What makes an effective dental assistant? Have you ever wondered why some excel at their work and others bounce from practice to practice and feel unfulfilled? What’s the difference between what I call a “$5 dental assistant,” and someone who is valued in the practice? Stephen Covey addresses this in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” What do his 7 habits look like when applied to dental assisting?
1. Be proactive
As dental assistants we work as part of a team, but we work for someone else. It is very easy to fall into the trap of feeling as if we have no control over our work and, in turn, our career — and that can bleed into our view of our life. A proactive assistant is one who takes responsibility – for his or her life, choices, and career. Taking responsibility actually empowers a person. Proactive people tend to accept others (and their choices) as they are. They have the confidence to make choices for themselves, even when their peers may not agree with them.
The opposite of proactive is reactive (acting afterwards instead of before), inactive, or passive. Reactive people are dependent on the circumstances around them. They rely on others in their decision-making, and are easily affected by others’ opinions. You may hear a passive person say things such as, “I can’t do that,” “That won’t work,” or “I don’t have a choice.” They blame others for their choices and mistakes (“I did that because …” “I couldn’t help that because …” or “It’s not my fault because …”). While on the surface it seems like this gets the person off the hook, in reality, the reactive person is letting others take control of his or her life.
2. Begin with the end in mind
A highly effective dental assistant has a vision for his or her life. Have you thought about your career goals? Where do you want to be in three years … five years … 20 years? A highly effective assistant knows where he or she is going and works to make that happen. Why are you in dentistry? What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to earn a license or credential? Get advanced training? Continue your education?
If you haven’t given this much thought, you run the risk of looking back in 20 years and wondering how you got where you are — this gives others the power to shape your career path because you’re not in touch with who you are or what your goals are. Stephen Covey has said, “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.”[Native Advertisement]
Perhaps it’s time to develop a personal mission statement that focuses on what you want to do with your career. This could include your philosophy of practice — what kind of dental practice do you want to work in — size, type, and delivery of care, etc.?
3. Put first things first
A highly effective dental assistant has the ability to say NO. Why on earth would you want to say no? A highly effective dental assistant knows that life balance is really important to overall health. While there are lots of things you could spend your time on, you need to decide (based on your personal mission, values, and priorities) how you want to spend your time. When you make decisions based on these values and priorities, there is no guilt or conflict about the right choice.
Have you ever been around someone who doesn’t know how to say no? These people may be doing too many things and not doing any of them well. Or perhaps they’re neglecting other aspects of their life, such as their physical or emotional well-being, or even their own family. Many times this comes from not knowing who they are, where they’re going, or how to get there.
4. Think win-win
Dentistry is a team environment — or at least it’s supposed to be. But how many times do those in the office become territorial, catty, backbiting, or focused on production instead of the patients? This becomes a win-lose situation, doesn’t it?
A win-win viewpoint is about seeing life and situations with a paradigm of “We can all get what we want.” This frame of mind looks for the mutual benefit in situations. Instead of trying to “win” (which implies that someone “loses”), a highly effective dental assistant looks for agreements and solutions. In order to be able to do this, though, you have to be true to your feelings and values and be able to express them with consideration of others, and believe that everyone can win.
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
Communication in dentistry is huge, isn’t it? We need to effectively communicate with patients, the doctor, and our coworkers. But it can get a bit tangled up sometimes. We need to remember that we are in a profession of service, and as such we need to be willing to put the needs of others (especially the patients) ahead of our own.
When we insist on being right or making our point (perhaps because we don’t agree), we do so at the risk of ignoring or minimizing the other person.
When we can really engage and listen empathetically to the patient, doctor, or coworker, we have an increased ability to really understand their point of view and feelings. But it’s easy to think that if we let them know we understand, it means we agree with them, but that’s not the case.
Synergy can be energizing. What does it mean? The definition is to cooperate with another to remedy something, and two or more people working together to create a result not obtainable by one person. That’s an exciting concept, isn’t it? When it’s working, it is! Some of the most fulfilling things I’ve been involved in have happened as a result of synergy.
