A subject we tend to avoid in dental practices: How in the heck did we get a hierarchy?
Like it or not, there's usually a heirarchy in the dental practice, and dental assistants are usually at the bottom of the totem pole. But let's take another look at that from the perspective of a dental assistant.
I will preface this article by saying that my best friend is a dental hygienist, and that this article is a generalization of what dental staff members have experienced in practices. So you’ve been warned: the content of this article may sting a little, but I feel this subject hasn’t been broached because, well, we tend to shy away from it.
Yes, I understand this is coming from my perspective as a dental assistant, one who has seen a whole spectrum of staff relations in a myriad of practices. Some practices have left me admiring their ability to treat all team members as equal players, and others have left me cringing at the hierarchy that’s been created, the hierarchy that generally places dental assistants as the low (wo)men on the clinical totem pole. This hierarchy has left many assistants jaded, discontented, and underappreciated.
So how do we eradicate this ugly system? I will rip the bandage off quickly here and air the grievances.
Assistants are not just the “cleanup crew” – A sanitized and sterilized clinic is everyone’s job. It goes without saying this is of utmost importance, that patients feel like they’re in a practice that cares about their health and safety, and that should show. No job should be beneath anyone, whether it’s running their instruments or taking out the garbage, we all make a mess, and we all clean up. When a team member feels it “isn’t their job” to do a specific task, it wastes time, lacks efficiency, and creates an unhealthy relationship among team members. Remember, many hands make light work!
Assistants are also health-care providers – We’re the first person patients often see for a procedure, and patients rely on us to provide comfort, education, and advice. They often build long-term, trusting relationships with us just as much as with the rest of the team.
We are all equals – Yes, most assistants have a two-year degree or less. Having fewer years in education doesn’t mean we’re not able to educate patients and other team members. We offer productive, beneficial advice and have a positive impact on the practice.
Now, the eradication – The genesis of this problem most likely started at the top, from the dentist himself (or herself). The dentist is the voice of the office and should work in concert with the whole team to establish roles and expectations. Countless times we’ve seen that the dentist doesn’t want to deal with staff relations and leaves that job to the office manager. Management needs those ground rules established from the dentist/owner. There should not be a system that allows a hierarchy to materialize and fester. The team should be allowed to run like a well-oiled machine, and then the practice will thrive, the team will be more productive, and patients will appreciate how the team is treated.
April Sluiter, EFDA, began her dental assisting career 17 years ago and continues to broaden her skills with teaching and writing for the dental profession. Her ultimate goal is to provide support to helping practices run more efficiently and constructively. She believes this is crucial for the benefit and well-being of patient care and staff rapport.