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Servant Leadership in Dental Assisting.

Earlier this summer, I received notification that a new issue of one of my favorite Dental Assisting podcasts was available. Once I saw that the person being interviewed was new ADAA President Robynn Rixse, I was determined to listen in. I had been in recent email conversations with her regarding an unrelated issue, but we had not yet spoken in person. Part of the way through the interview, she said something that caused me to pause and smile; she said, "I believe very much in the idea of servant leadership." Servant Leadership has been one of my guiding life principles for decades, and it was uplifting to hear these words spoken by someone whose opinion I respected as much as I respect Robynn's. So, I decided to contact her and let her know how much this statement, and this idea meant to me.

While the concept of Servant Leadership has been around for millennia, it was the much more recent works of fellow Hoosier Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970s in which most who follow this practice today referred to as the beginning of the modern movement. On the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership website, a servant leader is defined as a person who "focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. The servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible." ( Knowing that the ADAA is under the direction of someone who also is a servant leader should be uplifting to all of us--both ADAA members and non-members.

How can we as dental assistants put these concepts of Servant Leadership into practice within the various spheres of influence in which we operate? What would it look like to us, both personally as well as professionally, if we aspired to not only put others first, but to work together with them to focus on the growth of our various communities? If we were to truly focus on the development and growth of those with whom we come into contact as dental assistants, what impact would that make on our relationships with them?

Servant Leadership in Relationship to our Patients:

Let's be honest, we probably spend more time with our patients than almost anyone else in the office. In my years of chairside dentistry, I came to realize that we are truly in our position to serve those in our dental chairs. I had an unsurpassed opportunity to spend 10 years in a practice that cared for over 1,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). There were many days it was not as easy to take on the role of servant with some of our patients and their family members and/or caregivers. The unique challenges that I encountered in our special needs clinic forced me to be constantly aware that dental care for patients with IDD required a group effort on behalf of the dental staff, the patient, as well as those who assisted with oral hygiene on a daily basis. The greatest success that I had, and the most fulfilled I was in this practice, was when a patient came back and I saw that their lifelong hygiene habits had slowly begun to change for the better as they had started to take better care of their teeth. How does my unique situation translate to the greater neurotypical population of patients that the vast majority of dental assistants see on a daily basis? Let me suggest when you--as a dental assistant--begin to see your patients as someone to be lifted up and encouraged towards optimal health, you are better equipped to empathize with them. Once a patient acknowledges that you are truly concerned for their health, they will likely be inclined to improve their oral hygiene habits and do more for themselves. When they feel that they have become part of the team with the goal being their healthy dentition, and their success is your goal, they will be more encouraged to do their best to be a part of the program.

Servant Leadership in Relationship to Other Dental Assistants:

Another relationship that we have an opportunity to be a part of is with our fellow dental assistants. Once again, in my decade of service providing services to individuals with IDD, I had an opportunity to work alongside several amazingly talented and knowledgeable dental assistants. Perhaps even more than in a general dental office, we depended on each other multiple times every day. Due to multiple impromptu circumstances, unexpected treatment plan changes, or cases which took longer than expected (we were also a dental school rotation site), there were plenty of opportunities to serve one another for the greater good of the patients and the team. Servant leadership was most evidenced when new assistants were onboarded--not only in bringing them up to speed on the ins and outs of the office due to the patient population, but also in guiding them in the proper office procedures and protocols. Once we see ourselves as part of a team, and once the goal of the entire team of assistants is oriented to the idea of service to others, we push each other towards excellence. This is most likely to happen when we are aware of each other and of the changing situations that we encounter on a daily basis.

Servant Leadership in Relationship to Our Office Colleagues:

As much as dental assistants like to be a part of the chairside team, we also must realize and be aware that we are part of the greater team of the office where we serve. Again, harking back to my personal situation, what began as a dental only clinic expanded, after several years, to a much larger, interdisciplinary practice. We served our patients with IDD in various ways, including medical, psychological, behavior management, specialty medicine, and therapeutic services available to them, all under one roof. All branches of the clinic worked as a team to the greater good of the patient. I understand that this model was the exception and not the rule; however, this philosophy and approach can also transfer to a neuro-typical dental only office setting in which most dental assistants find themselves. The different areas of our offices (front desk/scheduling, billing, management, clinical, etc.) each have a different role to play on the team. Once we see that all areas are equally vital to the functioning of the team, we can then begin to visualize and focus on the big picture of servanthood in moving towards our ultimate goal --providing the best possible service to our patients in a way which creates the maximum effectiveness of each area in the office, while keeping office overhead and costs to a minimum acceptable level to provide this service. The servant leadership model has, as one of its core tenets, the idea of conceptualization, which happens when the entire office team keeps their focus on the larger picture while also being mindfully aware of the day-to-day realities of running the business of a dental practice. This happens best when each area of the office works in harmony with each other.

Servant Leadership in Relationship to the ADAA:

One last area I want to address is how we as dental assistants can put this idea of servant leadership into practice in relationship with the American Dental Assistants Association. Returning to the initial thoughts which inspired this article, namely the discussions I've had with Robynn Rixse, her willingness to model the idea of servant leadership shows us that this mindset is a new way of thinking moving from the national level down to the chairside practice. In order for us all to be successful in whatever situation we find ourselves, we must be willing to serve each other for the betterment of the profession. On the ADAA home page, you'll find that a part of its mission is to "advance the careers of dental assistants" and to "promote the ideals and growth of the Association" in order to ensure that we are able to deliver the best possible oral health care to those whom we serve on a daily basis. What better way to accomplish this goal than to strive for the personal and professional growth of each dental assistant? Once we realize that one of our purposes is to serve our patients, our fellow dental assistants, and our greater dental communities, we must push ourselves to be the best person--and dental assistant--that we can. One way to grow is to take advantage of the continuing education opportunities that are provided by the ADAA, or even to volunteer to serve on one of the ADAA National Councils or Committees.

Let me close with a motivation for each of you. Most people have a desire to be great in some area. I will challenge you that, if you truly want to be a great dental assistant, you must begin by learning how to be a great servant to those around you. By striving to lift others up and create an atmosphere where each individual has the chance to excel. By doing this, the profession of dental assisting will flourish, and together we will be able to realize extraordinary accomplishments.

By Darrin R. Wan, CDA, EDDA

Darrin R. Wan, CDA, EDDA, is the Dental Assisting Program Chair at the Ivy Tech Community College, Southern Indiana campus, located in Sellersburg, Indiana. Prior to entering academia he served 10 years as a Dental Assistant at the Lee Specialty Clinic in Louisville, Kentucky.
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Author:Wan, Darrin R.
Publication:The Dental Assistant
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2019
Previous Article:Intention Versus Perception: Narrowing the Gap.
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