A Tale of Two Offices
I get emails from hygienists around the U.S. expressing their opinions or asking questions. Recently I received two emails describing working conditions that could not be more opposite. One hygienist told about her wonderful general dentist, his wife, team members and office culture. The other described a terrifically challenging situation and was wondering what she should do. Here, briefly, are their stories.
Hygienist #1 wanted to detail the excellent conditions at the office she worked in, and expressed her satisfaction in finding a rewarding career situation:
Patients are happy when they come to our office. My dentist is professional and personable. He is able to visit with patients in a friendly way, but does not let that prevent him from presenting his treatment recommendations in a confident, no-nonsense way. Patients trust him from the start. It is easy for them to believe that he has their best interests at heart, and they typically accept his treatment plans without much discussion. However, if they have questions or concerns, he does not act offended or stand-offish. He tries to put people at ease and welcomes their inquiries. Our work dynamic is wonderful.
As the hygienist, in addition to my treatment responsibilities, I perform perio assessments and caries screening, as well as identifying and photographing possible issues, such as cracked teeth, or failing restorations. I go over these issues with my patients during the course of their prophy or perio maintenance appointments, and make suggestions as to what our dentist may recommend. When he comes into the treatment room for the exam, the patients are already expecting a diagnosis concerning the possible problems we have identified. Then our dentist either confirms that a tooth needs treatment and recommends a solution, or he says something to the effect of, “I see what you are looking at but don’t think anything needs to be done at this time. Good eye! Make sure we make a notation in the computer so that we check this area at the next appointment.” I feel supported and appreciated by the way our dentist explains his decisions and enjoy being an important element in making sure patients receive the care they need.
The dentist’s wife works at the front desk with us on some days and is a calm, happy, and encouraging presence. She also takes charge of ordering supplies, which is great because she can take the time needed to pursue “good deals” with the supply companies. This frees up other staff for clinical responsibilities. All of the staff members in our office work together as a team. We try to look out for one another and see where we can help keep patient care running smoothly and on time. When I talk about my pleasant office with other hygienists they are jealous. But it is all true. The good news is our dentist is busy and receives many patient referrals so I am hopeful he will need me for many years to come.
Hygienist #2 had a much different story:
I am very unhappy in my current job and wonder what I should do. I have been working in this office for a little over a year, and hoping that things would improve. But I am very discouraged. I should first say that my dentist is “good” in that he knows his profession well and provides skilled care. If he did not, my decision to stay in this office would have already been decided and I would be gone. The office is beautiful and we have the latest equipment. The problem is the overall chaotic and truly unpleasant work environment.
My dentist expects me to perform an assessment of the patient’s overall condition including any decay or flawed restorations, and I do this for all patients. We use an intraoral camera to document any findings. The problem is that after I have pointed out possible issues to the patient, my dentist criticizes either the photos or my choice in identifying certain teeth. He will say, “That’s nothing!” or “Look at this tooth on the opposite arch. That one really needs treatment!”
After I have performed perio charting, he will pick up a probe and go over several teeth until he finds a reading that differs from mine, and even if it is less than one millimeter, will point it out in front of the patient! I always feel rushed, and worry that whatever I do; it will be wrong. He is very moody and the rest of the staff and I never know if he will be calm or angry on any given day. We walk on eggshells. His wife works full time in the office and the two of them argue in the hallways where patients can overhear them. It is very embarrassing! We have staff meetings where guidelines for patient care are discussed, but the guidelines are never implemented. I am one of many hygienists and assistants who have come and gone in this office, and at one year, one of the longest “lasting” employees. Is there anything I can do? Or should I just leave the practice?
The differences between these two offices are stark. Regardless of having the most modern equipment or lovely surroundings, work atmosphere can make or break a practice. A team environment where all workers are treated respectfully rubs off on patients. They sense when trust exists between the staff and dentist, and tend to incorporate that trust into their own feelings about the practice. In addition, an office that has a “revolving door” of employees makes patients wonder what is wrong. It goes without saying that arguments within earshot of patients are never appropriate and will always make patients nervous. In addition, a good rule to follow is that criticisms of staff work should take place in private; complements in public. My advice for Hygienist #2 is to begin looking for a new position right away. There are many, many good practices out there, as can be attested by the description Hygienist #1 gave of her dentist and office. McKenzie Management works with these good practices all the time!
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email email@example.com.Forward this article to a friend.
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