5 Ways to Become a More Professional, Professional Dental Assistant

how to become a more professional dental professioal

I am blessed that through my profession, I am presented with lots of opportunities to speak to so many amazing dental assistants. But, many times, speaking with them makes me sad. Why?

Because I hear things like, “I’m discouraged.” “I need to find a better job.” “I’d like to be appreciated more.” “I feel trapped.” I can’t understand how anyone can say those things about a career that I have loved for almost 38 years. It hasn’t always been roses, but I truly love this profession and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Way back in the day, dentists would accept a chicken or some other material object for payment. When we stopped doing that, we allowed patients to receive treatment and said, “send a payment in when you can.” Now, we’re working hard to dig ourselves out of that hole and set a new, modern expectation that “payment is due when services are rendered.” It’s a fight we fight daily in some offices.

Much like those “old days” that are long gone, I believe we as dental assistants have allowed ourselves to be treated like the bottom rung on a big latter. Years ago we weren’t licensed, permitted, or registered. (And in many states, we still aren’t.) We started off simply wiping down rooms and cleaning instruments, while working alongside professionals like the dentist and hygienist who were licensed. We were “the clean-up crew,” and we knew it. In many cases we feel underappreciated and over-worked, we get little respect from our peers, and we aren’t made to feel like true “professionals.”

But Ohhhh how times have changed, and our attitudes need to change along with them! We ARE professionals, and we need to act like it! Stand up dental assistants: respect yourself and demand that others respect you as well. The only way to get respect is to become the professional that you already are. Patients trust and look up to us. We are a vital part of the success of any practice. Treat yourself as a professional, and others will too. Here are 5 things to consider:


1. How Do You Dress?

You may think it’s no big deal, but trust me, we all make judgments based on how a person looks, and you are not immune from those assessing glances. A patient coming into your office and looking at the ‘hot mess’ bringing them back to the op, may have already judged you on your appearance. Are your scrub pants so long that you’re walking on them? Is your scrub top wrinkled? Is that how a professional dresses?


2. Are You The First One In, Or The Last?

I love being the first one in the door because I feel it allows me to be organized and get my day ready. Always being the last one in the door is hard on your coworkers and can cause friction. They feel as if they have gotten everything ready and in its place, and here you come in just *breezing* through the door when they did all the work. Being late to work or showing up just at the last minute is rude, and it tells your team you’re not invested. Is that how a professional acts?


3. Drama in the Workplace…Are You the One Causing It?

I hold interviews at my office whenever we are looking to expand our team, and it always blows me away when I get a person in my office – no matter their position – and they dump a load of drama on me. They tell me exactly why they hate their current employer or coworkers. They tell me all of the dirty little secrets going on in that practice. They tell me their own personal drama surrounding finding a job. All the while I sit there quietly and listen, and I can’t help but wonder…how is this drama is going to affect our team? Professionals don’t spill drama. By bringing drama into the office, you are making yourself a target for gossip. When you share dirty little secrets, you are providing a platform for negativity. Is that what a professional does?


4. Where is Your Cell Phone?

Put?down?your?cell?phone?! Even though cell phones came out much earlier, they exploded in popularity around the year 2000 with the advent of text messaging. We used to stash them in our purses, use them for the occasional emergency, and not think much of them. Now, it seems we have to be holding them in our hands at all times and have constant communication with everyone. It’s not enough to leave it in our purse or locker, we want it NOW. Team members are keeping them in their jacket pockets and secretly texting behind the patient and when the doctor is not in the room. Can I ask why? Please tell me the absolute emergency you received yesterday over text message that altered your life forever?

The truth of the matter is, if there is a true family emergency, your family should have the number to the front desk. If you are in the middle of a procedure, any procedure, you can’t just stop and answer your phone. Your family should always call the office and have someone get you.

Picture this scenario: you hire someone to paint your living room, you’ve been given a bid, you set the date, and the day has arrived. The painter gets to work but you notice the painter texting, making calls, answering calls, and taking selfies. At the end of the day the painter says to you, “you know, this was a bigger job than I thought it would be. I’m going to have to come back tomorrow and finish, but it’s also going to cost you more.” You’d be thinking, ‘dude, every time I looked up, you were on your darn phone!’ Your doctor may not confront you, and they may never say a thing, but believe me: they notice. Remember that raise that you wanted? If the doctor has to chase you down every time they need you and when they find you you’re on your phone, that could come back to bite you. I want you to stand out for what you’re not doing: hanging on your phone. All those texts will still be there at lunch or after work. You are getting paid to do a job, not be on your phone. Is that very professional?


5. Do You Prioritize Continuing Education?

In a nation of over 330K dental assistants, more than half of us are “on the job trained.” Although there is nothing inherently wrong with that, we are only as good as the people who trained us. This profession is constantly evolving and new changes and guidelines come through the pipe all the time. How do you keep up? Well, if you don’t, you’re doing it wrong! Being a dental professional means knowing how to perform infection control procedures correctly. It means keeping up on drugs and medications. It means knowing what to expect in an emergency and being prepared for anything. Continuing education is key to advancing your skills, staying on top of your game, and being the best you can be.

Know what else comes with that education?
✨Confidence.✨ The confidence that you are a professional, and that you are a leader within your practice and your profession. That confidence will radiate to your patients, your team, and your doctor. That confidence that will help propel you to do greater things. And when you become better, your practice will too!

We are all leaders, each and every one of us. Whether we have the title or not, we lead our practices to success every day. Never allow anyone to dictate otherwise. If you want to be respected as the professional you are, you must demand it. And you do that by expecting greater things of yourself, first! When you respect yourself and dedicate yourself to being better, you will set the wheels in motion for everyone to follow suit. A title doesn’t make you a leader; What makes you a leader is confidence and believing in yourself.

That’s how a professional does it. Set the tone for our profession. Become the professional you were meant to be.

YOU ARE AMAZING, ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT!

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