“I work with a great dentist, the office is clean, the staff is pleasant, I order any instruments or equipment that I need, my salary is fair, my patient schedule is consistent with plenty of time, and there’s plenty of chocolate in the back room. Why do I get burned out so easily? Why, when I walk into work, do I feel a heaviness or burden that surrounds me?”
You can have all of the attributes of a great job and still feel like there is a weight on your shoulders. How many times have you gone for an interview and your initial reaction was, “Oh, my goodness, I’d never want to work here!” Can you determine what in the environment contributed to that negative feeling?
Uncovering factors that contribute to unfriendliness, emotional bleakness, or uncomfortable isolation is one benefit of learning feng shui. When we can identify what is not beneficial in an environment, we can avoid making the choices that bring about discomfort.
How must our patients feel, especially those who are already apprehensive, if our office environment evokes burdensome feelings? What does your office look like? But more importantly, what does your office feel like? Is it sterile with lots of metal around? Is there a lot of clutter at the front desk and in the waiting room? Are the magazines current, or are your patients still reading about the 1985 Bears Super Bowl Champions because the dentist is a hometown football fan? Or is George Clooney still 1997’s Sexiest Man Alive? Well, it’s 2006 and he probably still is, but my point is if you have the People magazine with him on the cover, there could be a problem of some bad energy flow in your office.
I have personally felt this in one of my dental offices. There are three treatment rooms, a reception area, lab, restroom to share between employees and patients, sterilization center, and one all-purpose 8-foot-by-9-foot room in the back that serves as the doctor’s office, consultation room, his office manager/wife’s desk, supply closet, coat/lab coat/uniform/clothes closet, AND lunchroom! Are you feeling choked yet? Can you imagine trying to take a “break” in the only room available to eat your lunch? I’d be more relaxed in the “Ball Crawl” at a 3-year-old’s birthday party at Chuck E Cheese!
Feng shui is becoming such a popular way of interior design that once they have experienced the comfort and success, followers can never return to their old way of thinking. Many swear by having their homes or offices designed by a feng shui consultant. When Donald Trump builds a new building, he makes sure the building is facing the right direction with many other successful amenities. When we go to work, we want to feel a sense of joy and warmth as we enter. Dental hygienists have enough extraneous stress without having to walk into a depressing visual environment.
What is feng shui?
Feng shui (fung shway) means “wind” and “water” in Chinese, with wind being the overhead physical manifestation of the fluid mutable state of all things, and water representing the fluid state of living on earth.
Huh? What did I just say?
Feng shui explains how place affects the human condition, and how what we see, hear, smell, and touch influences our experiences in life. Feng shui is a form of survival. We do not do well unless things are in order around us.
Premodern human beings not only responded to the natural environment but also thrived in it. The sounds of birds, wind, and scurrying animals; the fragrance of grasses and flowers and the scents of animals were woven into the fabric of each day while humans performed life-sustaining tasks. The warming sunlight encouraged the production of serotonin, which we know is a neurochemical that encourages feelings of optimism and happiness. The warming sunlight injects vitamin D into a recipient’s life force. Nature provides a multitiered sensorial infusion that is obliterated indoors. In the dark reaches of our collective psyche, there is the knowledge that by sequestering ourselves indoors, we acknowledge that we are captives of fear.
Many of us who work full time are in our offices more than we are in the comfort of our homes. Why would all dental personnel not want to work in a comfortable environment?
Feng shui expertise
When some of us think of feng shui, we think we need crystals, mirrors, flutes, incense, a little Buddha in the corner, or other types of New Age accessories. According to Cathleen McCandless, a feng shui consultant, these types of superfluities are not necessary. Feng shui can be made practical and make common sense to all of us. Ms. McCandless’ nationally recognized feng shui expertise has been featured on television during the San Diego CBS Evening News, in Vogue Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The American Bar Association Journal, Asia in America, Corporate Meetings & Incentives, The San Diego Union, and Feng Shui for Modern Living. McCandless has many clients that are the well-known “dental spas” of the country, and she works with Oraspa, Inc., as a consultant.
A patient with a view
McCandless prides herself on being an expert witness as a low-pain-tolerance patient due to the fact that she’s a redhead. That could be another article, which we will forego for now. Her basic recommendation to dental professionals is to approach environmental assessment from the other side - the position of the patient.
