Written by: Nicholas Cain, Guest Writer
You have finally landed your first job as a Dental Assistant. After all your schooling and effort, you finally can start your career. Before you begin, it’s vital that you know how to present yourself in the workplace. Here are a few tips for your first job in the dental assistant world.
Appearance is Everything
When starting at any practice, it’s essential to understand dress code and personal hygiene policies. Some rules are OSHA standards to keep you, the dental assistant, safe. For example, long manicured or fancy nails with raised decorations such as gems are against the rules as well as chipped nail polish since these can harbor infectious microbes that will be taken home with you. They can cause micro infections within the nailbeds or in any jewelry or extensions added to the nail. Long hair can also be problematic as it not only obstructs vision but can also be the perfect environment for microbes to grow. Even most jewelry is prohibited to prevent the patient from grabbing or pulling on to the pieces and causing personal injury to you. OSHA rules require no hoop earrings because the loops on masks can get caught in it and tear the ear.
Many offices will have policies regarding other aspects of your appearance, such as your hair color or even the types of scrubs you are wearing. Unlike the rules laid out by OSHA guidelines, these rules are usually made by the doctor where you work. As their assistant, you are an extension of the dentist. Some doctors prefer to maintain a professional atmosphere and won’t allow you to color your hair any color you want. Others won’t care if your hair is every color in the rainbow. Ultimately it comes down to how the doctor wants their practice to present itself to the outside world.
When it comes to personal grooming, make sure you are ready to go as soon as you walk into the building. If you do need to comb your hair or apply it to make-up, do so in the bathroom. Personal grooming while around guests looks unprofessional and is extremely unhygienic to do while the patient is in the chair.
You don’t want to be eating in front of patients. Not only is it a health hazard while the patient is in the chair, but it doesn’t look professional and is usually viewed negatively. Keep eating and drinking confined to the break room or the area designated for lunch. OSHA rules state no eating, drinking, applying cosmetics or handling contact lenses in the clinical area due to possible contamination by infectious materials or chemicals.
Finally, certain smells can negatively affect your patients, such as cigarette smoke or overuse of perfume or cologne. Your job is to create the most relaxing environment for your guest. What they smell is a factor in making that atmosphere. You wouldn’t want to be stuck in a chair for two hours smelling an overwhelming perfume or the remnants of someone’s cigarettes on their breath, would you?
Your Behavior is Important as Well
Appropriate behavior can be challenging to navigate, especially with cell phones and social media. That’s why it’s essential to always know your office’s policies, especially regarding your interactions with your patients.
A good rule of thumb is to keep your cell phone put up with the rest of your personal belongings until the end of the day. Keep in mind, the patients will always be watching your behavior. When you use your phone, it could be frustrating or even a little uncomfortable for them as they don’t know what you are doing on your phone. They don’t know if you are texting about them. They don’t know that you aren’t recording their private information. Therefore, it is always best to be safe and keep your phone put away until the end of the day.
It is also important to be careful of how you conduct yourself via social media. Watch what you post online and consider whom you are adding onto your social media platforms. During your time at the practice, you will be building relationships with your co-workers and even patients. Posting or saying controversial things is okay if accounts are kept private. However, your posts that are taken negatively in a public account can affect the practice. When it comes to social media, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
When interacting with patients, it’s important to remember that you want to create a relaxing environment for every patient. You don’t want to monopolize the conversation with stories of your crazy weekend out with friends. Keep the focus of the discussion on the patient and discuss topics that aren’t too overly stimulating. Focus on details in the patient’s life. Do they own pets? Do they have grandchildren? It’s always helpful to take notes about the patients and there is usually a spot on their chart to add them. Remember that every doctor is different and may have additional requirements about how much they want you to speak to or find out about the patient. Having an open conversation about what the doctor prefers at the beginning of your employment is the best way to gauge the doctor’s preferences.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember to treat others how you want to be treated. You cannot control the attitudes of everyone around you, nor should you be expected to. However, you can control the way you react to those attitudes. Just because another co-worker is having a bad day or seems upset doesn’t mean that you should act the same way. Try and remain optimistic and excited for the job; remembering that the patients are your main priority. Think about how you would want someone to behave around you.
You have worked hard and have earned this opportunity. Knowing how to navigate an office professionally will only help you further succeed in your career. Remember, if you are unsure about anything, make sure you ask and are clear on the rules by the first day! It will make your transition that much smoother.