5 ways to make your dental assistants feel valued

Renee McNally, CDA, RDA, is a dental assistant and clinic supervisor. With nearly 15 years of dental assisting experience and extensive expertise in dental infection control, McNally was in a unique employment situation four years ago. She relocated across the country when her spouse experienced a job change. McNally was hired at a dental practice as a dental assistant. While her employer was aware of her infection control expertise prior to hiring her, it is not why she was hired. Six months later, COVID-19 hit. 

Renee McNally, CDARenee McNally, CDA.

"There was this big scramble to open back up and meet updated infection control guidelines," shared McNally. "I was well versed in knowing where to get the correct information, how to interpret the guidelines, and ensure that we were ready to reopen. It allowed me to show a side of my profession that has typically been in the shadows. Dental assistants are responsible for so much of the dental practice's infection prevention and control.” She was able to hit the ground running and demonstrate how a critical knowledge of infection control is to day-to-day dental practice operations. 

McNally's expertise was valued, and she advanced into a dental assisting role with supervisory responsibilities within the dental practice.

"The knowledge and passion I had for infection control allowed my office to see my other strengths, including administrative skills, and attention to detail and organization," McNally said. She is committed to her employer because she feels valued and has both strengthened and expanded her skills in a meaningful way through career growth. 

Here are McNally’s strategies for empowering and engaging dental assistants in long, rewarding careers.

Build a culture of respect and trust

McNally's employer trusts that when something needs to get done, she will get it done and do a thorough job. While trust takes time to build, showing mutual respect by asking assistants for their feedback when issues need to be addressed in the practice or clinic helps establish and grow that trust. This also allows an employer to identify the skills and interests of their team members. 

Provide opportunities for career growth

Early in McNally's career, she was provided the opportunity to learn more about infection control and compliance through education and certification. She is now consulted on changes in infection control to ensure that her dental practice is following proper guidelines and has supervisory responsibilities added to her dental assisting role. 

Live your values

McNally's employer is family-oriented. She is not shamed for needing to take a sick day to care for her children or if she must come in late or leave early for family commitment. The dentist is willing to jump in as needed and will bring a patient back from the waiting room, assist with basic cleaning, and more to ensure team members are able to have the flexibility to meet familial responsibilities.

Show appreciation

McNally's employer regularly shows appreciation for team members. "They've taken us on office trips, gotten our cars detailed, greeted us at the door with flowers, and even hired a barista to make us a morning pick-me-up," reported McNally. "He's very intentional about how he shows appreciation and that means a lot."

Pay a fair and living wage

"Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't say it: Being paid a fair wage that shows my value in the office is important," McNally said. "For dental assistants to stay in a career they are passionate about, they must be able to provide for themselves and their families. Mutual respect can only go so far. I have met many dental assistants that go on to hygiene school or leave the profession altogether because dental assisting does not provide a living wage. Dentists trust us as the first and last touch to their patients, so it makes sense that trust translates to fair and livable as well."

Dental Assistants Recognition Week (DARW) kicked off on March 3 and is the perfect time to celebrate and learn from team members who are committed to a long and rewarding career as a dental assistant. This article is the second in a series celebrating dental assistants who have built long, rewarding careers in the profession.

Jen Hawley Price, MAS, MS is the chief partnership and engagement officer at the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) and the DALE Foundation. She oversees the design, implementation, and management of DALE Foundation educational products and supports key strategic initiatives, including collaborative work with key partners in the dental industry. Learn more at www.danb.org.

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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