Th 187607


Aug. 1, 2005
To be treated like partners, we must act like partners. Employees want to know what the boss can do for them; partners strive to show what they can do for the business.
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To be treated like partners, we must act like partners. Employees want to know what the boss can do for them; partners strive to show what they can do for the business.

Hygienists share many common complaints about doctors. The dentist only cares about making money.The dentist won’t allow longer appointments. The dentist won’t support our periodontal program. The dentist wants us to seal every molar and root plane every surface whether it needs it or not. While they may be valid, the complaints do not fix the situation. Whether or not we want to admit it, much of the discontent comes down to money. The dentist wants to earn it. For some reason, we don’t like that.

Much of the discontent between dentist and hygienist comes down to the employer/employee relationship. We are educated and skilled, and we don’t like being treated as just another employee. The ideal solution to this situation, according to the hygienist, is the RDH-owned hygiene practice. Since this isn’t going to happen tomorrow, we need a different approach for today. Let’s decide today to work “with” the dentist instead of “for” the dentist. This small change in attitude can make a huge difference in career satisfaction.

Many of us have helped move a stalled car. No one puts the transmission in park and pulls on the front bumper. It doesn’t make sense to work against the wheels. Instead, the car is put in neutral and pushed from behind, an action that works with the normal functions of the car. Common sense, logic, and intelligence are important factors in entering the field of dental hygiene, and they are equally important in making the career satisfying.

To be treated like partners, we must act like partners. Employees want to know what the boss can do for them; partners strive to show what they can do for the business. In either situation, there is an element of “what’s in it for me,” but in a partnership we try to balance it with “what’s in it for us.” It seems ironic that a dental hygienist will behave like an employee, yet demand to be treated like something more. If we only look out for ourselves, expect the dentist to do the same.

Let the dentist know you care about the success of the office, and you might be surprised at the reaction. Maybe the dentist, and even the office manager, will tell you they respect your contributions and opinions. I have the privilege of working with a dentist who treats everyone in the office the way he wants to be treated, but it has taken time to build this relationship. During the first year I worked “for” this dentist, he gave instructions he expected me to follow.

It was my impression that questions were not encouraged and open debate could lead to unemployment. This impression was not even close to reality. Asking for clarification didn’t bring anger, but respect. He was more than happy to explain his philosophies to me, and just as ready to listen to mine. In hindsight, perhaps this dentist is to blame for my outgoing (opinionated) attitude. Now I can honestly say that I work “with” the dentist. When I want to make a change in treatment procedures or materials, my wishes are usually acknowledged.

However, it is frustrating to have an idea turned down or ignored because another dentist has voiced an opposing opinion. We’ve all heard, “Dr. Know-it-all does not like the new sealant material and he is the expert on such matters.” Note the reaction when you reply, “Dr. Know-it-all’s office may not be ready for the new sealant, but our staff is progressive and ready to learn.” You are, of course, thinking, “Dr. Know-it-all is so ancient his or her office still powers the drill by foot, and the good doctor is an expert only because he or she is loud and talks nonstop.” Some thoughts are better left unsaid. My ideas are not always implemented, but Dr. Know-it-all is never the deciding factor.

Listening is two-sided. If we expect the dentist to listen to our input, we should be willing to do the same. Discuss disagreements. Employees gripe behind the boss’s back; partners resolve issues. It is good to bring evidence-based information to the disagreement. Opinions and emotions are not the best tools in this arena. I become annoyed when my kids use the “everybody’s doing it” argument, so I can only imagine that logic causes the same irritation in the dentist. Research is much stronger than popularity in most professional settings. Discussions should not include, “So and so said …” but rather, “Research shows ...” Such simple words, such great advice.

The hygienist may be shocked that the dentist is actually listening to suggestions presented in an evidence-based manner, while the dentist may be equally shocked to learn the hygienist cares enough to do the research. We may have a hard time believing that working together is possible. As with all worthwhile changes, it will take some time for the “with you” attitude to sink in. The dentist and hygienist will go through the stages of shock, disbelief, and finally acceptance of the better working environment.

I was recently given a compliment that surprised me. The periodontist I work with told me that I was the hygienist he had been looking for his entire career, and that the last year of working together had been a joy. What an ego booster, until I realized I had been working “for” this dentist more than four years.

I believe many people look for the “what next,” even when things are going well. If we have a morning of cooperative patients, we expect an afternoon of hyperactive children. When the dentist gives us a compliment, we have the urge to add, “But what?” By the same token, we need to give honest and sincere compliments. In my experience, a sincere and simple thank-you can boost someone’s mood. And it is easier to work “with” a happy person.

I am not suggesting we can make every office perfect by adopting the “working with the dentist” attitude, because there are some truly bad working environments in the dental world. But offices do exist where the atmosphere can be influenced by our actions and words. It is not enough to complain that we can’t find the dentist who is open to change and putting patient care first. We need to help create the environment where those changes are possible. I bet there are dentists out there who are searching for a dental hygienist who is open to change and staying current with research.

Why settle to be an employee when you can be a partner? It comes back to working “with” the dentist instead of working “for” the practice. Let your actions and words express your intent to move the practice forward. Conveying the right attitude is paramount.

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, practices in Napa and Sonoma, California, in both general and periodontal offices. She is a partner of Dental IQ, a team committed to arranging quality continuing education opportunities for Northern California .Through her involvement with Dental Hygienists against Heart Disease and other organizations, she hopes to bring a total health concept to the dental practice. You may contact Lory at: [email protected].