A spicy soap opera?

How about a spicy, tabloid TV program called, "Dentist`s Wives and the Staffs Who Loathe Them?" What other topic can so quickly turn educated, professional, normally compassionate women into participants in a mud-slinging, name-calling, in-your-face cat fight?

Readers seem to think the other woman, the wife, should stay out of the office

Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH

How about a spicy, tabloid TV program called, "Dentist`s Wives and the Staffs Who Loathe Them?" What other topic can so quickly turn educated, professional, normally compassionate women into participants in a mud-slinging, name-calling, in-your-face cat fight?

RDH magazine recently printed a questionnaire requesting readers` opinions about working in offices where the dentist`s wife also works. The overwhelming response from staff and wives was fueled by accusations, complaints, and anger. Tabloid TV programs look tame by comparison!

Many respondents appeared to be at the boiling point. They are angry and feel completely justified in their personal attacks, backing up their very specific complaints with lots of examples. Some wives who responded even attacked the survey itself, feeling that the questions were unfair.

Dentists are often clueless that there is a problem between wife and staff. Of, if he knows about it, he doesn`t know how to react when trouble is brewing. Solutions to the dilemma are desperately needed!

With all the complaining and mud-slinging from both sides, some common complaints arose along with some genuinely helpful input. Lest you think that all the survey responses were negative, a few staff members had nothing but positive things to say about "his" wife. And a few wives wrote glowing compliments about "his" staff.

But, overall, there are some issues that need to be discussed and hopefully resolved within each individual practice. So, in the spirit of strengthening communication, smoothing over difficulties, and generally enhancing the team spirit, we`re going to call a truce and show both sides some ways to get along with each other. But first, we`ll briefly examine the issues brought out by the survey to illustrate the point-of-view held by the conflicting sides.

A pinch hitter?

The first question on the survey asked what duties the doctor`s wife usually performed. The answers indicate that the wives do practically any and all jobs needed to be done - front or back office. Some wives are assistants, hygienists, or dentists. Some do filing, recall, cleaning, reception work, billing, etc. Every possible job duty in a dental office was listed.

Some wives work in the office itself. Some have a separate office within the building. Some work at home on office projects. One item nearly every respondent agreed upon was that a wife with dental knowledge and experience was much more helpful to the staff and doctor than a wife with no dental background. Wives with a dental background apparently can pinch hit in nearly any area - sometimes just to help a staff member who needs a day off.

Wives without dental experience often leave the staff spending a good bit of time cleaning up whatever mistake they might make. Experienced or not, most staff members are uncomfortable with the wife`s presence in the office.

Another survey question asked why the wife wants to work in the practice. The wives commented:

- "He wants me to understand what stress he endures daily."

- "I view it as the family business."

- "It is a luxury to have so much control over my hours and working conditions."

- "To have more time together."

- "Because I want to and I can set my own hours."

- "It`s more enjoyable to work for a practice in which I have a vested interest."

- "To take the stress off my husband. It`s our livelihood, it pays our bills, feeds us, etc."

Others responded that they "just plain enjoy being a part of my husband`s day and he enjoys having me around."

A few wives commented that they worked in the office at the dentist`s insistence. One wife discerningly commented: "I don`t think wives want to work in the practice. At first, it`s to save money and learn the business in the event of the spouse`s death or disability. Later, it becomes a `safe` place to work because of a lack of experience working in other offices. Fear to make a change or marriage stability can be a powerful motivation for staying after the initial need to save money and learn the business has been satisfied. Not only is it a safe place to work, but you become a safe employee for your husband who may be reluctant to see you make a break. Then you`re into a marital issue. Employees may not understand that leaving at 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. could be a compromise to keep a wife in the office who would prefer not to be there. It`s hard to be a team player when you don`t want to be on the team."

The staff`s perceptions about the reasons for the wife`s presence included:

- "For convenience."

- "Doctor`s taxes, wife has some mad money to spend, easier than job hunting."

- "To be a part of her husband`s work since he enjoys it so much."

- "To keep a close watch on the practice`s cash flow."

- "To keep an eye on a husband who might wander from his marital role or to keep an eye on staff who might have set her sights on her husband - personal control issues."

