I have been talking to a lot of dental assistants, hygienists and front office staff and it seems like a few offices are doing well and have their groove back, but it sounds like the majority keep finding themselves in awkward situations on the daily.
Some recent situations I have heard are:
“My doctor wont let any of us eat together or really socialize. It makes the day so slow and I feel isolated.” -Dental Assistant.
“I can’t hear anyone through the plexiglass we put up. My throat hurts from shouting at all our patients.” – Office Manager.
“I had 7 patients today. All they do is talk about the election, Covid or the sad state of the world. I can’t take it anymore.” – Dental Hygienist.
“I can’t figure out how to connect with my staff. I feel they are always upset with the new protocol or angry that we are open and working.” – Dentist
“We are so short staffed, it’s awful.” – Front office assistant.
I shortened these and removed some expletives, most of these had me laughing but once the call was done I was sad. These dental professionals were calling to vent, seek new employment or help in some way to survive the new “normal” of dentistry.
So I racked my brain, reached out to the offices that seem to be thriving in this new environment to seek advice and did some online research.
And now I present to you:
How to make your dental office less awkward.
#1 Connect with your team in a new way
My fondest memories from working in a dental office was the friendly banter, the practical jokes and cramming everyone into the tiny breakroom for family lunch. But those days are on pause for a while, however, to keep work enjoyable we need to find new ways to have fun. Here are some suggestions.
- Daily questions that get you talking: Even if you have worked with someone for 20+ years there is still a ton you don’t know about them. Come into the office with a brand new question everyday and (from a 6 foot distance) ask your coworkers. Here are a few examples:
- What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
- What do you miss about being a kid?
- What’s your proudest accomplishment?
- If you had to live in a different country, which would you choose?
- If you were on a crashing plane and knew you had about 60 seconds to live, what would you do?
- What’s your earliest memory?
- If you won the lottery tomorrow and got 10 million dollars (post tax ;)), what would you do?
- What three things bring you the most joy?
- If you could have any job in the world, which would you choose?
- What’s the number one thing you’d like to achieve next year?
- Would you rather die suddenly in your sleep or be told you have a year to live?
- Do social distance lunches: This does depend on your parking lot situation, but if there is space, have everyone bring in a beach chair and pack a lunch. Then go outside to your parking lot (or if you are lucky enough to have a park near your office thats awesome) and have a weekly lunch together.
- Play games: You can still play fun games from a distance. Someone mentioned trivia games, where questions would be asked about a certain coworker and at the end of the day the coworker would answer them and the person with the most correct answers wins. Or someone in the offices could hide playing cards in various areas around the office and the person with the most cards at the end of the day wins.
Ultimately, you spend more time with your coworkers than anyone, so try to make it enjoyable for everyone.
#2 Control the conversation with patients
You have to remember, most of your patients aren’t getting to talk with 7+ new faces a day. You are maybe the only person they are actually seeing that day, and naturally they are going to want to talk about current events.
But that is EXHAUSTING for you to spend your whole day talking about all the stuff that is going on in the world. Especially if they are saying something you strongly disagree with but you have to bite your tongue, smile and nod.
So the best thing you can do is control the conversations with your patients.
Rather than asking them how they have been or how their day is going, greet them with a short and fun question so you are still being welcoming without giving them the opportunity to complain.
Example: “Hi Evan, so happy you’re here! But before I start cleaning your teeth, I was thinking about how when I was a kid I actually wanted to be a veterinarian, what did you want to be as a kid?”
This does a few things.
It allows you to greet them in a welcoming way.
It lets them know you are going to start working on them soon, so they know to keep their answer short.
It gives them something to talk about other than COVID and politics.
And it opens it up to give you something to chat with them about during and after their appointment.
The hygienist who suggested this method to me, said she uses the same question for a whole week and then switches it.
You can even use the coworker fun questions I listed earlier in this post.
Don’t get overwhelmed
Easier said than done, but many complaints I have received from dental professionals and dentists is that they aren’t fully staffed.
There really are only 3 ways to address this.
- Lighten the load/schedule so your team can handle it.
- Hire people
- Use dental temps until you hire people.
DirectDental can help you with the last two. You can login and post permanent and temp jobs to get your office staffed. AND if you have a random days off and want to temp, sign up!
And I have to say I am sorry, for the plexiglass situation all I could think of was a 2-way radio to assist in communicating to your patients. If you have a better suggestion please put it in the comments.