What it takes to be a true hero in dentistry

2020 08 17 20 51 9607 Owens Laurie 400thumb

In the mid-1980s, there was a song called "Holding Out for a Hero." When I listen to the words, one phrase always sticks out to me: "and he's gotta be fresh from the fight."

When you look up "hero" in the dictionary, it is defined as "a person who is admired or idealized for courage (hygienist and assistant), outstanding achievements (doctor), or noble qualities (administrative team)." Let's break that down.

The fight

A hero was and is in the fight. You will never have accomplishments in dentistry until you get into the fight! What is your stance when you get to work at the practice? Does your facial expression say you're expecting another bunch of patients to ruin your night? Or, do you shake out your cape, swing it onto your back, put your hands on your hips, smile, and say, "Let's help our patients get healthy today"?

Laurie Owens, CPC, CPB.Laurie Owens, CPC, CPB.

Dental consultant Judy Kay Mausolf comes to mind for me because she believes that when you raise your hands in the air for any accomplishment, smile, and say loudly, "ta-da," you cannot be in a bad mood -- and I 100% agree!

When you get into the fight of dentistry for the health of your patients, it is a noble cause because you could very well be saving someone's life. Yes, you read that correctly. The services you provide in dentistry literally can help prevent heart attacks and strokes, reduce glucose levels for better diabetic hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) control, and treat infections that could travel even into your patient's brain, which could shut down organs by turning septic.

Running away and or quitting the fight (dentistry) does not make you a hero. You need to fall back in love with the fight! You will never hear that someone was a hero because they quit or never got into the fight.


A hero is admired for courage. Think of the definition of hero above. The first thought that comes to my mind is of hygienists or assistants. They are the first clinicians who are "under fire" by the dental patient, and they take or field many blows (not physical, but verbal).

These heroes do diagnostics, take images (x-rays and intraoral photos), ask questions that will help the oral physician in the diagnosis, and, believe it or not, one or all of these can agitate the patient. They respond to this behavior with grace and humility, and most offices will never know the abuse they endure.

I idolize these team members because I have heard how they buffer the frustrations of our patients. They pull out their capes every day and, rather than dwelling on yesterday, look to make the day ahead the absolute best it can be for all they meet at the practice. They are like Superman in my book.

In it for the patients

A hero has outstanding achievements. Our doctors are heroes because they are continually looking for ways to make treatment easier for their patients, learning better interdisciplinary treatment techniques, and advancing understanding of how medical conditions affect the oral cavity.

Doctors, do not leave the fight! Remember the pregnant pause? When you have a new patient or returning patient in the chair, try not to rush through the appointment. Quit asking yes or no questions and have your patient describe what is going on, then pause. More important, be in the moment and listen to truly hear and understand. Pause and ask how what is going on has affected patients in their home life.

By the way, I have never seen a bad review by a patient saying the doctor took too much time caring about what was going on and how it was affecting him or her.

Noble qualities

A hero has noble qualities. To all my fellow administrative team members, you wear so many hats during any given day, it's a wonder how you juggle the complexity of the office. As you are in the trenches with the patients, you are dealing with their frustrations, validating their feelings, calming fears, drying tears, and the list goes on and on. You are the first impression of the doctor and practice and they may even decide to stay there because of you.

When I say noble qualities, remember your administrative team members. While I believe the entire office is made up of heroes, it is time we dust off our capes and show it.

Sometimes in admin, we are not OK with being yelled at over the phone, and I think you would admit it would rattle anyone. I will admit that I have excused myself to the bathroom to cry. It would have been nice to have a team member straighten out my cape and say, "Laurie, you are not OK. Tell me about it."

My husband is in the Army and, while he does not like to boast of his achievements, military members are given ribbons for those accomplishments. When they wear their dress uniform, the ribbons are all on the left side (closest to their heart) as badges of honor. You will see some soldiers have a few and others have many, depending upon what they have done in the fight.

We should have dentistry heroes. I have many, but two particularly important ones that keep me in love with being in the dental field are consultants Linda Miles and Geri Gottlieb.

Linda Miles tells the absolute best stories of working in dentistry -- I could listen all day and still want more. What you may not know is that when she tells a story, she is trying to teach you something, be it ever so subliminally.

Geri Gottlieb thrives on developing the person on the team. Did you know that she was a ballerina and in musical theatre? She brought that talent for developing characters to dentistry. When she speaks, you hear her heart, and I always feel like I can take on the world.

Be a hero to your fellow team members, dust off that cape, and always remember, "ta-da!"

Laurie Owens is a certified professional coder (CPC) and certified professional biller (CPB) and the director of medical billing education for Devdent. She brings 18 years of experience in educating dental practices on billing medical insurance for dentistry and the techniques to get claims paid.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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