I Don’t Meet Strangers at the Dental Office, I Meet People

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A patient once told me that she did not meet strangers, she meets people. Her wise words resonated with me deeply and I utilize her perspective in my daily work and life. When meeting new patients, it is essential to build rapport during their initial visit.

I’ve developed a system of three key factors to remember:

  1. Be intentional
  2. Be sincere
  3. Be open-minded

Use these simple keys to meet people, not strangers, and you will be amazed by the diversity of people you will have the privilege to meet.

I happened to be at the front desk when my next patient arrived. I had only seen the patient once before. When he checked in, he said, “Hi Valerie,” I said, “great memory,” he laughed and said, “I have a cheat sheet.”  He went on to tell me he makes notes in his phone of names of people. He didn’t have to tell me about his cheat sheet, but it reminded me to be intentional in remembering names and interesting things about patients.

In the chart notes, we have a “cheat sheet” to write down information about the patient. It often includes if they are married, if they have kids, animals, and what type of work they do. I include interesting facts, like if they served in the military. With the kids, I make notes about what grade they are in and what extracurricular activities they love. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions; people generally like to talk about themselves.

You never know who will walk through your door and sit in your chair each day. I met a patient who disarmed a bomb from Martin Luther King Jr.’s front porch. I have a patient who was key in the genetic mapping for Huntington’s disease. I served a 96 -year old patient who went back to school at 70 to be an art teacher. She was able to teach for ten years before she lost her sight. Another one of my patients is a marathon runner who is about to break a Guinness world record. These are just of the few amazing people I have the honor of meeting and building relationships with on a daily basis

Being sincere when you are getting to know someone is key. 

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sincerity as, “The quality or state of being sincere: honesty of mind: freedom from hypocrisy.” When first getting comfortable talking to new people, we begin by introducing ourselves. Ask them how they heard about your office. Make a note if a current patient referred the new patient so that you can send a thank you note. In our office, we spend the first ten to twenty minutes of the initial appointment getting to know the patient. Are you new to the area? How do you like it so far? Married? Kids?

Consistency in patient care allows you to see the same patients every recall so you can build relationships. I love celebrating births, graduations, and weddings. I cry with patients that have lost loved ones or are dealing with a grave diagnosis for himself or herself or a family member.

Send handwritten cards of congratulations, thank you and or sympathy. People know when you care. Patients will ask about my kids and my family; I try to keep updated pictures of my family in the operatory. I introduce my family to each patient.

Being open-minded when meeting new people is essential to building relationships.

Living in Huntsville, Alabama most of my life has afforded me a beautiful diversity of people to meet. Huntsville, Alabama is known as the Rocket City and is also home to the Redstone Arsenal. As a tech and military hub, Huntsville attracts people from all over the world. I have served patients from Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Germany, Mexico, Africa, and U.A.E. I love learning about different cultures, foods, and families.

Patients often have many dental offices to choose from. We have one chance to make a good impression. Make a point in everyday life to meet people, not strangers, having this mindset is amazing in your attempt to meet new people. Further, being intentional, sincere, and open-minded is key in building relationships with patients.

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Valerie McClure, RDH, BS, MBA
Valerie McClure, RDH, BS, MBA, is a Dental Hygienist from Huntsville, Alabama, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She has served in the dental industry for 22 years. In 2005, Valerie graduated from Alabama Dental Hygiene Program. That same year, she earned a Bachelors of Science in Biology/Chemistry from Athens State University. In 2011, she graduated from Ashford University with a Master’s in Business Administration, with a specialty in Health Care Administration. Valerie served as a Dental Assistant/Front office assistant for the first ten years of her career as she worked her way through college. Over the last 12 years, she has worked as a dental hygienist for a private practice in Madison, Alabama. Currently, Valerie holds the position of Radiation Officer and OSHA Officer at her office. She is passionate about oral pathology, OSHA, and patient relations. Valerie is active in her community, serving on the Executive PTA Board for her children's school as Vice President of Ways and Means. This position allows her to utilize her training in event planning, fundraising, and grant writing. Valerie is also the Director of Children’s Ministry for ages 0-5 at her church, where she organizes, trains, and schedules volunteers.