Right away I knew what I wanted to observe. I wanted to observe a place with professionals dressed in scrubs, with gloves covering their bare hands, and a facemask covering their mouths and nose. A place where the professionals hold onto small tools and examine one of the smallest areas on a human's body (see figure 1 in appendix). A place where humans, like you and I, can actually make a difference in the world. This place is known as the dentist; a place that provides dental care for people in the community. The dentist gives me a sense of happiness; I am interested in pursuing a career in the dental field, which is why I am so passionate about this topic. Every time someone discusses dentistry, my heart feels at home.
The way the dental professionals interacted and behaved with the patients allowed me to identify my research question; how does a patient influence/impact the dental professionals in my community? After coming up with my research question, I developed a working problem statement: Many patients with different personalities often come into the dentist, which can be hectic for the dental professionals. However, the dental professionals still uphold a respectful, sweet, and comforting manner. A patient can affect a dental professionals entire day, which means it can either be good, bad, or in between.
The Waiting Room
If there was one word others describe me as, it would be described in 3 letters; shy. If a single person talks to me that I do not know, my face flushes red. I can feel the burn run through my face. I panic and begin to forget everything that comes to mind. I was worried this would happen as I was approaching Crescent Dental Care, in Westland, Michigan, for my first observation. I saw the red and white sign. Written on it was "Crescent Medical & Dental", with their office number right below it (see photo below); this was it. It was time to begin my journey within the dentist. As I was taking baby steps, I got closer to the dental office. There were two doors, one on the right side of the building and one straight ahead. Where was I supposed to enter through? "Oh, right, the one straight ahead." I thought to myself. My hand went for the door handle; I took a deep breath, and then slowly opened the front door.
Immediately, as I walked in, there was a desk. I was greeted by a light skinned woman in a scarf wrapped around her head, also known as hijab in the religion of Islam. She was the receptionist. She smiled at me, "If you could just sign in here and take a seat, that would be wonderful!" Oh god, I thought. She thinks I'm a patient. I felt the burn on my face begin; I began to turn red. "I'm not here for an appointment," I said shyly, "I actually called about a week ago, I'm here for an English assignment." Her eyes lit up, "Oh! I'm so sorry, dear! You're Yasmina! Yes, we were expecting you today. Feel free to look around!" she said while using hand gestures. I was beyond embarrassed. I was also shocked she remembered my name off the top of her head. I thanked her and walked away feeling relieved. I decided to sit in the waiting room anyhow. As I sat, I thought about how respectful, smiley, and sweet she was to me. I also thought about how embarrassing it was to have to explain such a thing. I felt like such an outcast, like I didn't belong here.
I looked around. To the left of the receptionist desk stood a table adjacent to four chairs. I didn't realize what this table was there for until I noticed three children coloring in coloring books with crayons; the table had been set up for children to color and enjoy themselves. This reminded me of when I was younger and used to color with my siblings on what we called a coloring table. To the right of the receptionist desk was where I was sitting; this is where the waiting room lies. As I was sitting there, the room felt spacious, comfortable, and I noticed that it allowed people to move freely without the worry of getting in somebody's way.
There were many brown leather seats, a table with magazines for patients to look at, games for children, a water cooler, and a flat screen TV for the patients to watch whatever they please. It hit me. The waiting room was intentionally set up this way. It was set up this way to comfort the patients and make them feel at home. I can honestly say, I instantly felt this way. Something about the atmosphere made me feel safe. I noticed a door inside of the waiting room that lead to the operatories. I paid close attention to this door. There was something about it that drew me in. I watched how the door stayed shut most of the time, how it is only opened for two reasons; when the patients are walking in or out from getting examined, and when the dental professionals are walking in or out to interact with their patients or coworkers.
Meet the Professionals
Each Saturday I would walk in, greet the receptionist, whose name I later figured out was Sally, and then go straight to the waiting room. I would see different patients each time, which lead me to realizing my focus was not to be put on them due to the fact that they were changing each visit; my focus was to be put on the dental professionals. The dental assistant, Katie, walked into the waiting room through the door that leads to the operatories in the back. Katie called a patient into the back with a file in hand, "Abdul," A tan man and his son stood up and walked towards the dental assistant. "Hey Abdul! You and daddy will be heading to the purple room," Katie said with enthusiasm. She was talking to the young boy. He seemed quite tense, but the sweetness of the dental assistant seemed to have calmed him down. A purple room? I wanted to go behind the walls. I wanted to see what an insider sees. I didn't want to be an outcast; I wanted to understand how the professionals acted with their patients. I wanted to know how the patients influence the professionals' actions and behavior. I wanted to see it with my own two eyes. It wasn't until my third time being in the site that I realized I was so interested in being behind the scenes.
A girl that looked to be about the age of 19 walked inside the office, "Can you imagine what she will do when she gets her braces off?" Sally said about the girl, smiling. The teenager had braces. "She'll be smiling every second. When she's mad, she'll still be smiling, like this!" Sally spread her mouth really wide and showed her pearly whites. She and the 19-year-old girl chuckled. I laughed as well. I admired her sense of humor and how she could uphold a professional, yet casual manner at the same time. I imagined that the patients must love her company.
