How to be a different kind of dental assistant

The benefits of being a well-above-average dental assistant exceed those of the average assistant by far. Vicki Garza, RDA, shares what she has learned from her 23 years as a dental assistant.

Jun 15th, 2010

By Vicki Garza, RDA

The benefits of being a well-above-average dental assistant exceed those of the average assistant by far. In my 23 years as a dental assistant, I’ve learned from both the best and the worst. I’ve also seen the results from learning from both the best and the worst.

There are so many fulfilling benefits when you think and perform “better than the average bear.” I’d like to name a few perks — the obvious PAY, recognition, trust, and knowledge.

It’s safe to say that most of us feel as though we do not get paid enough for what we do in the dental office. I have found this to be true. I have also found that despite feeling deprived of a pay increase, there are other benefits employers pay for, such as health insurance or retirement plan savings, that certainly help — especially in these financially challenging times. There are many other financial perks that contribute to one’s income.

We all like to get a pat on the back or hear the words “thanks for your help” or “good job.” It makes us feel appreciated and gives us a sense of recognition. The above-average assistant not only works with self-confidence, but also has a good attitude and passion for his or her career. This passion shows through accountability, compassion, ambition, being a self-starter, and many other positive attributes.

I know and network with many great dental assistants who fit this category. They’re the ones who attend continuing-education classes, even if they don’t need the hours. In their minds, this furthers their skills, career, and contributions to the dental practice. Both the average and above-average assistants receive recognition, but that is quite different than their incomes. The dentist may praise the above-average assistant to patients, dental colleagues, and other team members. This recognition can come from being a liaison between doctor to doctor and doctor to patient.

In my current position at an oral surgery practice in Austin, Texas, I research the patient’s treatment plan between the current and referring dentists to make sure that each patient receives the best possible care. Part of this includes sitting in on the consultation to make sure the patient and doctor understand each other’s questions and answers. From this point, I feel I am the voice of the patient, and as the treatment plan moves forward I try to make the procedure as simple as possible for the patient.

The trust factor is also different from the “average bear” to the above-average assistant. In my opinion, trust and recognition go hand in hand. The employer observes and works closely with both types of assistants, knowing what type of responsibility that assistant can handle. This trust leads to a less stressful workplace, and like we in the dental field say, “When the doctor’s happy, everybody’s happy.”

The “average bear” has great potential. It may be that a person needs to find his or her niche in the practice or dental field. Managers and lead assistants, and most importantly the dentist, should help this type of assistant with positive reinforcement and the necessary tools to succeed. In doing this, the open-minded, teachable assistant will not only benefit personally, but will help the practice immensely.

We work with all types of people, some more ambitious and self-starting than others. I’m sure it’s safe to say that within the dental practice there are many different levels of skills and knowledge, not to mention personalities.

A successful practice takes everyone working together and giving each day our best — remembering to respect our team members and employer — because we spend most of each day at work. Let’s make each day count for the better.

Author bio
Vicki Garza has spent the last 23 years as a dental assistant in various practices in the Austin, Texas, area. Her current tasks include working with an oral surgeon in conjunction with a local trauma center, and serving as a lead surgical assistant and implant treatment coordinator. She can be reached at vikgarza@aol.com.

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