Content Dam Rdh Print Articles Volume37 Issue9 1709rdhcmorr P01

Serving at the pleasure of the people: Clinical excellence does not excuse the absence of basic etiquette

Sept. 1, 2017
Eileen Morrissey, RDH, reminds her peers that etiqutte can be just as important as skills during dental treatment.

By Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS

I’ve just returned from an office visit for a checkup on my new health-care “product.” This was intended to be a short appointment, strictly a follow-up. The practitioner who treats me kept me waiting for a full hour. When she finally came to retrieve me, she called my name with a blank stare - no smile, no greeting. She turned and I watched her back as I followed her down the hall to the treatment room. This is how it goes at every visit.

Because I was following her lead (and writing this column in my head), I said nothing, sat down, and patiently waited as I’d been doing all morning. She did not acknowledge her tardiness. In fact, there was no small talk of any kind. At this point, I’m guessing we were well into her lunch hour, so she was probably annoyed and anxious to get me out. The waiting area was empty when she retrieved me. After reading my chart, her first words were: “How are they?”

I was referred to this clinician from within the practice because she was touted as a specialist. I’m told she is a legend. I was informed that she has built a following because of her conscientiousness and attention to detail.


If there is a take-home message, it begets these questions. RDH, are you a legend in your dental practice? And if one is a “legend,” so to speak, does that excuse the absence of basic courtesy and social skills?

I have a following in my dental practice, as does my coworker hygienist, Danielle. We are both very skilled at what we do. We are also well versed in the basics. That would be Practice Etiquette 101.

If I were ever to keep someone waiting that long - which is more than the equivalent of an entire patient appointment in our office - my doctor would take control within 11 minutes and figure out some sort of plan B. No one waits more than 7-10 minutes in our office. In fact, there is typically no wait. We take pride in valuing our patients’ time. Those who arrive late may be seen but not at the expense of those who arrive punctually for the appointments that follow.

Let’s say that things became harried in the back, and I fell 10 minutes behind. The front desk administrator would, by now, have already said something to the patient waiting. When I come for retrieval, I would acknowledge my tardiness immediately by thanking the person for waiting (which sounds even nicer than apologizing, by the way). I would smile and escort her to my treatment room, and there is no darn way that she would be staring at my back as we walked down the hallway.

While seating her, I would make small talk with a smile and eye contact. Then we would get to the business at hand, starting with an update of her medical history and identification of her chief complaint.

Serving patients cannot be limited to providing optimum clinical treatment. It has to be the entire package. I took a lesson from my recently deceased father, whom I watched bring the service ethic to an entirely new level years ago. Back in the day, he reported to me during my tenure as a marketing director at a tertiary eye-care center. As the driver of a van that transported senior cataract surgical patients, he would arrive for work dressed in a three-piece suit with a carnation in his lapel. Elderly patients were offered his arm, and he escorted them to and from the reception area. It was every bit about the small talk and making each patient feel special. Never mind how well the surgery went - the patients left talking about John Morrissey’s star-quality service!

Dental practitioners, eye practitioners, and anyone in health care, for that matter, practice in a culture that renders all of us dispensable. We can be replaced. It makes sense that to remain competitive, attain new patient referrals, and help to grow our practices, we ought to be walking the extra mile and treating our patients in a manner that they should be treated.

Onward we go - it is in our hearts’ core. RDH

EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Rowan College at Burlington County. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at [email protected] or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at