QUESTION: There’s a dental assistant at our practice who chews gum constantly, making smacky popping noises. This is very annoying and the dentist will not do anything about this. What is your recommendation?
ANSWER FROM JULIE VARNEY, Practice Adminisgtrator and Syracuse AADOM Chapter President:
The first thought is, “How are patients perceiving this dental assistant?” This really should be the first thought of every team member when it comes to our actions and appearance. “How are patients perceiving the team, the practice, and myself?” With that in mind, is it time to look at your standards of professionalism amongst your team? What message does your appearance convey to your patients about promoting oral health care?
To solve this problem, start by generating a nice conversation with the dental assistant about what she feels is the meaning of professionalism. Ask her, “How do you think the patients see our office and dental team?” Engaging her in a conversation that is going to help find a solution the key. Next, go over the key points the dental assistant stated to you. Write them down and have her evaluate her own appearance. Add a couple of your own thoughts, like gum chewing and how it might be a distraction to patients or the doctor during treatment. Next, put an action plan in place, with the help of the dental assistant, to become more professional. Start by taking a couple of items from the list and implementing those into the daily routine. By placing the issue and solution directly into the hands of the dental assistant, you are empowering her to become more professional, and you will come across as a leader.
ANSWER FROM LISA MARIE SPRADLEY, FAADOM, the FrontDeskLady.com:
Chewing gum in any office environment is, in my opinion, a very "sticky" situation. I absolutely cannot tolerate listening to people chew gum. The best way to avoid this problem is to have a policy in the office manual that restricts team members from chewing gum while at the office. I believe that having this policy and making sure that everyone has read and understands all of the rules of the practice is critical, especially when you also have the added complication of a doctor who does not like conflict or confrontation.
Hopefully there is an office manager or practice administrator in the practice who can help put these policies into place and encourage everyone to follow them. If the practice doesn’t have a practice administrator, then have someone speak to the doctor about this issue and ask for permission to address the problem as a team. Perhaps someone can talk about patients complaining about the smacking sounds. If you are the practice administrator, then take time alone with the dental assistant to review this problem and work together to resolve the issue. Including team members in finding a solution not only ensures that they are participating in resolving the issue, it builds their problem solving skills and helps train future leaders.
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