I choose her! Why do we take it personally when a patient chooses another hygienist?

Sept. 28, 2015
Several columns back, I wrote about patients who decide they no longer want to alternate their periodontal maintenance visits, but want instead to have these scheduled with the dental hygienist at the general practice only.


Several columns back, I wrote about patients who decide they no longer want to alternate their periodontal maintenance visits, but want instead to have these scheduled with the dental hygienist at the general practice only. A topic that is related to this occurred to me as I was reading a recent thread in a dental hygiene Internet subscriber group.

A hygienist bemoaned the fact that she's too emotionally involved with her patients and work. Specifically, if she saw a patient several times, and the person ended up on a different hygienist's schedule, she felt compelled to understand why and took it personally, fearing the patient might be rejecting her.


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I remember being employed in a large practice with five part-time dental hygienists. One of the doctor-employers would have laughed off this concern. When the discussion of hygienist requests came up, he would make the following analogy: "Do you select the same hairdresser each time?" (Well, of course I do, I said.) His contention was that a person's "choice" for an oral health maintenance visit was no different.

Why is it important to so many to try to be all things to all people? Reality says we cannot do that. On any given day, in any environment, 50% of folks might like you, and the remaining half might not. Some might not like the color of your hair, or that you're in a good mood and they aren't. Judgments may be formed with resulting consequences.

In looking at general recare visits, I might have two patients with back-to-back appointments with identical oral presentations. I will treat them in the same fashion clinically. (I tend to be as gentle as I can get away with while doing what needs to be done.) As a result, one patient might think I'm gentle, and the other might find me too rough. Go figure!

A patient might find rapport in the conversation that took place with one hygienist versus another. There may be commonalities that have nothing to do with clinical services provided. It goes back to my contention that we simply cannot please everyone every time.

It has been suggested that some hygienists will manipulate patients and ask to be requested so as to build their schedules and make them look better on paper. Or they will make subtle and disparaging remarks about a colleague, or state untruths about another's availability. Really? This is conduct unbecoming to a professional. I believe that most patients are savvy and that sooner or later they will recognize these types of manipulations. The old adage, "What goes around comes around," applies.

Some practice management consultants suggest that scheduling patients with the same hygienist builds continuity and trust. Great patient relationships can only be good for the practice, right? But if, for whatever reason, a patient ends up in a different hygienist's chair and decides it's time for a change, so be it. If you're the one left behind, you can process this as rejection if you'd like to grow lines on your face. Or you can sensibly let it go because things like this happen every day for a multitude of explanations.

I appreciated the perspective of one happy hygienist who believes everything happens for a reason. She believes she's not meant to be with this patient but someone else is. How wonderful that optimum care is being provided, and patients leave satisfied regardless of whom they spent time with.

We are not any less or any more based on others' approval or disapproval. We may have been brought up to believe that if we wanted to be liked by all we had to be nice to everyone. (And most of us are likely that way.) Yet we still encounter people who don't like us. Does this mean there's something wrong with us? No! I am reminded of the wise words from my favorite inspirational champion: "Self-worth comes from one thing - thinking that you are worthy." - Wayne Dyer

Just for the record, despite the logic and research presented here, it still irks me when a patient in my practice chooses my colleague over me. I know. I know! I'm a dope. Human nature. Onward we go; it is in our hearts' core! RDH

EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Burlington County College. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at [email protected] or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at www.eileenmorrissey.com.