"Just" is a four-letter word

July 14, 2015

The great Walter Hailey used to begin his Dental Boot Camp lectures by asking attendees to put a number on their foreheads from one to 10, indicating the value they put on themselves (with 10 being the highest). When people in the audience would indicate anything less than a 10, he would respond by saying, “If you don’t put a 10 on your own forehead, how do you expect anyone else to value you?”

Invariably, he would then ask the same question a second time, and several people in the audience would indicate “11” or “12.” This would point out a second character flaw among dental professionals-that they sometimes fail to follow directions.

What number would each of you put on your own foreheads? If you plan to put the number 10 where it belongs, then stop describing what you do by using the word “just.” Throughout our lives, “just” is a word that frustrates us.

“Honey, it’s time for bed.”

”I JUST want to watch TV for 10 more minutes.”

“Sweetheart, you’ve had enough candy.”

”I ”JUST” want one more piece.”

“Darling, it’s a family vacation.”

”I “JUST want to play one more round of golf.”

Related reading: Sticky situations: What do do when the dental assistant says she "feels like the maid"

Who can’t relate to the exasperation of hearing this word? Then why should you ever use it in regard to what you do professionally?

The most frequent use of the word “just” in dentistry is “I’m just a dental assistant.” No, you are not “just” a dental assistant. You are a caring individual who has made a decision to understand many clinical procedures, master many clinical skills and understand the use of so many different supplies, instruments and sophisticated pieces of equipment in delivering life-changing care to fearful and sometimes confused patients in a comforting, compassionate way. It is a very difficult job and you do it so well under, often, adverse conditions. You go girl! (or guy!)

The second most frequent use of the word “just” in dentistry is, “I can’t get the patient to accept treatment. I’m “just” a hygienist.” No, you are not “just” a hygienist. You have chosen a profession that allows you to make a significant change in people’s lives each and every day. You have mastered difficult skills in a challenging area of the body. There are many emotional issues in your patients that your compassion and understanding help them to overcome. You are the first line of defense in recognizing oral cancer, and you have a level of trust, perhaps even greater than that of the dentist, in helping patients understand and embrace the benefits of dental care. You are my heroes.

Related reading: Sticky situations: How does a dental hygienist or dental assistant ask for a raise?

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The third most frequent use of the word “just” in dentistry is, “I can’t change our practice. I’m “just” the receptionist, scheduling coordinator or treatment coordinator.” You couldn’t be more wrong. You do the most difficult job in your office, usually with little praise from the doctor or team around you. You are expected to keep the schedule full, collect money to support everyone’s paychecks and keep everyone happy and in a good mood, both patients and team. There isn’t a sane dentist who would ever want to tackle your job instead of theirs. My advice is to strive to become more systematized, ask your doctors to invest more in your development of leadership skills and ask your doctors to open up greater opportunities for targeted communication about mutual expectations and you will never, ever, use the word “just” in that context again.

The final most frequent and most upsetting use of the word “just” in dentistry is, “I can’t do the things you are describing to me about practice growth because I “just” have an insurance practice.” Shoot me now!

Another sticky situation: How to handle team members who have a verbal confrontation

Doctors, please understand that you are  incredibly bright individuals (after all, you got through dental school) who have gone through a long and rigorous educational process, and you have understood difficult scientific principles, assimilated a tremendous amount of didactic information and mastered difficult and varied clinical skills in the interest of providing thousands of patients with care that will bring them health, well-being, improved appearance and raised confidence and self-esteem. The fact that you treat patients who have dental insurance means that you havegenerously given them the opportunity to receive your wonderful care at a modified level of reimbursement because you are willing to sacrifice your potential wealth for their well-being. This is a course that should be a source of pride and not a regret of stature. The interesting footnote to this is that “insurance dentistry” does give one the opportunity to be highly compensated. It is possible to develop the potential to deliver much more lucrative cosmetic and discretionary dentistry in an insurance-laden environment with the development of greater clarity of vision, the implementation of systems, the mastery of verbal skills and maintaining motivation in the continued development of clinical skills and use of technology. “Insurance dentistry” brings with it challenges and opportunities.

Throughout our lives, we are faced with a dichotomy of whether an experience or circumstance will make us bitter or better. When doctors view their participation with insurance companies as a stranglehold, unfortunately, they tend to care less and the quality of their work suffers and this leads to poor morale and disappointment from the dentist through every team leader. My good friend, Kirk Behrendt often says, “When the fish stinks, it starts from the head down.” When dentists view their participation with insurance as an opportunity to care for more people and this, in itself, becomes inspiring, then we see these practices attracting the best team members, investing in great new technology and rendering the type of care that truly makes a difference in people’s lives. This is “just” the course that you will need to follow to never be tempted to use the word “just” in your introductory elevator speech ever again.

Be proud of the care that all of you provide to your patients. Have pride when you describe what you do. Approach the wonderful opportunities that dentistry affords you with passion and exuberance. Embrace the challenges dentistry brings with confidence and “JUST” do it!

For more information about developing confidence and pride in the practice of dentistry, please call 516-599-0883 or send an email to drkatz@smilepotential.com.

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