Shift happens

Jan. 1, 2004
It happens all the time. Just when you think you're on a roll, cruising along, clear and confident, full steam ahead, somebody or something gets in your way...

By Janet Hagerman

It happens all the time. Just when you think you're on a roll, cruising along, clear and confident, full steam ahead, somebody or something gets in your way, throws a glitch in your path, upsetting your best laid plans, changing, adjusting, re-arranging and shifting your agenda! Yes, shift happens

As a hygiene consultant who travels frequently, I have learned to travel light, never checking luggage. Between computer, training materials, books, magazines, (did I mention clothes?) I have become a master packer. Each and every item has a specific place, precisely nestled against its adjacent neighboring item. Like a puzzle, every piece fits perfectly, preventing the contents from shifting. Then, along came September 11th with increased airport security checks and random baggage searches. Now I had to contend with airport searches and re-packing that was inevitably sloppy, shifting my suitcase contents — and my mental psyche. Would it shift my attitude as well? Shift happens!

The original title of this column was, "Burnout to Breakthrough." My purpose was to share with hygienists some strategies for preventing burnout. Hygienists should evolve in professional growth, breaking through to the other side. I loved the title and felt it was perfect. It actually ran that way for the first two issues (June and July 2003 issues). I felt like I was on a roll, realizing and finally producing what I had imagined for months. Unfortunately, the editor requested a shorter title. It devastated me temporarily. Shift happens. Now, I think the new title of "New Heights" is even better, focusing on where we're going rather than where we've been.

Shift happens, and it happens a lot. It happens to us all and it happens when we least expect it. It happens professionally and personally. If we can't stop shift, how can we, at least, manage it?

What has shifted in our industry? Consider advertising. I remember when the Yellow Pages consisted of listings only. Actual advertisements were considered blatant solicitation of business in the worst of taste — unethical and sometimes illegal. Here we were cruising along when a few dentists had the audacity to challenge traditional protocol and advertise. Many dentists fought this. Shift happens. A major paradigm shift occurred, a difference in thinking about how we acquire patients, a difference in perception. Those who embraced the shift early reaped the benefits of increased business from "cutting edge" marketing. Now, Yellow Pages ads are passé, replaced by glossy media ads in mainstream magazines, radio ads, and even televised makeovers. Talk about a shift!

Not all shifts are major, although they may seem so at the time. Indeed, sometimes the smallest of shifts, a difference of distinctions, can create huge results.

We've had enormous shifts in periodontal paradigms, yet this continues to challenge us. Periodontal enrollment for the hygienist is at its most difficult with patients of record. The question is always, "How do I tell Mrs. Jones that she has this gum disease when I've been treating her for years?"

Sometimes, something as simple as a shift in the words we use can have tremendous impact — such as the phrase, "we now know." "Because we now know of the periodontal/whole body connection — heart disease, diabetes, etc. — we now treat this disease differently." Ask value questions of your patient at the beginning of the appointment ("What is most important to you about your teeth?). The answer gives you the information you need to customize your treatment recommendations.

Small distinctions, or shifts, in your delivery can create big changes in the results you can expect, increasing patient compliance for recommended treatment.

One of the biggest shifts I see in dental hygiene is the concept of "selling" dental services and products. I remember when no self-respecting hygienist would be caught dead "selling." Does this sound familiar? "I'm a hygienist, a health-care provider and not a salesperson." But, shift happens. Mainstream media blasts your patients with information about dental products and cosmetic services. Will you be the one to embrace, educate, and provide the appropriate products for your patients? Or will you allow this to become the responsibility, and profit center, for the grocery and drug stores of the country? Provide your patients with the full menu of services and products your office can provide, esthetic as well as restorative. If you don't, someone else will.

A recent, personal shift has taken me to a new level of professional fulfillment. As a hygiene coach, I have had the privilege of working with all types of private practice offices. The concept of large group practices was foreign to me, and, quite frankly, one I viewed with skepticism. But, shift happens. I recently found myself presented with an opportunity to positively impact, not just four or five offices at a time, but hundreds of hygienists and doctors, and ultimately thousands of patients. I made a huge paradigm shift in how I look at the way in which we provide dental service for our communities, and I made a career shift. I am now the new director of dental hygiene for Coast Dental, supervising the hygiene departments of more than 100 dental offices in four states. Presently, this feels like getting a drink of water from a fire hose as I settle into this new position. But I'm convinced that, as the dust settles, this will provide an incredible opportunity for me to serve hygiene on a much larger scale.

Shift happens, and brings with it the frustration of change and the challenge of opportunity. Has shift happened to you lately? What do you do about it? Will you whine or win? Shift happens. Shift with your changes, see the strength in small distinctions, stretch yourself, and soar to new heights.

Janet Hagerman, RDH, BS, is a speaker, writer, and the director of dental hygiene for Coast Dental. She can be reached at hager [email protected].