Stress level is off the charts

Oct. 1, 1998
Case Profile: Tulsa is home to this 10-year-old general practice. But June isn`t the only thing that`s bustin` out all over in this little corner of Oklahoma.

Sally McKenzie, CMC

Case Profile: Tulsa is home to this 10-year-old general practice. But June isn`t the only thing that`s bustin` out all over in this little corner of Oklahoma.

Symptoms: The doctor`s stress level has just bolted off the charts ... endless showdowns with his receptionist are putting the kibosh on staff performance and practice harmony.

Observations: Though the doctor is a mild-mannered, straight-shooter at heart, his receptionist - Cattle Kate - doesn`t stop provoking him till they end up in a hissing contest. Having witnessed what she believed to be some serious management blunders on the doctor`s part when she joined the practice two years ago, she began challenging his authority back then and has since commandeered a position of leadership. Other staff members - infected by Kate`s negative attitude toward the doctor - are preoccupied with practice perks, but indifferent to their own job performance. Intent on retaining some semblance of control, the doctor cut last year`s Christmas bonus in half without any warning.

Discussion: Here`s the long and short of this nasty power struggle. Cattle Kate has been working in dentistry for 20 years, and still is making less than $8.50 per hour. No wonder she balks every time she talks! But there`s more to her story. Married for only a few years back in the `70s, hubby left her after she put him through vet school. She has no family to speak of, no one she can really call a friend, and is miserable about having a weight problem to boot. After what her husband did to her, she may have an aversion to most men. Although she resents her boss and isn`t thrilled with her job, she admittedly stays on because the staff is the only support system she has. Now enter Dr. Cant Win. With about as much backbone as a jellyfish, the doctor allows himself to be bullied about by Cattle Kate. Afraid that she`ll veto any idea he might bring up in staff meetings ... and that staff would side with her, he takes a back seat and keeps a low profile. While this stance reinforces his ineffectiveness, it also underscores the need for someone to take hold of the reins.

Treatment Plan: Terminating Cattle Kate was to be the first order of business, but it absolutely had to go hand-in-hand with the doctor immediately assuming the leadership role. Additionally, the practice could not afford any lag time in implementing accountability performance measures for staff, as detailed in my Performance Measurements for the Dental Team [available by calling (800) 288-1877]. Job descriptions would need to be explicit, and training would have to be provided wherever necessary.

End note: A new receptionist was hired and professionally trained by us; accountability became an integral part of the staff mindset and work ethic. Having grabbed the reins, the doctor is holding on tight and hasn`t quit talking about how job satisfaction has taken the place of stress. What a relief! This little corner of Tulsa is now really OK.

Sally McKenzie is president and chief operating officer of Dental Partners, Inc., a full-service, in-office dental management and practice-acquisition company. She continues to serve as president of McKenzie Management, a division of Dental Partners, Inc. She can be reached at (800) 288-1877; e-mail [email protected]; or visit her web site at

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