I meet all kinds of people when I travel. I enjoy watching how they handle different situations. It’s a game that occupies much of the hurry-up-and-wait routine of the road. I affectionately call this pastime “Sizing Them Up.” Seeing and meeting all kinds of folks makes me wonder how people tick.
These experiences affect how I react to other dental hygienists via e-mail, face-to-face, or on the phone. While I am more than happy to help any hygienist who needs career information, technical clarification, or help with a practice challenge, there is only so much I can do to bring a fellow professional’s career forward.
When I think about the hygienists I have known through the years, three basic behavioral types emerge: entrepreneurs, negotiators, and whiners. Most of us fall into one of these categories. Sure, there are hybrids that embody more than one category, but if you’re really honest with yourself, your personality will exhibit one dominant style.
Entrepreneurs focus on solving life’s problems and are not willing to wait for the rest of the world to catch up. As soon as a solution for a clinical problem is on the horizon, they look for ways to implement the new idea, product, or treatment. If the world is spinning too slowly, entrepreneurs write a new script, select the cast, acquire the props, and stage the new production.
Dental hygiene entrepreneurs create their own job descriptions, purchase their own equipment, haul it from practice to practice if necessary, and ignore the stares from fellow professionals who wonder why they carry all their own stuff.
If a dental hygiene entrepreneur learns there is a new type of scaler or a different sealant technique or remineralization protocol, he or she will go to any length to learn about the new ideas. If an entrepreneur feels the slightest bit of resistance, he or she will forge ahead to implement the new ideas and invest in the products.
Dental hygiene negotiators are smart. They watch what happens around them and figure out how to get what they want without taking on the responsibility of change, and without purchasing products and equipment out of their own hard-earned cash. Negotiators are savvy enough to know what they need in order to provide quality clinical services, and are adept at convincing their dentists or practice owners to purchase equipment or supplies. Most negotiators deserve a big round of applause for standing up for what they believe in and making it happen.
My colleague, Meredith, is a perfect example. She divides her time between two practices in Houston. Meredith is a seasoned professional who knows how she wants to practice and how to keep her body healthy. She’s been at one practice part time for more than 15 years, where she has everything she wants and needs to do her job well. If she needs it, her doctor provides it for her.
Three years ago she accepted a part-time position at a practice that had a reputation for not keeping employees very long. While she admired the doctor’s technical and diagnostic expertise, the equipment was old and broken down. Meredith explained what she needed to practice properly. Promises were made to improve the situation.
Meredith is a very patient person, but the delays and excuses finally wore thin. She submitted her resignation and made plans to move on. To everyone’s surprise, the doctor finally purchased the right equipment.
Meredith believes in this doctor’s clinical skills and has been able to communicate the importance of scheduling to the patients. In addition, the doctor has noticed that his patients prefer the manually tuned ultrasonic scaler to extensive hand instrumentation. Meredith’s superior communication and clinical skills are helping to build the practice.
From a philosophical point of view, Meredith believes that the dentist does not have to be the only one to direct the dental hygiene department. Her negotiation skills paid off. Today, both of Meredith’s practices are fully equipped, and the only thing she transports between offices is her pair of custom-fitted magnification loupes. She is a well-respected and valued member of two good dental practices.
The negotiator has an evil twin, though, and that is the hygienist who convinces an employer to invest lots of money in equipment or supplies. When this evil twin suddenly departs for another practice for more pay, she leaves behind a closet full of half-used supplies or a drawer full of barely used equipment. She makes life difficult for all hygienists who follow her in the practice. Tactics like these leave a bad taste in the mouth of dental employers. Hygienists who follow are expected to work with what the evil twin ordered, regardless of whether or not it works well for the next person. There are no winners when this type of negotiator shows up on the scene. Their motives are selfish and self-serving.
Whiners drive people crazy. Their mantra is, “My doctor won’t do that/buy that/supply that for me. He or she is just too cheap!” Whiners sound like a bunch of first graders in adult bodies. Perhaps I slept through the class that said dental offices and doctors have to provide everything so we can practice, but I don’t think so.
Reversing this, how cheap are we when we do not invest anything in our own careers? This seems to reflect the old saying, “The pot calling the kettle black.”
Whiners put us in a subservient position. We can’t grow personally or professionally if we expect someone to provide us with all of the solutions or equipment. Adults must take responsibility for their actions. Expecting someone else to provide everything is not mature behavior.
Three years ago I wrote a column about my interaction with a new graduate named Holly. She e-mailed me to complain about the poor ergonomics in her dental office. She was right on the mark that the treatment rooms were not safe, but she was whining. While I empathized with her situation, she needed to change it herself.
Through a few e-mails and quick phone calls, Holly literally changed her frame of mind overnight. She went from being a whiner to a survivor. She decided it was her professional career at stake, and she had to make the changes herself. The first change was purchasing a pair of custom-made loupes. About a month later, I met Holly at the Florida DHA Annual Session in Orlando. It was a privilege to hug this intelligent and brave young professional who had taken charge of her own career.
I often wondered how Holly was doing. Did she stay with her dentist-employer or leave in disgust? Did she still love dental hygiene? Did she get rid of her back and neck pain? When you invest time and effort in helping someone move forward, it’s nice to know the epilogue to the story.
I was sitting at my computer one afternoon when an e-mail arrived with the subject line “Hygiene whiner from the past.” As I opened it, I hoped it was from Holly, and my wish came true.
“I don’t know if you remember me, but it was about three years ago that I wrote to you. I worked for the dentist who wouldn’t chip in for new tools or seats, and you helped me turn my thinking around. I now practice on my own private island. You encouraged me to get my own loupes and chair, and basically take control of my fate as a clinician. I have been the secretary for our local component, which allowed me to network, and this has reduced my burnout. I am going to be the 2006-2007 president of our association.”
What a thrill to hear from Holly! She enjoys her practice. She’s not a whiner anymore! In fact, she embodies the future of our profession. She indeed purchased her own loupes. She purchased her own chair for one location, and negotiated with the doctor to supply her with a safe chair in his other office.
I got to hug Holly once again at the recent ADHA Annual Session in Orlando. She is a confident young lady who has learned to be an entrepreneur and negotiator. She is building her own professional comfort zone, one day at a time.
Hats off to all hygienists who move forward like Meredith and Holly! My advice to the rest of you is quit whining and become an entrepreneur or negotiator. You’ll never know how comfortable you can be professionally until you just do it!
Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, is an international speaker who has published numerous articles and authored several textbook chapters. Her popular programs include ergonomics, patient comfort, burnout, and advanced diagnostics and therapeutics. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award, Anne is an ADHA member and has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston, Texas, since 1971. You can reach her at [email protected] or (713) 974-4540, and her Web site is www.anneguignon.com.