- "She likes to run things and be in charge."

- "Prevent boredom."

- "Prestige."

- "To genuinely help out and make a contribution."

Is it a `real` job?

Two other survey questions focused on what the wives did that was problematic or helpful and what suggestions they could offer that would foster a better relationship between wife and staff. The survey results took on a more positive spin at this point, since most respondents had some very constructive criticism for both wife and staff.

A major problem cited repeatedly is that the staff is confused about the wife`s role in the practice. Does she have a "real" job in the practice (besides being his wife), a job description, or established working hours? Is she dropping in to lend a helping hand, or is this just a social visit? If she`s an employee, the staff expects her to follow the same rules as the other employees. If she`s there to help out, she needs to ask what needs to be done instead of jumping in anywhere. If she`s visiting, keep it cheerful and short - don`t get in the way or chat with the staff when they`re busy. Dentistry is unique in that many dentists` wives are present. There are very few professions where the husband and wife work together.

Another recurring problem is that the staff feels the wife is uncomfortable with her husband working so closely with other women and feels she needs to keep an eye on him.

One respondent wrote, "All dentists work with women. This can be difficult if there is little trust in the marital relationship."

This is a difficult issue to resolve because, historically, marriages do fall apart when a dentist and staff member get too close. Fostering trust in the marriage is an action that the doctor and wife must work out themselves, but the staff should not be trying to undermine the marriage, either.

Here is a list of qualities that staff say they like about the doctor`s wife or they wish she had:

- "Knows how to say `thank you.`"

- "If she has a job, do the job and do it well. Otherwise it falls on the rest of the staff to pick up her slack."

- "Pleasant, unobtrusive; asks, doesn`t dictate."

- "Most patients don`t even realize she is married to the doctor."

- "Quick to point out that it`s her husband`s practice and she is also an employee; allows her husband to be the boss, or at least there is one boss in the practice, not two; doesn`t contradict the doctor`s orders."

- "Chips in quickly and does whatever tasks are needed without complaint, self-congratulations or keeping score."

- "She has a job description, is expected to follow through on projects and has set working hours like everyone else. (No 2 1/2 hour lunches and conversations with girl friends on the office phone.)"

- "Respects the staff; doesn`t look down on anyone or try to tell them how to do their job."

- "Doesn`t monopolize staff meetings with family talk."

- "Works as hard as everyone else in the office."

- "She knows when she`s out of her league as far as office procedures go and doesn`t pretend to be a know-it-all."

- "Patient and understanding with staff; treats staff as an equal."

- "Realizes her presence, no matter how helpful, causes stress on the staff."

- "She forgets she`s the spouse when she steps in the office door; considers herself part of the team."

- "Never complains in front of staff."

- "She lets the DDS know he is getting `too big for his scrubs.`"

- "She helps with office work overload; asks questions when she doesn`t know answers."

- "She asks what can she do to help, what could be done better, what changes do we think need to be made?"

- "Works with the staff, not against them."

- "Doesn`t get husband involved if the situation can be handled without him."

- "More concerned about practice running smoothly than income."

- "Mature, flexible, polite, and listens to all sides; can be counted on."

- "Friendly, but not nosy about staff`s personal lives."

- "Supportive of husband and his profession."

- "Pleasant and cheerful, not moody and unpredictable; never gossips; concerned about staff problems."

- "Pays staff on time and in correct amounts; not resentful of hygienist`s salary."

- "Talks face to face with staff; no little notes!"

- "Has the proper qualifications to do the job."

- "Doesn`t pinch pennies when it comes to office supplies and staff."

Is that any way to treat a wife?

Many of these same qualities are desirable and recommended for all staff members to have as well. But the wives and some staff members also have advice for those who are becoming frustrated with Mrs. DDS:

- "Treat her with respect and as a fellow employee."

- "Give her a break; don`t be so critical of her mistakes."

- "She may be totally unaware that she might be causing a problem. Try talking about it with her like an adult."

- "Quit if you can`t handle it!"

- "Don`t look down on her if you don`t think she`s educated enough to be in the office or to be giving suggestions."

- "Don`t run to her with complaints about the dentist and how he`s running things. Remember that she is married to him! Keep it to yourself or tell him yourself."

