by Mark Hartley
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An author recently concluded a message to me regarding a deadline with the observation: "I'm really disappointed in all the whining I am reading on the forums. Lots of finger-pointing and no self-improvement. Ah, you know how it is."
Well, I guess I know how it is. In this month's Readers' Forum, an Illinois doctor has his Alec Baldwin/Glengarry Glen Ross moment with these declarations:
• "Many hygienists have not endeared themselves with their dentist employers. Many have challenged their dentist employers for control of the practice and behaved like little princesses (or princes), making unreasonable demands and slowing production regardless of the economic realities for the practice. Dentists will not put themselves out for their problematic hygienist employees anymore. They don't need them. Sour grapes get spit out."
• "Get rid of those hygiene leaders and educators who have led your profession to this sad state of affairs. The trend of antagonism against dentists aroused by hygiene leaders in the past is not productive."
His letter was a reaction to "The Mood Out There" article in the January 2011 issue. Hygienists from every state commented on job market trends in their area. Do I think every negative remark in the article passed through the lips of a whining "princess"?
Far from it. The pain of fulfilling a destiny in preventive dentistry is very real. Someone has the profession of dental hygiene by the short hairs and the last two guesses of who don't count.
I wish it was as simple as the maxim that women are more vocal about their feelings while men are more stoical.
Perhaps such a little princess lives in Atlanta. You've been to Atlanta? The New York of the South is not holding anyone prisoner. The five million plus people in the Western Hemisphere's 17th largest metropolitan area are surrounded on all sides by land. You can simply walk out of Atlanta if it disagrees with your notion of what home should feel like.
But this 10-year veteran of the profession, who relocated to Atlanta from the Northeast, recently wrote me with these observations after reading the RDH article. She's still unemployed after submitting over 60 resumes in five months throughout the Atlanta area. She went on three interviews. "Now the phone doesn't even ring for a phone interview."
She periodically obtains temporary work at practices. "At one practice, 200 children came through in an eight-hour working day with only five hygienists working. The hygienists and the dental assistants told me that this was a normal day for them, not even a busy day."
She seldom meets an Atlanta hygienist who has a lunch break. "They don't even complain, because they are afraid to lose their job." She added, "I have heard of long-term employees of eight years or more with a practice giving up all their vacation time and pay, just to keep their jobs."
"I have been asked illegal questions on interviews, such as, 'Do you have children, or do plan on having children?' How do I answer these questions without sounding like a know-it-all when it comes to my rights?"
Ah, you know how it is.
Dentistry, for the most part, consists of unincorporated small businesses. Many succeed, despite the challenges of operating a small business in the current economic climate, and the dentist owners are beloved by patients and staff alike.
Then there's the other side of the coin.
Dentistry does not police itself very well, and some owners blissfully persist with the questionable business methods that, as we have witnessed, turn the labor pool against them. Eventually, a negative public perception of dentists as employers will also surface.
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