Addressing racism in the office

October 4, 2011

One of the things I hope to bring to my blogging for dentalproductsreport.com are highlights from the consumer media. It's interesting how so many of the magazines I read - from Time to Marie Claire to The Atlantic - end up mentioning dentistry or oral health in some way.

One of the things I hope to bring to my blogging for dentalproductsreport.com are highlights from the consumer media. It's interesting how so many of the magazines I read - from Time to Marie Claire to The Atlantic - end up mentioning dentistry or oral health in some way.

This morning, I wanted to share a tidbit from the October 2011 issue of Real Simple. The "Modern Manners" section allows readers to ask questions of Michelle Slatalla, the resident etiquette expert. In this issue, one of the questions was:

"During my dentist appointment, I heard a technician use racial epithets. Should I tell my dentist? Let it slide? Or just stop going to the practice? It made me very uncomfortable."

Slatalla advises this mystery patient to address the situation head-on by calling and speaking to the dentist, asking that he or she tell the staff not to use that kind of language. Then, if there is no apology or if the incident happens again, consider getting your teeth cleaned elsewhere.

After reading this, I was struck with two main questions: First, how many patients never pick up the phone but just leave the practice without a word? Second, what is the best way to address this issue with a staff member once the call has been made?

Going through various scenarios in my mind, I am struck by how many different ways this scenario could play out in the staff room - some good and some bad. While my knee-jerk reaction is that I wouldn't want someone using that kind of language on my team - so fire him or her - does that response rob the person of a chance to learn and change? Racism is learned over many years and an automatic firing may make me feel better, but wouldn't necessarily change that staff person's mind or prevent that language from hurting another person outside the practice.

So, readers, I put this quandary in your hands. What would you do or, if this situation has already happened in your practice, what did you do? Looking forward to your responses!