- "Don`t complain to his wife and expect that she`ll make the changes happen."

- "Don`t expect her to be the buffer between staff and boss."

- "Remember that she may not want, but needs, to work in the office."

- "There is no grunt work in the office - it all needs to get done."

- "Don`t flaunt the fact that you can relate to her husband on a professional level and that she can`t."

- "Lower your expectations a little and be a light, not a judge."

The virtues of honesty, trust, effort, and great listening skills can go a long way to make or keep the peace for both wife and staff.

Nepotism is a difficult situation for the family member and for the staff. It doesn`t matter if it`s the dentist`s wife, sister, mother or cousin. Working for any family member in any business is tough. You can`t make a blanket statement and tell the wife "to just stay home," (which many readers did) because in many cases she is helpful, needed, and often invaluable, whether we can see it or not. Even if she is critical, overbearing, and generally difficult, we need to recognize the wife`s contribution as more than just an intrusion into our work space.

As one respondent noted, "It`s easier to get a new hygienist than to get a new wife."

You know the old adage about walking a mile in someone`s shoes. Now if all you staff members are honest with yourself, think of what your life would be like if your spouse was a dentist. Can you honestly say you`d never make an appearance? Never want to come in and do something there? Never want to share your "dental wisdom" in a spirit of helpfulness with his staff? Never wonder if the practice is really operating efficiently enough, especially when this man you love is working so hard to make his practice succeed?

I have to admit: I`d be there to help if it were my husband. But of course, I`d never be one of those wives whom all the survey respondents wrote about ... would I? Trust me, the staff may very well see you in a negative light unless you put forth all the effort to be absolutely phenomenal and above reproach or criticism. Sorry, but we`re all human! Nobody is perfect, including Mrs. Dentist.

Giving each other slack cuts both ways. The dentist`s wife needs to see that we are professionals, want respect, and take our jobs very seriously without ever having eyes for her spouse. She must remember that some problems will come with the "Mrs." title and nothing can really be done about it. If we can just remember that we`re all working for the same goal, which is the success of the practice and the health and well-being of the patients. That`s why we`re here and that`s what teamwork is all about.

Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH, has worked in hygiene and office management for a family member and has personally encountered many of the same issues and problems that a doctor`s wife experiences. She has also worked for several dentists whose wives were involved in the practice with both positive and negative outcomes.

d Witchy Woman ~

The Eagles

"The experience has been negative for our staff because we depend on her to do her job and yet she is constantly leaving, running personal errands (something no one else in the office would do.) She is also very rude to our patients."

"This woman has come into this practice without any type of dental experience. She seems jealous of the staff. I don`t think she really wants to be there, but she wants to keep an eye on what is going on. She needs to feel needed and be in charge and the consequences are taken out on the staff."

"My experience has been very negative. She gives false information to the doctor. She is not just another employee. She should work somewhere else or just stay home."

"It is a problem because they automatically assume whatever they say or do will be accepted; after all, they have the dentist on their side. The staff tries not to make waves because now there are two bosses, sometimes with completely different goals!"

"I would never work in an office where the wife was in any way involved - it just doesn`t work ... The day I resigned was the day the wife said I could do a quick prophy in 20 minutes to up the productivity."

"I could write a book on the negative effects of the dentist`s wife! She`s a tension promoter. She causes problems. She`s always trying to cut expenses and loves to pop in and out to check on everyone. Her husband had an affair with his former assistant, so I think she also wants to keep tabs on him."

"They seem to care a great deal about office production and little for the staff. Some wives have actually entered the operatory during procedures, interrupted to chit-chat with the patient or doctor or tried to give the patient information about home care or other dental procedures and given out totally wrong information."

"She doesn`t like it when we meet our monthly goal and go over which means the staff gets a bonus. We have lost patients because of her. She is a disaster!"

"She`s constantly breathing down the receptionist`s neck and ordering her around. We have gone through three receptionists in the two years I`ve worked there. It`s like walking on egg shells around her."

"Currently `our wife` breaks out in a rash if you ever infer that you may know a bit more on any dental topic than she does."

"It makes everyone uncomfortable when they nit-pick and squabble at the staff meetings."