Being on time shows patients that you are excited to see them and think of them as VIPs - very important patients. On the other hand, being late or taking a previous patient who was late first cuts into their time, is disrespectful, and makes them feel like they do not matter.
Dentists, hygienists, and assistants, please sit in your own chairs and look around. What do you see? Try to be as unbiased as possible. Look up. Are there stains on the ceiling? “Goobers” on the dental lamp?
Outside the office
What do patients experience when they walk up to the front door of your office building? Is there trash around the front sidewalk? Can you warm up your outdoor entrance with plants or flowers? A warm welcome mat is inviting.
Do employees take a cigarette break in the front of the building? Are there cigarette butts on the ground?
The most important initial impression for the patient is the person at the front desk. The voice must be pleasant and filled with genuine kindness and compassion. The key word here is genuine. People are not ignorant; they know when someone is being real. Understanding the patient’s possible fear and apprehension can speak volumes over the phone. Here are some tips:
★ Give directions to the office as if you were talking to a 4-year-old.
➙ Have a cue card for precise visual directions. For example, turn left at McDonald’s, and you’ll see a purple billboard on your right.
➙ Have directions printed so that they can be faxed or e-mailed.
➙ If there is a parking problem, mention that there are only six spaces in the parking lot, but if the patient drives half a block further, there is more parking.
Why such a fuss over directions? New patients are already apprehensive about coming to a dental office. If they have to figure out where to park, or they’ve interpreted phone directions incorrectly from the front desk person, they will have added anxiety when they walk in, especially if they are late for their appointment.
★ Nonthreatening, compassionate person at the front desk.
➙ Many doctors want their front desk person to be the Gestapo for collections of services rendered.
➙ The combination of welcoming and wanting the patients’ money is a conflict, and patients feel that. If possible, it would be best to have another pleasant person for that position.
★ Have a friend or family member call the office and ask questions to get a feel for your employee’s response to the initial phone call.
➙ This is not meant to “trap” an employee. It is merely a way to gain an objective viewpoint and learn what your new patients experience.
First impressions are lasting impressions. Look at your reception room with fresh eyes. This will give patients an insight into what they are about to experience during their office visit. Design sends a subliminal message of the dentist’s philosophy and personality type. We want the feeling of being at home and being nurtured. If your location is in a metropolitan area, you would not want to have the “mom-and-pop” office appearance. If you are located in a rural area, this could be OK and comfortable for your demographics, but it must be clean and clutter-free. Metro-located areas want state-of-the-art but soft and comfortable. Invest in an interior designer to have your office design done correctly. It will speak volumes about the dentist’s mentality and philosophy.
Never have chairs opposing each other. That is called direct confrontation. If you must have such a set-up in your office, turn the chairs for the patients who are forced to sit across from each other slightly to one side.
It is essential to have chairs with arms in the reception room. This cocoons the patient in his/her own little space with boundaries.
Sound vs. noise
We can be so friendly in the dental office and yet forget that patients can hear us. They are definitely listening to everything. What they hear gives them insight into who we are and who is working on them. Take any chatter to another room.
Have you ever noticed how a particular noise dominates an environment only after it disappears? Ongoing mechanical noises - the buzzing of a drill, an ultrasonic instrument, saliva ejector, model trimmer, Vacu-Form, the continuous hum of the X-ray developer, the constant drone from the air compressor, the buzz of some fluorescent lights - can wear you down. We do not register these noises consciously; they are still registered negatively because they fuse into the background. If we quiet ourselves immediately after leaving work - for example, in the car - we notice the sound that is gone.
Diverting or changing sounds is one way to correct the problem. Don’t simply try to obliterate those sounds. Silence is no more natural than monotony, so it is good feng shui to introduce a variety of sounds. Try hanging lightweight wind chimes near air vents.
Are the melodies and music in your office favorable? Do they soothe, delight, and add rhythm to each day? In “dental spa” offices, do we have the monotonous hum of a mantra or chant going all day? Is there boring so-called relaxation music that continues for eight hours a day? We need to change the music, so we don’t fall asleep right on the patient!
Next month continues with “Feng shui: Part 2,” where I will discuss the do’s and don’ts of the treatment rooms and using the five senses to assess your office’s feng shui.
Aromatherapy tip: Feeling of restlessness? Put a drop of clary sage essential oil on the tip of your nose. Restlessness and burnout should dissipate.