself to a new environment. I got stuck in a rut that I didn’t even know I needed to get out of.

When anyone walks into an office as a newbie, adjusting to the new surroundings can be difficult. You try to find all the supplies you need in a short amount of time and make every attempt to stay on schedule. You also do your best to never to look confused in front of patients (even if you really are) so they have confidence in your skills. Learning new computer software is a common challenge, too. During my day away, I found more challenges than I was mentally ready for, but I grew as a result.

The dental office I went to work at was very impressive from first appearances. The building was absolutely gorgeous and much larger than what I was used to. The office I work at is fairly small, with only five operatories, and is pretty modest in appearance. The equipment at this dental office looked to be of high quality and state of the art. The staff was very friendly and helpful. I expected my day to go smoothly from start to finish, but to my dismay, I soon discovered I would be missing the comfortable and familiar routine of my home office.

I immediately came across several equipment issues as I fumbled through my first patient. I had trouble turning on the faucet when I went to wash my hands, only to discover that I had to push on a cabinet door to activate the hands-free system. As I went to throw away the used paper towels, I noticed that the trash container was full, meaning I had to ask for help already. Then when I tried to lay my patient back, I discovered the buttons were only on the chairs and not adjustable by any type of foot pedal. This meant that every time I wanted to change my patient’s position, I had to take my hands out of her mouth and put my instruments down, so it took some extra thinking on my part.

Polishing my patient’s teeth turned out to be more of a chore than I hoped it would be. When I placed the prophy angle into my patient’s mouth, I immediately noticed that my wrist began to feel uncomfortable from the drag of the handpiece cord. This tension resulted from using a straight hygiene handpiece; I am accustomed to using a contra-angle one. The prophy angles I used at this office were wobbly, leading to further stress on my hands and wrists. The prophy paste cup did not fit into the prophy ring properly and kept falling out, leading to multiple disruptions in my workflow. My frustration began to brew as I realized this scenario was going to repeat itself for the remainder of my workday.

When I left at the end of the day, I wondered, does the staff have any of the same issues that I just experienced? Do they know that with a few simple changes, their work day could be made easier? Or do they know about products that could help alleviate some of their ergonomic concerns? Perhaps the staff members are used their work environment and do not experience the same issues as me at all. Either way, I was only merely postulating at this point, and was uncertain if it was appropriate to say anything to any of the staff members.

The office did have some really impressive qualities when it came to providing hygiene care. All their instruments were amazingly sharp and high quality. I did have an assistant available to clean and set up my room, which is definitely not something I am accustomed too. The office also utilized headsets to notify the dentist of when they were ready for an exam. I am used to tracking down the dentist on my own, which can be time consuming.

Through this experience, I did learn that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side. Sometimes it can be easy to find fault with your current employer as you lose perspective about what practicing dental hygiene could potentially be like in another office. Each dental office has its pros and cons—we could all be forever on a futile search for that elusive “perfect practice.” Sometimes it helps to step back and appreciate the small things that we have a reason to be grateful for in our current office. Then step ahead and make changes to make your office an even better place. We all benefit when we learn from each other.

I definitely took for granted quite a few of the positive aspects I regularly enjoy at my home office. My employer has always been open to suggestions and values staff input. If I want a certain type of handpiece or prophy angle, I usually get it in time. If my office tries out a new prophy paste and the dental hygienist don’t like it, it is instantly gone. I love my saddle stool and I love my cordless handpiece, even if I do have to share the equipment with other staff members. We are constantly striving to improve our patient care one step at a time.

Because of this experience, I realized that I am indeed a creature of habit and not as adaptable to a new environment as I thought I would be. I felt awkward when I had to deal with a new work situation. I missed all the comforts of my “dental home.” But in the end, I learned that by working in a new dental office, I can benefit immensely by learning new ideas that I can take back to my home office to make it an even better place. Sometimes it is difficult to step outside of your comfort zone, but the experience is completely worth it.

Every hygienist should have a mental picture of what his or her ideal dental office looks like, and it takes a lot of work to make that happen. I think I got pretty close to finding mine. Best of luck to all of you in finding and continually creating yours!

Editor's note: This article first appeared in RDH eVillage. Click here to subscribe.

Amber Metro-Sanchez, BA, RDH, practices dental hygiene with Dr. Chris Bible at Comfort Dental in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She also works as a professional educator on behalf of Waterpik. Amber was a member of the 2015 Colgate Oral Health Advisor Board. Amber is also a contributing author for the Colgate Oral Health Advisor webpage. She can be reached at [email protected].

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