Work-Life Balance: Managing the Crazy Hats Hygienists Wear

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As dental hygienists, we wear some crazy hats. We may serve as the OSHA director, radiation officer, we might order supplies, can be a maintenance person, a sterilization guru, a front office assistant, and in some offices you may even serve as the janitor. At home, we are wife/husband, mother/father, daughter/son, friend, chauffeur, chef, maid, and coach. Balancing all these hats is hard.

Here are three strategies I’ve put into place, in my own life, which may also help you juggle your crazy hats and avoid utter chaos and burnout.

Learn to say “no”

Learning to say “no’” is a fine art. Fortunately, my husband has this skill mastered and is a willing and patient teacher. I‘ve always been a very busy person. When we met, I was working full time as a dental assistant, going to college at night, and volunteering at a teen center and a free dental clinic. Date night for us was volunteering together at the teen center. During these years, I learned to slow down and work in excellence.

Ask yourself, ”Can I be involved in all these activities/tasks and still complete each with excellence?

Pick one or two activities/tasks and complete them to the best of your abilities. Know your boundaries; don’t sign up to be in charge of 20 tasks. If someone told you that your days were numbered, would you use those days to run errands? Plan fundraisers? PTA? Coach t-ball?  I am not saying these activities are not important, but if my days are numbered, I will be busy with my greatest task, being a mom, wife, daughter, and a dental hygienist.

Learn to delegate

I realize you cannot necessarily say “no” to more responsibilities at work, but this is where your tribe and delegation come in. At work, teach your team members how to do your specific tasks. For example, I am in charge of the maintenance of equipment and documentation of such equipment. I am also in charge of the OSHA, infection control, and radiation documentation and training. I make sure that another team member knows my tasks as well as I do so if I am on medical leave or vacation, I rest easy knowing the office is still running smoothly.

Everyone in your office should be cross-trained. This allows for an easy transition if a team member is out of the office or overloaded. Learn to ask for help and delegate. 

Delegating tasks at work demonstrates incredible leadership skills. When you delegate, you are completing all of your necessary work on time. When you have team members you can depend on, you are able to build a tribe of people who ensure your office runs smoothly no matter how crazy your schedule may be.

As dental hygienists, we have different time schedules to see patients. Some have an hour while others may only have 30 minutes for normal prophylaxis. This often does not leave us with enough time for all the extra chores. Here is where building your office tribe and learning to delegate is essential.

Build your tribe

My work tribe is essential to my success. All of our assistants are also hygienists so they can cover my schedule for my doctor’s appointments, field trips, sickness, funerals, and vacations. Next to my family, they are who I am with the most. They have celebrated with me, cried with me, and been an ear when I need to talk.

Your office team/tribe members should be only a few of many tribe members you depend upon. There is a saying, “It takes a village,” and truer words were never spoken! 

I have many outlets to connect with others; church, school, and extracurricular activities just to name a few. I build my tribe by connecting with people in these outlets. As you get to know people and build your tribe, you discover their strengths and passions. This allows you to know whom to depend upon and for which task they are best suited so that you can delegate in their gifted areas. Do they enjoy event planning? Make them a chair of a social activity or fundraiser. Are they an introvert? Have them count box tops. People generally want to help and get involved.

With each activity that I am involved in outside of work, I make sure also to have several trusted friends or family members trained in the same activity or “hat” to whom I can turn to for help and delegate.

I am blessed to have my entire immediate family close by to help. My mother-in-law is my go-to and is an essential part of my tribe. While I’m wearing my work hat, she helps by wearing my mom hat. In addition to my wonderful mother-in-law, I have moms and teachers at the school and dance studio I know and love my children as their own. These people are also trusted to teach and discipline my children as their own. It takes a village to help produce great children. Each tribe member contributes to the wonderful character of my girls, and I can contribute to the shaping of their children as well.

One day I had a mom friend call me at work and say she was worried about my nine-year-old. She did not seem to have a fever but had sick eyes. As a mom, I am grateful for friends who look out for my children while I am focusing my energy toward my patients. At church and on the PTA executive board, I make sure to have at least one other person trained and knowledgeable in wearing each of my hats. Again, these people become part of my tribe quickly. Not only does this provide accountability, but it also gives me people I can trust to delegate projects or ask for help.

As you build your tribe, you will find that you can trust others to delegate projects, extracurricular activities, and work. Saying “no” and asking for help can be difficult, but with a strong tribe supporting you, you can accomplish all things in excellence. 

Often, we are motivated by a parent/spouse/sibling/child’s guilt to say yes to everything. Find a couple of activities you are passionate about and stick with those. Connect with a tribe who can support you in each of those activities. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and delegate when needed. Focus on your greatest tasks in life and accomplish those with excellence. For me, my greatest accomplishments are being the best mom, wife, and dental hygienist I can be.

What are your greatest tasks? 

SEE ALSO: Corporate Dentistry: How to Maintain Autonomy in a Corporate World

DON’T MISS: Dental Burnout: You Don’t Have to Work Full Time to Work Full Time

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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.