What dental assistants told us they were thankful for

November 25, 2015

We asked a simple question: What's the nicest thing a dentist has ever done for a dental assistant? Here's what they told us.

At this time of Thanksgiving, it is important to count our blessings. We hear and see so many negative stories and comments about the workplace these days, it’s necessary to step back and look at the positive stories and find that “grateful attitude” that our patients can feel when entering the practice.

We hear of so many offices where there are no lunch breaks or even potty breaks! So many offices are overscheduled and understaffed. So a recent survey of dental assistants on “What’s the nicest thing your doctor has done for the staff?” gave us some interesting data.

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Many assistants responded that they received special surprise spa days for the staff, concert tickets, paid days off, trips, gift cards, extra cash, and paid continuing education. Some were surprised thinking they were attending a meeting on their day off when the doctor surprised them with breakfast and a spa day. Some offices attended continuing education classes in Hawaii, Las Vegas, Florida, and Texas. One doctor surprised his assistant with art lessons and another helped the assistant further her career by researching courses and being supportive of her efforts. One allowed the assistant to change her work schedule to accommodate her class schedule.

However, sometimes the most impactful thing is as simple as appreciating the staff. Many assistants stated it mattered so much if a dentist “would just say thank you.” One doctor made an impact by giving “a written thank you note with chocolate.” One assistant said the doctor came and held her hand for two hours while she was awaiting medical attention. Trusting the assistant to make suggestions for practice improvement, then following through with those suggestions gives the assistant a sense of ownership in the practice. Believing in the assistant and encouraging the assistant to advance her career gave one assistant the boost she needed to be the lead assistant. The overall consensus is feeling appreciated leads to job satisfaction.

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Responses came from assistants in 23 states across the country and overwhelmingly from private practice assistants. When asked to choose between having a big paycheck with a stressful working environment or a smaller paycheck with a stress-free working environment, 70% chose a smaller paycheck with a stress-free environment. However, a larger paycheck edges out more appreciation and respect from the dentist and colleagues. A living wage is as important as respect and appreciation to employees without the high stress environment.

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The final question was, “If you could change just one thing about your practice, what would it be?” Efficient scheduling, doctor staying on time, more teamwork, less drama, updating equipment, and improving patient satisfaction top the list of changes to be made.

Here is where the dental assistant can make a contribution to the practice. Learn all you can about efficient scheduling, teamwork and patient satisfaction. Bring this data to your next staff meeting and be prepared to discuss how these changes could lead to increased productivity and less stress! Research new equipment or new products and find the best deals. Look for ideas on ways to update the office décor without spending a lot of money. Present that information to the doctor and discuss how that will make the office more attractive to patients and increase patient satisfaction. This brings value to you as a team member and leads to greater job satisfaction.

Patients can tell when the stress is high and the staff is overwhelmed. They feel rushed and view their visit as less than desirable. When the staff feels ownership and value in the practice, they will treat the patients with the care and concern that makes the patient feel they are the most important patient in the practice.

Strive to be the assistant with the grateful attitude … grateful that we have a profession where we can help patients with their smile, their overall health and, in some cases, save lives. What are you thankful for?