Working Side by Sideadds a new dimension

April 1, 2004
The camaraderie among the people that I work with is very enjoyable. I have been fortunate enough to have made life-long friends with present and former co-workers.

by Cappy C. Snider, RDH

The camaraderie among the people that I work with is very enjoyable. I have been fortunate enough to have made life-long friends with present and former co-workers. This makes sense, considering we often spend the majority of our waking moments with these people. They become our confidants, the people we laugh with, and even the people we disagree and argue with at times. Hmmm ... that description sounds like one we would also give to our own families. That's exactly what our co-workers feel like to us after spending so much time and sharing so much history with them: our family. Recently, though, I have been able to experience a whole new dimension with one co-worker in particular.

Most of my career as a hygienist has been experienced through the eyes of a "solo" practitioner. That is, I was usually the only hygienist employed by the practice. If another dental hygienist was also employed, we worked on alternate days and had little contact other than the occasional note or at the yearly Christmas party. There was no interaction about a particular patient, or anyone to discuss problems with that were specific to dental hygiene. I never experienced the joy of having another hygienist to work with, side-by-side ... until now.

My husband is a big fan of stock car racing. I have absorbed some knowledge of the sport by osmosis and find that teamwork is essential for a racing team to be successful. The teams are usually comprised of more than just one driver. Usually a more experienced driver who has a proven record of driving capably is paired with a less experienced driver. The idea is for the more experienced driver to mentor the rookie, passing along his wealth of knowledge to the newcomer, allowing the less experienced driver to eventually equal and perhaps surpass the experienced driver. A benefit is also noted from a financial standpoint for the team. The two drivers can share opinions and concepts with the team engineers and share in the benefit of research conducted for one or the other driver — a kind of "two-for-one" in research and development, if you will.

This is what I've found to be true in my recent collaboration with another hygienist. We share information about new techniques and products that serve to improve our patient care.

When our practice began searching for a second hygienist to add to the staff, it took several months to find someone with the right style and personality, not to mention skill, to blend with our office. Thankfully, we found just the right fit. Our second hygienist is what some might call a rookie. She graduated last June. So far, though, we have been nothing but pleased with how well she has blended with the existing staff.

The patients are all very accepting of Jamie and, to be honest, how could they resist her upbeat personality and excellent people skills? Prior to entering the dental hygiene profession, she was a customer service representative. I can't think of a better training ground for the public relations aspect of this career choice! So much of what we do is about relating to our patients in a way that conveys concern and respect, while attempting to educate them in the process.

Admittedly, there was a little apprehension about working with another hygienist. I was worried about someone else treating "my" patients. Would she do a thorough job? Would the patients wonder why I was not seeing them and be offended?

I had to just let go of those fears and realize that we all have our own styles. It reminds me of parenting, in that I have one way of doing a particular task for my children and my husband has a completely different take on the matter! Understanding that different approaches to patient care could still be equally effective was part of the learning process for me. At first, I also felt like my kingdom had been invaded. I had created my own methods of running the hygiene department — what supplies were ordered and how patient flow was monitored between visits. I was concerned that this new co-worker would come in and try to change all of the systems.

Of course, all of these concerns proved to be unfounded. What a relief! Jamie and I seemed to have the same goals for patient care and a shared enthusiasm for our chosen profession. Our work styles and the way we relate to patients are very similar. This has been a big factor in combining our different personalities into a positive experience for our patients.

It has been very productive to have another hygienist in the office with whom I can discuss problems I encounter with patients, ask advice in matters that I am not sure about, and to just bounce ideas off of. To have someone to commiserate with after a particularly difficult day is just priceless! No one can truly understand the challenges we face unless they are facing them, too.

We do, however, try not to get mired in negativity. We often deal with these circumstances with laughter and encouragement. Just to have someone else to let me know that tomorrow is another day is often all I need.

Then there are the days that we are so busy we hardly notice each other. Learning to pay attention to my schedule, as well as Jamie's, has helped me to realize that part of being an effective team member is knowing what is going on in the whole office. The tendency to get lost in my own schedule is a strong one. Paying attention to when other team members may need help is an ongoing area of focus for me.

Continuing education courses have also taken on a new dimension now that I have another hygieinst to share the information with. My employer and co-workers were always very supportive of my learning new things, but only a fellow hygienist can really share in the enthusiasm of a new brand of prophy paste or an instrument with just the right feel to it.

Jamie and I can also present a united front when lobbying for changes in the hygiene department. Just to have someone else backing me up feels very supportive. Often, the opinion of two carries more weight than just one lone soldier asking for a new piece of equipment.

Jamie's idea of regular hygiene department meetings with our employer is one example of how two heads can be better than one. I often found myself speaking to my doctor in small snippets of time between patients. We seldom had time to resolve any issues or discuss them in any detail. This was very frustrating.

We now schedule one lunch a month for this meeting. If our doctor is unable to attend, at least it gives Jamie and me time to compare notes about upcoming continuing education courses, timely articles we may have read, or a new product we would like to try. It is nice to have regular staff meetings for the entire team to communicate, but some topics are very "hygiene" related and not really productive to discuss at these staff meetings. We now have time for just our particular topics, thanks to Jamie.

Mentors have been, and are, a big part of my life both personally and professionally. Without them, I would not have explored other aspects of my professional life (or be writing this article!). I would still be a stagnant hygienist, just going through the motions day after day. Stepping into the mentor role for me has been so rewarding. Using what knowledge I have gained through my years of experience to help someone just entering the profession has been gratifying.

I realize that I know more than I thought I did and can help walk Jamie through a difficult situation, if needed. She offers me a fresh perspective on new treatment modalities by virtue of being a new graduate. Giving of oneself brings rewards not previously imagined. Complacency is so easy to come by, but going to work excited about what I do each day is a real gift.

Sharing the spotlight, while scary at first, has turned out to be a great experience. I no longer feel the pressure of carrying the load alone.

The greatest benefit, though, has been forming a deep and lasting friendship with a truly nice person. Our personalities complement one another and our goals for our patients are very similar. We share the responsibility of maintaining the hygiene department for our practice, but we also share a common respect and admiration for each other.

I cannot think of a more productive work environment in which to practice each day, side-by-side.

Cappy C. Snider, RDH, graduated from Tarrant County College in 1987. She has practiced continually for the past 15 years. Snider currently practices clinical dental hygiene with Dr. Brooke Porter of Azle Dental Care in Azle, Texas. She may be reached by email at [email protected].