"The wife`s not an employee, but she makes weekly trips in to help herself from the cash drawer, as well as paper towels, toilet tissue, etc., to reduce her grocery bill. Then we`re blamed for the shortage."

"She brings her children to the office, and we`re expected to babysit. We`d be fired for doing that!"

"Every office I have worked in the wives have stuck their noses in and given opinions and instructions (more like orders) about procedures they know nothing about! You certainly can`t go complain to the doctor about it..."

"She undermines the office manager, always blames others for her mistakes. She needs to stay home and bake cookies!"

"The wife was only concerned with money. If I had a schedule change and didn`t have a patient, I was expected to `sign out` and wasn`t paid. The final straw was when the wife yelled at me for switching a healthy patient from a three-month recall to a six-month recall. She felt that the practice was losing money and I had no right to make that decision. She worked in the office to keep an eye on her husband. He said she worked so she wouldn`t spend his money all day."

"She`s there to control the income flow and to police her husband`s activities. This includes anything from what he eats or does for lunch, to what dental work was completed, to who he flirts with in the office. She should just stay home!"

"They overbook you, then expect you to see all the patients even if the patients are 45 minutes late."

"One wife had the Queen Bee syndrome - we couldn`t produce money fast enough for her, and she wanted to be the boss."

"Stay home! Don`t come to our parties - it`s our time to relax and laugh with each other."

"She wants to work here because it`s a flexible job (for her) and she can get off and out of work easily. Let her work in some other dentist office where she is an equal and not the employer`s wife."

"She got mad and fired the receptionist without the dentist`s knowledge. The receptionist asked him point blank, in front of the wife, `I work for you - am I fired?` He could not go against his wife. He was too scared of her not to show a united front."

"Greed, power, control - that`s why she`s here. They get bored with their own lives."

"If she didn`t feel like doing something, she just didn`t do it."

"It keeps them from having to go out and get a real job with responsibilities and work!"

"She assumes that the entire staff shares in her responsibilities to work through lunch."

"I will never again work in a practice that has a wife/office employee because this has proven to be such a negative experience for me."

"She sees us as slouches who try to get away with all we can. We are inefficient in her opinion, and she wants the practice to run like a Swiss clock (gag!)"

"This one is money hungry and wants power. Being a housewife just isn`t good enough. When she is at home, she calls the office several times an hour to see what everyone is doing - which causes the receptionist more hassle. She also has tried to schedule my patients from her home, even when she doesn`t have the schedule book!"

"She should butt out!"

"Stay home or get a real job!"

"She arrives in a flurry, announces new changes to be made and never stays long enough to see the outcome (which usually fails). She dictates, never suggests or asks for opinions."

"She took the personal touch out and installed dollar signs!"

"She`s the boss - he`s the wimp. She controls him completely."

"She is moody. She withholds paychecks on payday for one or two days, or she says, `I`ll mail them this time!`"

"It`s a control issue. How can a woman who divorced her husband, broke up the doctor`s marriage and then married the doctor, trust any other woman in the practice?"

"If I were to list the negatives, you probably wouldn`t believe them!"

"...She even told me not to use so many paper towels when I dry my hands."

d The Bitch is Back ~

Elton John

OThe experience has been negative for our staff because we depend on her to do her job and yet she is constantly leaving, running personal errands (something no one else in the office would do.) She is also very rude to our patients.O

OThis woman has come into this practice without any type of dental experience. She seems jealous of the staff. I don?t think she really wants to be there, but she wants to keep an eye on what is going on. She needs to feel needed and be in charge and the consequences are taken out on the staff.O

OMy experience has been very negative. She gives false information to the doctor. She is not just another employee. She should work somewhere else or just stay home.O

OIt is a problem because they automatically assume whatever they say or do will be accepted; after all, they have the dentist on their side. The staff tries not to make waves because now there are two bosses, sometimes with completely different goals!O

OI would never work in an office where the wife was in any way involved ? it just doesn?t work ... The day I resigned was the day the wife said I could do a quick prophy in 20 minutes to up the productivity.O