We have the opportunity to work synergistically in dentistry all the time. In order to do this, though, one must be open to others’ suggestions and new solutions (sometimes it’s the doctor who’s not open, though, huh?). It requires the understanding that different is good, and that because of these differences we each bring something different to the table. Together, the solution and ideas are better, and the dental practice will be better for it too.
7. Sharpen the saw
There is reference to this principle in the Scriptures, and popular authors have addressed it too. The concept is that we work more effectively when we’re fresh and sharp. How can we expect to treat our patients and coworkers with consideration, looking for mutual benefit in conflict, when we don’t take care of ourselves and we are out of balance?
What does “sharpening the saw” look like? It will be different for each of us, depending on how you treat yourself. You may need to pamper yourself or challenge yourself. Physically it may mean eating better, exercising, or resting. Socially it may mean spending time on your relationships. Spiritually you may need to spend time in nature or appreciate art or practice prayer or meditation.
As it relates to your career, it may mean staying current through continuing education or advancing your career through education, volunteering, or becoming involved in your professional organization.
So how do you measure up? How effective are you? Do you take responsibility for your choices? Do you know where you’re heading? Are you consciously aware of your priorities and values? Do you look for ways for everyone to get what they want? Are you open to others’ suggestions and able to work cooperatively with them? Do you take time to keep yourself sharp and in balance?
Being a “highly effective” dental assistant will make you an asset to any office and increase your value. You’ll be a more well rounded person outside the office too.
Claudia Pohl, CDA, RDA, FADAA, BVEd
President, American Dental Assistants Association
The people who make dental assisting a profession
The career area of dental assistant does, in many ways, relate directly to the skills and knowledge learnt in the Administrative Office Professional program (APRO). Skills such as computer knowledge, bookkeeping, customer service, human relations, reading and writing, verbal communication, and active listening are an essential part of being a dental assistant. APRO students already obtain these skills. This report shows how becoming a dental assistant is a great career choice for APRO students.
With only an additional eight to ten months of training, an APRO student could become a dental assistant and earn a great wage, as well as acquire many sought after job perks. Job perks of a dental assistant include Monday to Friday daytime hours, free dental care, monthly or yearly bonuses, and medical benefits.
Dental assistants primarily work in dental offices; however, there are jobs available in health care units and hospitals as well. The research that was conducted for this report consists of both primary and secondary sources. The primary research sources include an interview of a local dental assistant, as well as the researcher’s own experience and knowledge.
Secondary sources of research include Google searches, ALIS website, STATS Canada, and APRO text books. The three main aspects covered in this report are as follows: 1) Occupational Inventory a. Work environment b. Perks c. Market trends 2) Personality Fit d. Stress level/mental strains e. Personality traits recommended/required 3) Future Potential f. Continuing education requirements g. Advancement opportunities Potential Career Choice: Dental Assistant Introduction Weekends off, daytime hours, decent wages, free dental care, medical benefits, and yearly bonuses! These, in many cases, are the perks that career seekers are looking for.
Look no further. These, among others, are the perks the career of dental assistant has to offer. One might think that dental assisting has nothing to do with the tasks or skills learnt in the Administrative Office Professional program (APRO); however, there are many duties involved in dental assisting that relate directly to APRO knowledge. Skills such as computer knowledge, bookkeeping, customer service, human relations, reading and writing, verbal communication, and active listening are essential in a dental assisting career. As an APRO student, one obtains those skills.
However, an APRO student would need to further their education. A dental assistant training program is needed to pursue a career in dental assisting. This training program would typically only be an additional eight to ten months over and above the APRO program.
The APRO program is a good foundation as it gives students many of the basic skills needed to be successful in any program or career area. The dental assistant program differs by educational institution, but for the most part, prerequisites include a 30-level of English (which all APRO students already have), biology, and chemistry. Dental assisting is a very diverse career.
One never knows what sort of situation or emergency may arise. For example, an appointment may be as simple as a routine check-up or a filling, and may be as complicated as a tooth breaking off at the gum line during an extraction which can lead to dental surgery. Duties of dental assistants are as diverse as the job itself. Duties will change from office to office, and day to day, but will include tasks such as:
- Prepare patient, sterilize and disinfect instruments, set up instrument trays, prepare materials, and assist dentist during dental procedures
- Take and prepare dental diagnostic x-rays.
