by Colene W. House, RDH
In a dental practice, dentists and staff members work together in close quarters, with a few exceptions. Therefore, the importance of everyone developing a good working relationship is paramount. Many things contribute to how everyone gets along, including different personalities, emotions, hormonal fluctuations, home responsibilities, and other outside stresses. The successful melding of personalities takes a lot of work and dedication. Is this an easy task for our employers? I think not. For that matter, it’s not easy for employees. Getting along is difficult and needs constant nurturing, guidance, and tending.
Years ago, when my two kids were young, work was a haven for me, a place where I could be anything but “MOM!” It was a place where I could concentrate on the well-being of others. My co-workers, boss, and patients were actually my life preservers ... people who depended on me to do my job well, who still liked me even when I burned the bottom of the rolls ... every night. But that’s a different story. When I began at this practice in 1989, my boss, Dr. Ken Hornowski, was constantly taking us to seminars to fine-tune our team. We went to seminars about how to match patients’ speech patterns, soft-tissue management; I could go on and on. I have often said that working for Dr. Hornowski was like being sent to a finishing school!
One seminar required us to prepare a poster that represented our practice. We needed to have a motto, a symbol, or a picture to depict how we functioned together, or perhaps a goal we wanted to achieve. So, in all of his great ability to delegate, my boss said to me, “Go ahead, Colene, do something! You always have good ideas!” “Right,” I gulped, as Barb, Kelly, Jody, Kathy, and Linda looked at me with relief. I felt like a kid in class again who took the only seat available ... on the front row! There was no place to hide.
So I went home, fed my family (burned rolls included), and headed to the ball field for my son’s baseball practice. With my husband as coach, me as the team mom, and my daughter as the eternal cheerleader, the East Asheville ball field was our home-away-from-home. I sat on the bleachers, head in hand in the classic “thinker” pose, as I mulled over what on earth I could do to represent our up-and-coming practice. Dr. Hornowski was a perfectionist through and through, never settling for anything less than what he considered to be the absolute best. I was momentarily pulled out of my reverie to watch my husband coach the 10-year-old boys. He was strict but supportive, regimented, and organized as he taught the kids how to play baseball, kind of like my boss at work. He found the strength of each boy and developed it for a different position on the team, kind of like my boss did with each of us at work. Hmmmm. My husband taught the boys to work together to play baseball as a team. Each one was assigned to “back up the throw” for another team member. Each one knew his job, and each one knew who would be there to help make the play.
So when my husband called all the boys together at the end of practice to give his traditional “talk,” he looked each one in the eyes and asked, “Does anyone know what the letters in TEAM stand for?” The little boys, eyes bright and feeling confident from a great practice, looked a bit stumped. They looked from one to another. Even my son didn’t know the answer that his dad/coach wanted. My husband smiled and said, “together everyone achieves more,” pointing to each proud little boy as he recited the mantra. He repeated it as the boys took up the chant, then they stacked hands and yelled Tigers! at the top of their lungs.
Epiphany! I knew what I had to do. The task I had received was a simple one after all! When I got home, I made a rough sketch of my vision. The next morning when I got to the office, I had everyone stack hands, with Dr. Hornowski’s on the bottom, and I drew my idea.
Dr. Hornowski was our “coach” and mentor. Kathy and Linda were one of the most dynamic assistant teams I have ever known. Barb and I had each other’s backs throughout the day so that X-rays were always developed and mounted. The lab was always in order, and with rare exceptions we were never behind schedule. In my eyes, when a team works together in sync, it is a thing of beauty. Patients appreciated our efforts to keep the schedule flowing smoothly, and no one went home without his or her needs being addressed. Did we work hard? You bet! Did we learn good time-management skills? Oh, yeah. Was it worth it? Without a doubt.
A small, oval poster with “together everyone achieves more” still hangs in our office lounge. It has been moved from one place to another as our office has grown. We’ve grown from five operatories to 11, from two hygienists to four, and from one dentist to three, then back to two after Dr. Hornowski had to give up clinical dentistry. He still remains our mentor. The torch has been passed to Dr. Tim Gillespie, who continues to form his team. We’ve gone on treasure hunts, tackled rope courses, had picnics, and had our own “assault on Craggy Pinnacle.” We have also been compared to a bottle of fine wine. Dr. Gillespie explained that as grapes absorb the “terroir” of the land, so have we absorbed the experiences we are a part of. These things make us what we are – empowered women who are proud to be part of this marvelous team. It’s the team that makes it all work, and everyone benefits – from patients to co-workers to family. Why? Because it feels good when things work well and we know we have been an integral part of making it all possible. Always remember that together everyone achieves more.
Colene W. House, RDH, is a 1971 graduate of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C. She has spent the majority of her time in clinical dentistry, and has helped design soft-tissue management programs for the offices where she has worked. Being actively involved with the Eblen Foundation Sealant Program, Colene helps to provide free sealants for first- and second-grade children from schools throughout the county in the dental clinic at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. After 36 years in dentistry, Colene now pursues her love of writing. She may be contacted at [email protected].