Exiting Your Job with Grace

Oct. 1, 2000
It`s 5 p.m. on Thursday. You have finished your workweek, but you have one more task to finish. You have that "queasy" feeling in your stomach and your palms are sweaty. You wonder why you feel so nervous. After all, it`s not your fault that your husband has been transferred to another state!

Leaving your job is never an easy thing to do, but leaving with

grace can make the situation much easier for all involved.

Dianne D. Glasscoe, RDH, BS

It`s 5 p.m. on Thursday. You have finished your workweek, but you have one more task to finish. You have that "queasy" feeling in your stomach and your palms are sweaty. You wonder why you feel so nervous. After all, it`s not your fault that your husband has been transferred to another state!

The scenario could be different. Maybe you have been in this job long enough to decide this is definitely not how you want to practice dental hygiene for the rest of your life. You are burned out from constantly running behind schedule because of overbooking or a doctor who seems indifferent to your summons to check your patient. The pay is good, but no amount of money could make you happy here.

Perhaps you have been in a practice where you feel underpaid. Is it your fault that a doctor down the street is willing to pay significantly more for your services?

Here are a few more reasons to leave:

> Personality clashes with co-workers

> Doctor has a "strange" personality

> You have lost respect for the doctor

> Doctor has treated you with disrespect or dishonor

> You feel you need a change

> Family issues

> Failing health

No matter what your reasons are, facing the boss with the bad news is not a pleasant task. Unless the working relationship has been strained, he or she is bound to be disappointed.

The wrong way

In those times when we feel we have been mistreated or dishonored, anger and resentment tend to cloud our sensibilities. This fosters a need to lash out. We feel we need to lash out and often say things that we wish later (when cooler heads prevail) had not been said.

It is never a good idea to "burn bridges behind us" when leaving a job. Invariably, impulsive, angry actions come back to haunt us. Snatching your diploma off the wall and storming out the door might feel empowering for the moment, but doctors talk and word gets around. Soon, you may be labeled with dubious character traits and descriptions such as "lack of self-control" or "hot-tempered."

Those of us who have stayed in a single practice for many years know the joy of developing close, connected relationships with patients. They feel almost like family. Indeed, our patients and co-workers become our "parafamily." We are often privileged to share in their triumphs and failures, and we even develop relationships outside the office with some. What a great feeling it is to be in the community and hear a patient call your name. You know you are "her" hygienist, and she is "your" patient.

However, these people are not really "your" patients. All patient information belongs to the doctor/owner.

Recently, a dentist sued a hygienist after she copied the patient mailing list and sent patients a card stating that she was leaving the practice. The card did not specify where she was relocating, but it did give her telephone number for patients to call if they had questions.

This particular case is troubling. This hygienist had worked in the practice for 12 years and had developed very close relationships with many people. But the practice was sold, and the hygienist felt the new owner did not treat her respectfully. The new owner told her she was underworked and overpaid and that a young dentist could be brought in to do her job and more. She soon gave her resignation and a two-week notice. This hygienist felt compelled to let patients know that she would not be there during their next visit. Without knowing the legal liabilities involved, she did a mass mailing. She was not attempting to "steal" the doctor`s patients; she merely wanted to inform them of the changes.

The new owner filed suit against her for unlawful use of proprietary information. There was a restraining order filed to keep her from having any contact with patients. The doctor asked for monetary, nonmonetary, and punitive damages.

This particular case does have a happy ending. Before the case went to court, the hygienist retained the services of a highly effective attorney. This young attorney worked diligently to prove that the hygienist was indeed the one who had been wrongfully treated, and that she only had the patients` best interests at heart when she sent out the mass mailing. The judge ruled that the doctor did not prove his patient list was proprietary information, and all charges against the hygienist were subsequently dropped. The legal proceedings cost the hygienist about $4,000, but she considers herself quite fortunate to have won. She knows she could have lost her license if the judge had ruled in the plaintiff`s favor.

Remember that it is never permissible to do a mass mailing of any sort to the patient base without the express consent of the owner.

The right way

Leaving any job without giving the appropriate notice is detrimental to you, the practice, and the patients. Try placing yourself in the doctor`s position of having no hygienist and a schedule filled with patients expecting preventive care on Monday. Although production would suffer, the real loser here is the patient. Add to this problem a schedule already full for several weeks and/or months, and this becomes a gigantic problem. When a new hygienist is finally hired, there is no available time to reschedule all those who were cancelled. Some patients will go elsewhere, but some will not go at all.

Just as there are shortages of dentists, there are shortages of hygienists in some areas of the country. So the more notice you can give, the better. A minimum of one month is appropriate, but eight weeks is better.

Never give your resignation while angry. Wait until you cool down and can think more clearly.

Always give your resignation with regret in your voice, even if you are secretly glad to be leaving. It is always better for you and others if you leave on a positive note.

If the doctor presses you and you feel you can share the reason you are leaving, be honest but not brutal. If the doctor is the problem, maybe he or she can learn and grow from this experience. Sometimes a parting of ways is best for everyone.

A final thought

Change is an inevitable part of life. When and if the time comes for you to change jobs, do so with the grace of a caring professional.

Dianne Glasscoe, RDH, BS, is an adjunct instructor in clinical hygiene at Guilford Technical Community College. She may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected], phone (336) 472-3515, or fax (336) 472-5567.

My personal experience

After 10 years, I left my last job to take a teaching position in a dental-hygiene school. During this time, I had developed very close ties with many of my patients, and I wanted to let them know that I had enjoyed being their hygienist. I also wanted them to be properly introduced to my replacement. I composed a letter, showed it to the doctor, and asked his permission to send it to selected patients who were accustomed to seeing me. He thought it was a great idea. Patients would not be unpleasantly surprised, and it would take pressure off the front-desk assistants having to explain why I was no longer there. The letter created a win-win-win situation for the practice, patients, and me. Here is the letter:

Dear Valued Patient,

It has been said that the only sure thing in life is that nothing stays the same. In fact, change can be good for us.

There have been some recent changes in my life, which are both exciting and unsettling. I have accepted a teaching position at GTCC in the dental hygiene department. In addition, my work as a writer, speaker, and consultant in the dental industry is increasing.

While I am saddened that I personally will not be providing your preventive care in the future, the doctors and staff here are dedicated to providing you with only the finest in dental care. Our new staff member, Melissa, is friendly, outgoing, and a fine hygienist. I am sure you will like her.

I have enjoyed being your dental hygienist and hope that our paths will cross again in the future.