How valuable are YOU?

July 19, 2010
If you're playing Whack-a-Mole with your alarm clock, maybe it's time to break out of your comfort zone and shake things up! Tija Hunter, an expanded functions dental assistant/office manager, shows you how.

By Tija Hunter, EFDA

Your alarm goes off. Is it really time to get up? You hit the snooze button not once, but four times. You tell yourself you need just a few more minutes, thinking how much the extra sleep would help. You finally drag yourself out of bed, but because you hit snooze so many times, you barely have enough time to get ready for work. You race around like a madwoman hoping you didn’t forget your lunch as you head out the door. You hit every red light on the way, and when you finally get in the door you realize you left the instruments last night to be autoclaved this morning. You had thought, “I'll be in early tomorrow to do them.” What a way to start the day!

I’ve been a dental assistant for 29 years and have had many mornings like this. Although I have always loved my dental assisting job, there was simply nothing for me to jump out of bed for. As a single mom, I spent many years working a second job at night or on the weekends. One job just wasn't enough to get us through.

I remember attending a seminar back in the ’80s, a team building speech, blah, blah, that was not very motivating. But I learned a long time ago that one can find valuable information from any seminar. In this particular one, the speaker talked about how just a few years ago he wasn't making a lot of money in dentistry. He took the initiative to invest in diamonds, oil, and any latest and greatest venture he learned about by hanging out on the back 9 with his buddies. This caught my attention because the dentist I was working for at the time owned a lot of apartment complexes and was always looking to buy more. He'd say, "That's where the money is!"

He also said he tried everything to make extra money, basically to fund his dental practice. But he finally learned the solution wasn't investing in any of those ventures. The solution was investing in his practice, staff, and patients, and by doing that, his practice began to pay for itself. Wow! That was huge! How many dentists know this? From my perspective, not very many. Through the years, I’ve seen it many times over — dentists going out of their way to make extra money by investing in some get-rich-quick scheme!

I never considered myself a slow learner, but the truth is I guess I am. I remember looking at my boss and thinking, “That's what YOU need to do.” But in all honesty, that lecturer was talking to me too. I learned over the years that what I needed to do for ME was to invest in myself! I am the greatest asset I have! Instead of working two jobs, I needed to give my full attention to the one I already loved. I just needed to put forth the extra effort and do more.

Most states offer some type of expanded functions for dental assistants. Check your state to see what your expanded functions cover. In my state of Missouri, one of my favorite expanded functions is prosthodontics. I love crown and bridge. But what I’ve found I love even more is dentures. Dentures? WHAT? How on earth could anyone love dentures? Everybody hates them — the patient, the doctor, the staff. Nothing good ever came of dentures. All anyone with dentures ever does is complain about how much they hurt, how they won't stay in, the nasty taste of the adhesives, how they can't chew or taste their food ... you name it. One time when I took a maxillary denture out of a patient's mouth, I saw that the entire pallet was covered with green beans. Ewwwwwwww!

I noticed how frustrated my boss was with each denture case. But what I also saw was opportunity. If things weren't going well, the doctor blamed the lab tech and the lab tech blamed the doctor. I heard the complaints and I wanted to help. The only way I could do that was to take control and become educated. What does it take to make a denture? What was I looking for? What did the patients want from a denture?

I learned a long time ago that successful people don't always have all the answers, but they surround themselves with people who do. So with the help of some very knowledgeable lab techs, I set out to conquer the baffling world of dentures. They not only educated me on what to do, they told me why I was doing it. That made everything fall into place. From the preliminary impression to delivery, I now understand every step. Dentures aren't scary anymore. Now not only are we producing fantastic looking, quality dentures, but my doctor appreciates the fact that I put forth the effort to accomplish what we once thought was impossible. The more educated I become, the more valuable I become, and the more money I make!

Knowledge is power, and I use it to reach new heights every day. By educating myself, I can then educate my patients. This makes me a valuable asset to my office and team. In turn, I gain the respect of my patients, doctor, and team members.

When I teach dental assisting, I tell my students that they will get out of the course what they put into it. And the truth is, life is that way too. By putting forth extra effort, people can reap the benefits of a long and prosperous career and rewarding life.

Do you jump out of bed in the morning, excited to start your day? If you're playing Whack-a-Mole with your alarm clock, maybe it's time to break out of your comfort zone and shake things up! You are only as valuable as you choose to be. The only limits to your success are those that you place on yourself. How valuable are you?

Author bio
Tija Hunter, EFDA, is an expanded functions dental assistant/office manager in O'Fallon, Mo., and an independant dental consultant specializing in team building, assistant training, and office organization. She can be reached at (618) 917-1012 or [email protected].