Let’s face it — there’s no doubt that we love what we do. I’ve talked to dental assistants who are every bit as passionate as I am about this profession. We help patients and make a difference not only in their smiles, but we earn their trust so that visits aren’t so scary for them. If we didn’t love helping our patients, we wouldn’t be in the business.
It’s the other “stuff” that gets in the way of a perfectly good day. I’ve talked to many assistants, and here are the issues they say cause them the most stress in their workday.
* Lack of respect — Assistants feel like they are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to office hierarchy. We seem to have a heavier workload than other team members, and multi-tasking is our middle name. The truth is, we have more control in the dental office than anyone gives us credit for. We spend more time with our patients than the doctor or hygienist, and patients trust us because we take the time to talk to them and help them understand their treatment. Often times they will call the office and ask for us by name! Our duties don’t end when the last patient leaves; we have to make sure everything is clean and ready for the next day. We’re usually the last people out the door.
* Lack of pay for what we do — Try listing everything a dental assistant does during the day and you’ll understand why we feel underpaid. We are the “chief cook and bottle washers” of the office. If it needs done, we do it. We are dependable and do whatever it takes to make sure the job is done right.
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* Lack of communication — From front office to back, I hear this over and over. Communication is a major part of any team, and when it breaks down or is nonexistent, the team is doomed. How do you keep communication open? You open it! Instead of complaining about a teammate to the doctor, office manager, or another teammate, talk to the person yourself. Be open-minded and try to see things their way, and see if you can come to a compromise instead of doing it one way. If that doesn’t work, you need to speak to the doctor or office manager together to work it out. If you’re on the receiving end of the talk, don’t get defensive; you have your pet peeves and so do your teammates. Listen to what they have to say. You are a member of a team, and you may need them to help you, so don’t burn bridges! Team meetings are important communication tools. We all need to be on the same page. It’s essential that the doctor also attend the meetings. Make a list of the things that concern you before you go into the meetings. Take notes and write down the resolution to your issue. Revisit the list at the next team meeting and see if your issue got the attention it needed.
* Lack of teamwork — Teamworkis a cooperative effort by the members of a group to achieve a common goal. Nothing will cause animosity like someone who does not do their fair share. It can be the wedge that drives even the best teams apart. Typically higher paid team members get sent home after the patient is done for the day, which leaves the assistants to take out the trash, clean the instruments, and more. In some cases other teammates will find busy work so they don’t have to do jobs they dislike. Don’t be that teammate! We all go home when the work is done, so jump in and help. Don’t make yourself a target for the office drama.
* Lack of protocols in place — I hear often that offices do not have written protocols to establish rules. Teammates say doctors play favorites, and what goes for one doesn’t always go for another. One teammate might get in trouble for doing the same thing another teammate does and doesn’t get in trouble. This causes major animosity in the team and pits one against the other.
* Lack of follow through — When there is a system in place and something happens, the doctor may not follow through, even though guidelines dictate it. Sometimes I think a doctor sabotages his or her own practice when they allow this to happen.
It takes all kinds of team members to run an office. The only one in the office you can control is yourself. Just like one bad attitude can infect an entire office, a positive attitude can spread like wild fire.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. Find your strengths and make them better. Find your weaknesses and make them stronger. Make yourself an asset to your practice and your employer by not caving into office drama and gossip. You are there and getting paid to do a job, so concentrate on that and you’ll gain the respect you’ve been looking for.
Go the extra mile by showing your employer you are dedicated to the practice and you’ll get the pay you deserve. These issues have surrounded dental practices for years, so rise above them and help create a positive atmosphere for patients, teammates, and most importantly, yourself!
Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, is a 1981 graduate of the Missouri College, and has more than 30 years of chairside experience. She is currently the office manager/chairside assistant to Dr. Eric Hurtte of O’Fallon Mo. She is a member of the ADAA, founder of the Dental Assistants Study Club of St. Louis, director of the Dental Careers Institute, and an independent consultant specializing in assistant training, team building, office organization, and CEREC assistant training. She can be reached at [email protected], or find her on Facebook.