When the teenage girl was called, I figured out her name was Ally. I went behind the walls with her. Today was the day I was going to observe the dentist examining a patient for the first time. My heart was racing, I was shy to intrude, but I was also so excited to be there for the entire procedure. I took a peek around the back before going to the assigned operatory with Ally. I saw that there were four operatory rooms. Each room was painted a different color. There was a pink room, a blue room, a yellow room, and a purple room; the chairs in the rooms were the same color as the walls (see photo above and figure 2 in appendix). There were no doors in any of the operatories. I thought this was quite odd. Why wouldn't there be doors? I later realized how convenient it was, door-less operatories made it easy to get from place to place. It struck me when I realized that the operatories are color coded to make things simple for both the professionals, along with the patients. I kept on noticing this same pattern of care for the patients; how they based everything they did off of what benefited their patients. Why was it that these professionals genuinely cared for their patients?
I walked to the yellow room, where I found Ally sitting in the chair with her mouth wide open. Beside her was a woman in a white coat examining her teeth with a mouth mirror. On the left side of her coat read "Dr. Ali". The mouth mirror she had within her hands is a very important artifact within the dental community because of the fact that it is needed for every single patient in order for the dental professionals to see inside the mouth. On the other side of the chair that Ally was seated in, was the dental assistant, Katie. I could tell Katie was very focused on helping Dr. Ali. I noticed how important her role as a dental assistant is. Like Cathy J. Roberts says in her magazine article, "The Professional Dental Assistant", "A professional dental assistant is someone who continues to learn and grow in their position" (Roberts 1). Roberts is trying to tell us that dental professionals take on a role that expects them to do better; to expand on what they already know. Katie was so focused and I could tell that she wanted to expand her knowledge on how to help people to the best of her ability. This desire, to find the best ways to treat the patients, was contagious amongst the dental professionals. The many patients they encounter enable them to broaden their horizons in terms of handling patients, because every one has a different personality and background.
As the dentist, Dr. Ali, worked on Ally, I paid close attention. "Let's see what we have for you," she said as she began examining each and every tooth with the assistance of her mouth mirror, "They look pretty good! They look good Ally! We'll make a plastic retainer for you and will get you a Hawley as well." At first I didn't understand what a Hawley was, I was confused. They had a strange insider language that I wanted to know about. However, I didn't even have to ask, because Dr. Ali explained what it was anyhow for the sake of her patient. "Katie, I'm going to have you take her molds for both the plastic retainer and the metal retainer," Dr. Ali looked at Ally, "the Hawley." She said, letting her patient know what she meant. I was fortunate enough to watch the whole procedure of Dr. Ali removing Ally's braces.
As I observed Dr. Ali, I realized how genuinely caring she was. How she was so compassionate in what she was doing. How focused and cautious she was while examining Ally. This reminded me of research I did on the way dentists behave. Within her journal, "Dentists' Professional Behavioral Characteristics", Janine Brooks says that the National Clinic Assessment Service (NCAS) did a pilot study on 100 volunteer dentists, and even though they needed a larger amount of volunteers in order for the results to be accurate, they found that the dentists who participated in the study "tended to be more positive and collaborative and more compassionate than most people" (Brooks 1). Brooks stated that these professionals were found to be positive and loving. However, as she said, NCAS needed more volunteers in order to have valid results. I do not believe that all dentists are compassionate and positive, mainly because everyone is different. However, Dr. Ali fell into the category Janine had mentioned because of her passion towards dentistry and care for her patients. After witnessing how Dr. Ali had handled Ally, I knew that Dr. Ali was a compassionate dentist. The way she got the job done was amazing. She would laugh and joke with Ally. I thought it was incredible that she could still be professional but also be casual, just like the receptionist. It seemed to me this played a major role for patient comfort. I also thought it was important that she had a personal connection with her patients because this also gave them a sense of comfort. The one on one talk made it easier for them to connect with each other and smile more. It really showed me how caring this dental place was. I saw the same pattern with the dental hygienists, Nava and Marcy. They, too, were also very caring toward their patients.
Interviewing Dr. Ali
I was nervous for this day to come. It was a Sunday morning; interview day. As always, I was quite shy. We decided to meet at Panera Bread in Canton. I walked in a bit earlier than scheduled so that I didn't have her waiting. It was my job to be professional. A woman in dressy jeans and a pink top walked inside Panera Bread; it was Dr. Ali. I didn't notice her at first because I was so used to seeing her in the white coat. My heart started to race because I began to get shy. I wasn't so much worried of asking her the questions I needed to ask her; I was just worried about starting everything off. I stood up and shook her hand. She smiled.
"Good morning, how are you?" I asked her with a smile on my face.
I'm doing just fine, how are you?" She responded. We got right into it.
What are the best things about your career and why?" I asked her, worried if I sounded weird. She didn't even have to think before responding.
