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Ethel Hagans is a dental hygienist first, and then, the author of the book Extraordinary Dental Care. She is obsessed with motivating hygienists to raising their level of care, in order to woo their patients into patterns of great oral hygiene. Her motto: “In the end our main goal is to make sure their teeth outlast them!”
Being happy in your workplace is crucial to providing great care.
In the wonderful world of dental hygiene, you may be blessed with just one excellent job or many throughout the years of your career. And although it is never easy moving on to a new office, sometimes you may face no other choice. For instance, what if your doctor dies, or a new associate buys the practice and brings in his own staff? Both of these situations can turn your work life upside-down and lead to less than desirable results. So, if that happens, it matters that you know when to exit.
Sadly, in one of the offices I worked, my dentist died suddenly. He was one of the best I had ever worked with. I had gotten to know him well and adored his family for the seven years I was employed there. His dental work was impeccable; a true dental artist. However, his age, long hours and being a chain smoker did a number on his health. So, one day, he had a massive heart attack, and that changed my life in the dental world forever. He will never be forgotten. A few weeks after, however, the practice was sold and the new dentist brought in his own staff. Out of the original staff he had kept was one of the front desk staff members so patients would see a familiar face when they first walked in for an appointment with the new doctor. So, I was forced to exit in search of a new office.
When I finally found a new practice, I thought I could at the very least be content with it-I was wrong. Although the new dentist’s dental work was just as good as the practice from which I had left, he had a bad habit of flirting with patients and staff. I felt like I was back in high school. I knew this office was not the one for me or one I could spend years at providing great dental care. It had too many distractions. So, I quickly started looking for a change-an office that not only met the quality of care all patients deserve but also one that held high standards of both professionalism and integrity. Again, I made my exit.
My next office was a group practice with three dentists. Two were full-time and the other, a female dentist, worked part-time due to becoming a new mom and wanting to spend more time at home with her newborn. I thought I could work well alongside her because her schedule would be perfect for me, since I too had small children. Things went well around the office until, after a couple of months, one of the associate dentists’ wives lost her job at a large bank that was a major employer in the area. Not so far after being let go, she soon became the new office manager, and the chaos began. Her first move was aggressively clocking anyone whenever they were on breaks and changing the office hours to increase profits. Everything was counted as either time or money. Next, she changed the quality dental supplies we had been using to much cheaper ones that used an unreliable, overseas supplier; nothing was ever on time when we ordered it. For example, the propy paste was changed to pro butter. You know, the cheap kind that flies out at you and your patient! Not even the cleaning wipes were spared, and instead were replaced by disinfectant spray and cheap paper towels that would fall apart, meaning it took more time to clean the rooms between patients.
She even gave the morning huddle a new meaning, when she threatened to take our Goal Games away. They made us feel appreciated, when we had to work through lunch or work late during an emergency. The Goal Game was a game we played every Monday during our morning huddle, to celebrate the days we made our daily goals the week before. It would start by each of us drawing from a bag filled with ping-pong balls, labeled $5, $10 and $20. On the new office manager’s first day of the game, we had all earned three draws, since we had met our daily goal three times the week prior. There were five employees present, and one dental assistant drew $60 (three $20 balls). The office manager’s jaw dropped, and she gasped out in disbelief. That wasn’t the end of it, however, and we later heard her arguing with the dentist, her husband, about, “Why are we paying them a salary AND weekly bonuses too!” He told her that it’s because his staff works hard each day to increase profits, and that sometimes, it’s them that convinces the patient that they need the work we are recommending. He also stated that he really valued us and wanted to show it weekly, if possible. Luckily, this was convincing enough, and she agreed that the game was good for the staff and would continue. Fortunately, over time things improved, and this time I felt no need to make an exit.
Change will never stop happening, whether it’s the passing of a phenomenal dentist, a new associate coming on board or a micromanaging wife taking over daily operations. However, when unfavorable change is imminent, always be ready to make your move. As a hygienist, it is just as important that you are happy in your workplace as it is that you are giving platinum, quality dental care. There are plenty of great dental practices out there, and if you look hard enough, you can find the one that’s perfect for you. So just keep going and never give up!