Lurking inside some dental practices is a frustration most dentists are totally unaware of. Consultants are privy to this frustration, as they are often asked in confidence to help the dental deal auxiliaries with the frustration. The comment many share with their consultants is that they borrowed money and spent many months of their life going to an accredited dental assisting school, yet their dentist does not value or respect the sacrifices they made.
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Not only have many been told, “I don’t know why you’re wasting your time and money going to dental assisting school, it means nothing in the hiring process,” some on rotation have even been prompted to drop out of school and come to work fulltime in that practice because they need someone now, and that “piece of paper” when upon graduation means NOTHING.
In some instances dental assistants have actually shed tears telling a consultant that not only is their professional training NOT recognized by their dentist, the rest of the team make fun of or disregard their training. To make matters worse, they are told, “Your salary will not reflect your schooling. It will be the same with formal schooling or none.”
I remember an incident of a young dental assistant who was asked to train her coworker in a rural town that did not have a dental assisting school. She cried, saying that her dentist was asking her to train this chairside assistant who came into the practice with zero experience. I explained to this young lady that her dentist did indeed need two very well trained assistants, and as great as she was, I knew the new assistant would one day be excellent if she were her teacher. She was not happy with my answer, and went on to say that she had paid for her dental assisting school with her own money and did not feel that “giving it away” was fair.
I asked her (and many since) to ask herself three questions before deciding that training a coworker was unfair — 1) Will it benefit the patients for assistant No. 2 to be very well trained in clinical and communication skills? 2) Will it benefit the practice as a business for your doctor to have two exceptional assistants? And 3) Will it benefit you personally to have skilled help every day?
If the answer to those questions is yes, then it is actually a good thing to be a mentor and trainer for other team members. I explained to her how terrible our world might be if every teacher felt that way, and I explained to her, “as you teach, you also learn.” I finally convinced that young lady and many like her since that sharing knowledge with others is the most rewarding part of any career.
More than a year later when that particular dental assistant visited our city with her family, she took me to lunch with her mother, and told her about our conversation months earlier. The assistant continued to thank me for years.
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What is the answer to this major frustration that many dental assistants keep to themselves? It certainly creates morale problems, jealousy, and often leads to moving from office to office to try to find a dentist who values and respects the dental assistant training just as they do the hygienists’ training. Whose fault is it if this is happening or has happened in your practice?
In my opinion, some dental assisting programs are substandard, so I understand why some dentists do not value the training these employees have gone through. Many dentists have been burned hiring so-called trained dental assistants who do not know how to take a radiograph. Dental assisting schools are popping up everywhere, and some are good and some are not. Many dental assisting programs are exceptional, and those who graduate from those schools are not only very well trained, but they go on to become cream of the crop assistants.
Many dentists say that when they graduate from dental school their REAL training is just beginning, as “school is never out for the pro.” Some say, “I read my journals and that is all I need to keep abreast of the changes in dentistry.”
School is never out for clinical assistants, administrative staff, or hygienists. Practices that have a two-hour per month in-office training program with each of four departments report the happiest and most well-trained employees in dentistry.
Having been one of those on-the-job trained dental auxiliaries way back when, I am eternally grateful for those who worked hard to teach me how to be a dental assistant, receptionist (when we called them that), scheduling coordinator, financial coordinator and practice administrator. There were no dental assisting schools in my area back in the early ‘60s. My former employers, coworkers, and members of my local, state, and national dental assistant organizations (ADAA) thankfully saw talent in me.
Do I believe in formal training and dental assisting schools? Yes, I certainly do. It is my hope that if you work with an assistant who has made the sacrifice of going to school to learn how to be a dental assistant, that you will take that training very seriously. Explain to the assistant her value in helping build your practice by mentoring and leading others who come on board. She is simply looking for the four R’s of motivation — responsibility, recognition, rewards, and respect.
Linda L. Miles, CSP, CMC, is the founder of Speaking Consulting Network. Contact her at [email protected].
Editor's note: Every state has different education, training, and credentialing requirements to take X-rays and perform additional duties. In some states, graduating from a dental assisting program that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is one of the requirements to perform expanded functions. There are many other dental assisting programs that are not CODA accredited. To see the dental assisting requirements in your state and what duties assistants are allowed to perform at each level, see DANB’s Search by State map. To see a list of CODA-accredited programs in your state, see the Dental Assisting Programs page on DANB’s website or visit ADA CODA’s list of allied education programs. Please also be aware that in most states, an unlicensed dental assistant may only perform basic supportive dental procedures under the supervision of a licensed dentist. If you have questions about the duties you are asked to perform or any training you are asked to provide, please contact your state dental board.