One of the reasons I chose dentistry is because I think it's very rewarding for patients and for the doctor. We get to improve patients. We either get them out of pain when they're in pain or we improve their overall cosmetic smile, and again, it's rewarding for the both of us." She talked with emphasis on certain points and really showed me that she cares about helping the patients.
I was curious to what would stop her from caring for the patients. Would she ever stop caring? What was it that made her want to help these people out? What if they were stubborn? I continued on by asking her the other side of the question asked earlier, I really thought it would be interesting to know what the difficult things about her career were. When I asked her, she thought for a moment. Her voice got lower.
"The most difficult things about my career are basically, I would say, um, sometimes you cannot please everybody. Majority of patients, you can satisfy, but there is always that one patient that you go out of your way for, and no matter what, you just can't please them. And that's kind of disturbing and upsetting, but you go on." The conversation felt deep.
At this very moment I felt like an insider. I felt like she was telling me her deepest secret, even though it wasn't much of a secret at all. She began to elaborate on how she really tries her best and goes out of her way for patients, although, not all patients will be satisfied and you psychologically have to understand that and move on. What I took out from this was that she truly cares about her patients, even the ones who are stubborn and mean. She wants the best for them, she wants them to be healthy and obtain great oral hygiene because she truly cares for them as if they were her own. I could see it in the way she talked. She talked with compassion. I heard it in her voice. I loved the struggle she would put herself through for her patients, even if they would mistreat her with their behavior. Even if they don't appreciate how much she does for them, she still keeps trying and goes out of her way for them. She began telling me how important it is to have a good relationship with your staff. I learned that if you don't have teamwork, then you aren't going to be able to be successful, you're not going to be able to do well and patients are not going to be happy. It's all about teamwork in a dental office. Teamwork. Teamwork. Teamwork.
"How have you grown since you came into dentistry?" I asked politely.
It helps you develop a lot of confidence," she said, "It helps you become more compassionate because patients become very personable with their dentist and they tend to tell you their whole life story, and, um, I find that there are a lot of patients that have a lot of issues and you sometimes have to be that listening ear for those patients."
This part reminded me of when her and Ally were laughing together on a personal level. She continued on, "So you definitely become more compassionate, more confident in being able to fulfill people's dreams and desires with their teeth because they say, 'if you don't have your teeth, then you don't have any self confidence'." Dr. Ali believes that dentistry gave her a sense of confidence in her work, as well as a sense of compassion for it. She constantly wants to help people for their sake. She does things to benefit them because she truly cares.
She showed me that being a professional in the dental field is about being honest to your patients and to yourself. Roger Levin says, in his magazine article "Can Dentists Be Leaders?", leadership is about truth; truth to self, truth to your staff, and truth to your patients (Levin 3). Levin is stressing that in order to be a leader in the dental field, you have to be truthful to everyone, including yourself. You can't hide things and can't do things for your own satisfactory. This relates to Dr. Ali and the staff she works with because honesty plays a huge role in their community for the sake of their patients. Due to the fact that they are honest and loving toward their patients, they also gain leadership skills.
The Care Givers
As I have been trying to figure out what influences or impacts do the patients have on the professionals, I've realized it has been lying right in front of my face all along. From what I have observed, the dental professionals in my community all genuinely care for their patients. I find this to be something special; to have an entire staff actually care for people, like you and I, is something so rare. Since these people care for their patients, they will do anything to please them. The patients unintentionally influence the dental professional's decisions on everything that goes on. The thing that stood out to me the most is how the patients' behaviors will not signal the dental professionals to give up; it will only signal them to try harder, to keep pushing.
So, how does a patient influence/impact the dental professionals in my community? The patients' impact them in a way that makes them want to try harder. They unintentionally influence them to make their environment comfortable, safe, and fun. They have such a strong impact on the professionals because without their presence, they would not gain the skills they need in order to do get the job done. It is the professional's duty to please them. The patients influence them by being themselves; believe it or not, grumpy, stubborn, and mean patients only make them stronger. They make them want to work harder for the sake of the patient. All of this left me with questions I would like answered some day; why do the professionals in my community never give up on their patients? Are professionals in other communities the same way? How does the professionals' behavior impact the patients? There was one word I stated earlier that described me, but if there was one word to describe the members of Crescent Dental Care, it would be described in 10 letters; determined.
Figure 1: small tools within blue wrapper ready to be used.
Figure 2: Pink operatory.
Works CitedAli, Nehal. Personal Interview. 27 Oct. 2013.
Brooks, Janine. "Dentists' Professional Behavioral Characteristics". British Dental Journal. 1. 9 Jan. 2010. 1. ProQuest Business Collection. Web. 9 Nov. 2013.
Kevin, Roger. "Can Dentists be Leaders?" Dental Economics. 10. Oct. 2005. 24-30. ProQuest Business Collection. Web. 9 Nov. 2013.
Roberts, Kathy J. "The Professional Dental Assistant". Dental Economics. Mar. 2007. 1-46. ProQuest Business Collection. Web. 9 Nov. 2013.
Return to the table of contents for 3.2 First-year Writing Open Issue