OI could write a book on the negative effects of the dentist?s wife! She?s a tension promoter. She causes problems. She?s always trying to cut expenses and loves to pop in and out to check on everyone. Her husband had an affair with his former assistant, so I think she also wants to keep tabs on him.O

OThey seem to care a great deal about office production and little for the staff. Some wives have actually entered the operatory during procedures, interrupted to chit-chat with the patient or doctor or tried to give the patient information about home care or other dental procedures and given out totally wrong information.O

OShe doesn?t like it when we meet our monthly goal and go over which means the staff gets a bonus. We have lost patients because of her. She is a disaster!O

OShe?s constantly breathing down the receptionist?s neck and ordering her around. We have gone through three receptionists in the two years I?ve worked there. It?s like walking on egg shells around her.O

OCurrently Oour wife? breaks out in a rash if you ever infer that you may know a bit more on any dental topic than she does.O

OIt makes everyone uncomfortable when they nit-pick and squabble at the staff meetings.O

OThe wife?s not an employee, but she makes weekly trips in to help herself from the cash drawer, as well as paper towels, toilet tissue, etc., to reduce her grocery bill. Then we?re blamed for the shortage.O

OShe brings her children to the office, and we?re expected to babysit. We?d be fired for doing that!O

OEvery office I have worked in the wives have stuck their noses in and given opinions and instructions (more like orders) about procedures they know nothing about! You certainly can?t go complain to the doctor about it...O

OShe undermines the office manager, always blames others for her mistakes. She needs to stay home and bake cookies!O

OThe wife was only concerned with money. If I had a schedule change and didn?t have a patient, I was expected to Osign out? and wasn?t paid. The final straw was when the wife yelled at me for switching a healthy patient from a three-month recall to a six-month recall. She felt that the practice was losing money and I had no right to make that decision. She worked in the office to keep an eye on her husband. He said she worked so she wouldn?t spend his money all day.O

OShe?s there to control the income flow and to police her husband?s activities. This includes anything from what he eats or does for lunch, to what dental work was completed, to who he flirts with in the office. She should just stay home!O

OThey overbook you, then expect you to see all the patients even if the patients are 45 minutes late.O

OOne wife had the Queen Bee syndrome ? we couldn?t produce money fast enough for her, and she wanted to be the boss.O

OStay home! Don?t come to our parties ? it?s our time to relax and laugh with each other.O

OShe wants to work here because it?s a flexible job (for her) and she can get off and out of work easily. Let her work in some other dentist office where she is an equal and not the employer?s wife.O

OShe got mad and fired the receptionist without the dentist?s knowledge. The receptionist asked him point blank, in front of the wife, OI work for you ? am I fired?? He could not go against his wife. He was too scared of her not to show a united front.O

d Hard-Headed Woman ~

Garth Brooks

OGreed, power, control ? that?s why she?s here. They get bored with their own lives.O

OIf she didn?t feel like doing something, she just didn?t do it.O

OIt keeps them from having to go out and get a real job with responsibilities and work!O

OShe assumes that the entire staff shares in her responsibilities to work through lunch.O

OI will never again work in a practice that has a wife/office employee because this has proven to be such a negative experience for me.O

OShe sees us as slouches who try to get away with all we can. We are inefficient in her opinion, and she wants the practice to run like a Swiss clock (gag!)O

OThis one is money hungry and wants power. Being a housewife just isn?t good enough. When she is at home, she calls the office several times an hour to see what everyone is doing ? which causes the receptionist more hassle. She also has tried to schedule my patients from her home, even when she doesn?t have the schedule book!O

OShe should butt out!O

OStay home or get a real job!O

OShe arrives in a flurry, announces new changes to be made and never stays long enough to see the outcome (which usually fails). She dictates, never suggests or asks for opinions.O

OShe took the personal touch out and installed dollar signs!O

OShe?s the boss ? he?s the wimp. She controls him completely.O

OShe is moody. She withholds paychecks on payday for one or two days, or she says, OI?ll mail them this time!?O

OIt?s a control issue. How can a woman who divorced her husband, broke up the doctor?s marriage and then married the doctor, trust any other woman in the practice?O

OIf I were to list the negatives, you probably wouldn?t believe them!O

O...She even told me not to use so many paper towels when I dry my hands.O

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