- Record treatment information in patient records
- Take and record medical and dental histories and vital signs of patient
- Provide postoperative instructions prescribed by dentist
- Assist dentist in management of medical and dental emergencies
- Instruct patients in oral hygiene and plaque control programs
- Apply protective coating of fluoride to teeth
- Schedule appointments, prepare bills, and receive payment for dental services, complete insurance forms, and maintain records using computer or manually
- Because dental assisting does entail working in someone’s mouth, it may not be appealing to everyone.
However, dental assistants are a vital part of the heath care profession. Most people have, at some point in time, experienced the excruciating pain of a tooth ache. Without dentists and dental assistants, one would have to suffer through the pain, or extract the tooth one’s self. One might choose dental assisting as a career if one enjoys working in an office environment, prefer daytime hours, and the medical field is of interest to them. There are many perks associated with being a dental assistant such as wages and bonuses.
Dentistry is a rapidly growing field, therefore leaving many new jobs available both now and in the future. One who enjoys helping others, and wants to make a difference in the lives of many, would be satisfied in the career of dental assisting. Dental assisting is a relatively low stress-level job. Because life-long learning is a required part of being a dental assistant, one must have a love of education and be committed to life-long learning. This report will look at the occupational inventory of dental assisting, including work environment, job perks, and market trends.
It will also look at the personality fit for one interested in seeking a career in this area. The personality fit will include such information as the stress level of the job, personality traits required/recommended, and potential interests and passions one might have. Finally, this report will look at the future potential of this career choice for APRO students. The future potential will share information such as continuing education requirements and advancement opportunities. The facts and findings in this report are based on both primary and secondary sources.
The primary sources include an interview with a dental assistant. I chose to interview a local dental assistant who works at Dr. Lo’s office here in Brooks, Alberta. The researcher will also be using her own experience and knowledge as primary research. The secondary research consists of Google searches, ALIS website, STATS Canada, and APRO textbooks. Facts and Findings Occupational Inventory Occupational inventory is an especially important aspect of a career because it looks at things such as work environment, career perks, and market trends.
These specifics can help one decide if a certain career, in this case dental assisting, is right for them. Work environment. Dental assistants have a variety of different working environments to choose from. Dental assistants work as part of a dental health care team. Their duties can vary and can include working as chair-side assistants, intra-oral assistants, administrative assistants, community health assistants, sterilization assistants, research assistants, or treatment coordinators. Dental assistants can also work in dental sales and insurance or dental education.
However, dental offices are the primary employer of dental assistants, with 97% of dental assistants working in dental offices. Typical hours of dental offices are Monday to Friday, 8 a. m. to 5 p. m. Some offices, however, are open during the evenings and weekends to accommodate a larger portion of the population. As shown in Figure 1, according to STATS Canada 2011, 99% of dental assistants are women. In larger offices, one can expect to work alongside many women. In smaller offices, on the other hand, one can expect to work closely with the dentist and a few other staff.
Figure 1 Gender of Dental Assistants Perks. There are several perks in the career of dental assistant. These perks may include good wages, good hours, free dental care for one’s family, yearly or monthly bonuses, and paid continuing education. As shown in Figure 2, according to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Dental Assistants’ occupational group earned between $15. 00 and $34. 00 per hour (2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survay, 2011). Therefore, the average wage of dental assistants in Alberta is around $26. 40 an hour. As stated previously, most dental office hours are Monday to Friday, with daytime hours.
In many cases, dental offices provide their staff with free dental care for both the employee and the employee’s family. Many offices offer incentives in the form of either monthly or yearly bonuses. If the office is busy and makes over a certain amount of money in a month or year, a percentage of the excess money will be awarded to staff according to seniority and hours worked. Because dental assistants are required to keep up-to-date with their education and skills, most dental offices pay for continuing education. Figure 2 Current Wages Earned for Dental Assistants.
Current Wages Earned for Dental Assistants| Wages| Low (5th percentile)| High (95th percentile)| Average| Median| Starting| $15. 00| $27. 00| $21. 82| $23. 00| Overall| $21. 00| $32. 57| $26. 40| $27. 00| Top| $25. 24| $34. 00| $30. 14| $30. 47| Figure 2 Figure 2 Market trends. Over 4,100 Albertans are employed in the Dental Assistants’ occupational group. It is expected to have an annual average growth of 3. 2%, which is above average. (Dental Assistant’s Occupation Group, 2012) It is expected that about 131 new positions will be created each year, in addition to job openings created by employment turnover.
Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boomer generation will be retiring over the next few years. Figure 3 shows the estimated yearly growth of dental assistant positions available in Alberta over the next few years. Figure 3 Estimated Yearly Growth of Dental Assistant Jobs in Alberta Personality Fit Being happy and comfortable at work is very important. One usually spends more time at work than they do anywhere else. Therefore, the personality fit of a given career, specifically dental assisting, is crucial.
Personality fit for a career includes the stress level and mental strains, personality traits recommended, and personal interests and passions. Stress level/mental strains. Dental assistants can come across some stressful situations. Sometimes, a procedure does not go as planned, leaving it up to the dentist and dental assistant to determine what to do next to ensure the safety and well-being of the patient. Although this may not be a regular occurrence, a dental assistant must have critical thinking ability and work well under pressure.
When an appointment runs over time, this often leaves the next scheduled patient waiting longer than anticipated for his/her turn. This can sometimes lead to a stressful situation if the patient who is waiting does not understand the situation. Overall, most dental assistants have a low- to moderate-level of stress in their everyday work. Personality traits recommended/required. Dental assistants are required to work closely with their patients and co-workers. In order to communicate well with both patients and co-workers, one should be kind, patient, outgoing, an active listener, and organized.
The ability to stay calm while under pressure and during emergencies is essential. Because dental assistants work side by side with dentists, one must be a team player and pay close attention to detail. It is the dental assistant’s job to know what the dentist needs next. Personal interests and passions. One who has a passion for helping others and for making a real difference in people’s lives may enjoy being a dental assistant. One should also have a general interest in the medical field. Dental assistants require continuing education; therefore, life-long learners would be satisfied in this career.
In many cases, employees want to be able to advance within their career area. Therefore, looking at the future potential of a career, in this case dental assistant, determines whether or not it is for him/her. Future potential information includes continuing education requirements and advancement opportunities. Continuing education requirements. Dental assistants must maintain their competency through the CADA Continuing Competence Program (CPP) (Dental Assistant Registration Process, 2012). This program assesses, maintains, and monitors ongoing knowledge, skills, attitudes, and judgments of professional dental assistants.
According to the Alberta Government, dental assistants must do the following activities each year in order to keep their Continuing Competence current:
- Complete one hundred (100) hours in the dental field, or three hundred (300) in the past three (3) years
- Review the Competency Profile
- Complete the Competency Self-Assessment
- Complete a Proposed Learning Plan by the renewal deadline
- Undertake appropriate Learning Activities to complete your proposed Learning Objectives
- Keep the proof of your completed Learning Activities.
At least once in every five years you will be asked to send in Verification of Learning documents and Completed Learning Plans. CADA will want to see evidence of two completed Learning Objectives for each year Advancement Opportunities. Depending on the size of dental office, there are advancement opportunities for dental assistants. Although a dental assistant is a dental assistant, there are different skill sets and knowledge levels involved. If a dental assistant has furthered his/her education with advanced courses in specialty areas, for example, he/she would make a higher salary.
Also, some dental assistants move on to be administrative managers of the dental offices where they work. Conclusion Based on the facts and findings in this report, dental assistant is a great career choice for APRO students. With only an additional eight months of training, an APRO student can have the opportunity to be a vital part of the health care system by becoming a dental assistant. Many of the skills already learnt in APRO are essential in the career area of dental assisting.
If one loves to work with people, is outgoing, patient, and loves helping others, dental assisting may be for him/her. If one chooses this career path, one can look forward to good pay, hours, and benefits.
- 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey. (2011). Retrieved February 25, 2013, from ALIS: www. alis. ca
- Dental Assistant’s Occupation Group. (2012). Retrieved February 25, 2013, from Statistics Canada: www. statcan. gc. ca
- Dental Assistant Registration Process. (2012, May). Retrieved February 25, 2013, from Government of Alberta: http://www. albertacanada. com/Dental_Assisant_May_2012. pdf
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