Dr. Stacey Simmons has a suggestion for how to handle a not-so-good patient review. But what do you do when a staff member says that you, as the dentist/boss, are hindering his or her ability to progress and improve in the practice? Say what?! That kind of stops you in your tracks for a second, now doesn’t it?
As dentists, we think first-class patient reviews are the best! We smile, do a happy dance or an internal self-congratulatory nod, and perhaps puff our chests out a bit because we are good, oh so good.
Just hold on a bit now, rock star. Let me ask you this: When your balloon gets deflated with a review that puts you in a not-so-stellar light, then what do you do? Talk your way out of it? Attempt to justify why that patient had a bad experience? Or do you humbly admit that you actually may have some room for improvement in an area or two? Regardless, we need to be humble enough to swallow the pill, put things into perspective, and subsequently, act accordingly. This shows character, strength, and leadership. To excel as a business and health-care provider, that’s exactly what our patients, staff, and business need.
OK, how about this: What do you do when you have a staff member who says that you—as a dentist, boss, and friend—are hindering his or her ability to progress and improve in the practice? Now wait a second. A staff member—not a patient—does a review on YOU and says your lack of enthusiasm, desire to learn, and try new things in dentistry keeps him or her from being able to tap into his or her potential. What?! That kind of stops you in your tracks for a second, doesn’t it?
I ask this question because, seriously, I had never really given this a thought. I do staff reviews all the time, but I have kind of dropped the ball in the reciprocation of said performance analysis. Cringing! This self-reflection (careful ... I’m getting analytical on you here) came about when I recently interviewed someone for a dental assistant position. When I asked the candidate if she could change something at her current workplace (I wasn’t fishing for information; just looking into her character and response), the answer she gave totally blew me away. She said: "I feel like the dentist I work for is stagnant in his growth and potential, and I feel like I’m being hindered. I want to do more, learn more, and try new things, but I can only do so much. I need a change.”
The first thing that came to my mind was, “Well, then, this is the place for you because that’s all I do is mix things up! I love exploring, trying new materials, toys, and the like.” See how I patted myself on the back?! Ugh ... SO not cool. After finishing up the interview, I ruminated on the exchange a bit more. I took an inventory of what I do and have done to invest in the education and growth of my staff (both the front desk and back). My conclusion? I really didn’t deserve that pat on the back, because I definitely have room for improvement in that area too.
I realize that learning is an investment, especially if you take or send several of your staff members to a conference or do an online CE course. But have you ever considered doing a table clinic on a particular clinical procedure? What if you coordinated a lunch-and-learn with another office or specialty? Product and equipment reps love lunch-and-learns—they only take an hour. What if you did an in-house cross-training clinic by having your front desk discuss the challenges they have with scheduling hygiene patients and dealing with insurance issues, while on the flip side your hygienists could review periodontal disease and how they educate patients about the difference between a prophy and periodontal maintenance? Creating an environment for that perfect baton pass is so important, and it reflects well on everyone.
I remember recently that my assistant was studying for a credentialing exam, and she was confused about anesthetic and the locations where it was given (as described by the textbook). During our discussion while working on a patient, I proceeded to explain nerve location, areas affected by local, why different anesthetics are more effective, and so on. We were fortunate that the patient was amiable and actually somewhat interested in the conversation as well. That "education" was simple, easy, effective, free, and—if I might add proudly—my assistant aced that part of the exam. And it was enjoyable too!
As the dentists, doctors, and leaders in the practice, we absolutely must be on our toes continually. Dentistry is not a stagnant profession, but if you allow yourself to be contained within the walls of your building (and I do mean this both figuratively and literally), you’re not doing yourself or your staff any favors. Change is not easy. Learning to do something differently is not easy. Forging ahead into unknown territory is not easy. Leading by example is definitely daunting. It’s difficult at best, but it's not impossible.
When I wrote the article about lab technicians and what we as dentists do that make their work difficult, the response from both sides (dentists and technicians) was tremendous and absolutely unexpected, but I learned so much in the process! To that I say join some dental Facebook groups (office managers, hygienists, assistants, etc.) that allow you to see dentistry from a different perspective. I guarantee you, it’s the best way to be a fly on the wall in this profession, because the learning that takes place is unscripted, unfiltered, and 100% raw. Like it or not, it’s the reality of the world we live in!
Bottom line: if you think about it, it really can boil down to your bottom line. Maximization of available resources can allow you to use your staff to their full potential. As such, you will see better patient flow through their appointments, scheduling, financial arrangements, and overall dental experiences.
Don’t hinder the growth of your staff! Recognize their fire to learn, desire to improve, and be a catalyst to help facilitate the experience for them. What do you have to lose? Nothing, absolutely nothing. But you have an incredible amount to gain.
What kinds of things have you done in your practice that have been learning experiences? Would you be willing to share them? Do you have ideas that can help the rest of us? As I've said before, we're in this together. Click on my name in my signature to email me. If you’re interested, I'll tell you how I made the decision to take my entire staff to Hawaii this fall for the ADA Convention. It wasn't an easy task, but it has really brought my staff together.
Stacey L. Simmons, DDS
Editorial Director, Breakthrough Clinical