Nobodys Perfect!!!

June 1, 1999
Perfectionism is quite common among dentists. These doctors often have high turnover among staff members, because no one can meet the doctor`s unrealistic expectations.

Perfectionism is quite common among dentists. These doctors often have high turnover among staff members, because no one can meet the doctor`s unrealistic expectations.

Dianne Glasscoe, RDH, BS

Dear Dianne,

I work in a small practice in the beautiful mountains of NC. I have been in this practice for three years, but I am seriously thinking of leaving. My problem - the doctor expects me to be perfect.

Let me give you some examples. He is super-critical of my radiographs, often re-questing retakes. As any hygienist knows, it is not always possible to get a perfect X-ray because of many patient variables. When the doctor comes to check my patient, most of the time he will pick up the scaler and begin scaling some area that I supposedly missed. This is quite embarrassing to me, because it sends a message to the patient that I didn`t do a thorough job. He checks behind everything I do, and I am certain he lurks in the hallway to overhear what I say to patients. He has called me into his office several times to point out some little nit-picky thing that I didn`t do to his satisfaction.

I came to work for this doctor right out of hygiene school. Naturally, at first, I questioned my ability to thoroughly scale patients, and I had all of the usual feelings of inadequacy that come from being new to the profession.

However, after three years of working full time, I know in myself I am competent to do a thorough prophylaxis and diagnostically acceptable radiographs. This doctor seems to want to keep me "beat down" for some reason unknown to me. I`ve just about had it with his perfectionism. I don`t like the thought of adjusting to a new practice, especially since I really like my co-workers. Any suggestions?

Agitated in Asheville

Dear Agitated,

You poor darling! I feel your pain, because I`ve been where you are.

I once worked for a perfectionist doctor who made life difficult for all the staff members. It seemed he was never pleased with anything that I did, no matter how hard I tried. I can`t ever remember him expressing any appreciation verbally, but I sure remember quite a few unpleasant experiences relating to how I did my job and what his expectations were. This was quite a learning experience for me. I vowed to myself that I would never allow anyone to inflict that kind of emotional abuse on me again.

Perfectionism is quite common among dentists. It probably comes from a combination of the high level of technical competency required in dental school and deep-seated feelings of inadequacy within the doctor him-/herself. These doctors often have high turnover among staff members, because no one can meet their unrealistic expectations. Employees get tired of trying and just leave. These perfectionistic doctors take great pride in their dentistry and themselves, and they expect everyone else to as well. They often do quite excellent dentistry. They also require the same perfectionism of themselves that they require of everyone else. Professional help often is required to help these perfectionistic doctors break free of the bonds of perfectionism.

Your dental hygiene training gives you the necessary skills to detect and remove calculus. I am not so naive to believe that I remove all of the calculus from each and every patient I see.

If the doctor sees something that I inadvertently missed, it is appropriate for him to remove it if he wishes. However, if the doctor were picking up the scaler and instrumentating frequently, I probably would ask him privately if he felt this was necessary, as it sends a negative message about my abilities to the patient.

If the doctor you work for says you are leaving an inordinate amount of calculus, you may need to take some courses to help you improve your technique.

You are very young to the profession. Therefore, you do not have a wealth of offices with which to make comparisons.

But let me tell you, those of us who have been around the block a few times would never stay in an office situation like the one you describe. I would begin searching immediately for a new employer.


Dianne Glasscoe, RDH, BS, is an adjunct instructor in clinical hygiene at Guilford Technical Community College. She holds a bachelor`s degree in human resource management and is a practice-management consultant, writer, and speaker. She may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected], phone (336) 472-3515, or fax (336) 472-5567.