Dimensions Brand Ambassador Julianne Souza, RDH, offers ways shy dental hygienists can build relationships with patients during dental visits and how she stepped out of her comfort zone.
Ever since I can remember I’ve been known as a quiet, shy, introverted person. Growing up I was often asked, “Why are you so quiet?” I preferred to keep to myself, observing the world and people around me. I have to confess there were times I thought this was a bad trait or that I needed to change. Fast forward to the present and I’ve found ways to be successful in a dental hygiene career with a shy, introverted personality. If you’re someone who is shy and wondering how you’ll navigate as a dental hygienist, keep reading. I’m going to share some ways I’ve learned to adapt to a career that is very relational and requires interaction with a variety of people (patients, employers, coworkers, company reps) each day.
Dental hygiene involves so much more than scaling teeth. It is a career that focuses on prevention, education, and creating relationships. Meeting new patients and spending time one-on-one with multiple people a day may not seem exciting to a shy person, but a big part of what hygienists do involves connecting with patients. Contrary to what some may think, being shy/introverted doesn’t equal not being a people person. I truly do enjoy getting to know my patients and learning about their lives. Patients are going to feel more comfortable with a dental hygienist over time as rapport and trust are built. So how can a shy hygienist create that relationship with patients and build rapport?
Start off simple. Asking open-ended questions is a good way to engage conversation. For example, instead of asking, “Did you have a good weekend?” which most likely will receive a yes or no response, you can ask, “How did you enjoy your weekend?” This open-ended question may give you more things to talk about.
Find out what the patient’s interests, hobbies, and passions are. You may even find out you have some things in common and build from there.
Keep notes. Jot down little notes about the patient and the conversation. This will help jog your memory and give you something to ask about at following appointments. They’ll appreciate you remembering and asking about their lives, which can help build rapport.
Listen. I have also learned that being shy and introverted allows more time for listening and observing what the patient is trying to communicate. Sometimes if you are quiet, create a comfortable environment, and do more listening, patients will share what they want or more details that may help you treat them better. You’ll get a range of patients from super talkative to those who would prefer not to talk and let you work. Being observant will help you pick up on this.
Self-care. It may seem draining at times for a shy person, so if needed at the end of a workday give yourself quiet time to unwind from the day and recharge.
TAKE BABY STEPS OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Learn to stretch out of your comfort zone little by little, no matter how small the first step and the borders of that zone will expand. There is nothing wrong with being shy or introverted, however, in my case, I noticed it would sometimes keep me from doing things I otherwise wanted to do. I got to a point where I had to remind myself to never miss out on an opportunity just because it might make me feel slightly uncomfortable. When opportunities presented themselves to expand beyond clinical hygiene, stepping out of my comfort zone allowed me to gain experience outside of the operatory. This led me to partner with oral care companies and brands to promote their products.
Create an outlet. Social media has become a popular platform for people to share and search for information. Companies are looking for dental professionals to represent their brand and products. This is a great way to expand your bubble of comfort. For a while, I had ideas of creating an outlet where I could share dental health information and products in a fun and creative way, but was hesitant because I didn’t feel like I was outgoing enough to share.
One day after a friend motivated me to step out of my comfort zone, I decided to do it. I started by creating a dental Instagram page as a creative outlet, and I reached out as opportunities presented themselves, networked and connected with other dental professionals, and even worked myself up to going to events and dental conventions alone. After that, it gave me more opportunities to get involved with brands at trade shows, get connected with product trials, and reach a broader audience. I realized that people want to hear what your education and experience have taught you and what you have to share, and they appreciate it. Now when I’m working on something to share I think of who it’s going to reach and the positive impact it may have on the viewer and that makes it easier.
If you are a shy person pursuing a career in dental hygiene hopefully you found these tips helpful. Use your time in the dental hygiene program to work on your communication skills. You can even practice with your typodont! Take the chance to sign up for extra clinics, health fairs, and volunteer work. This will give you opportunities to expand your comfort zone. Lastly, remember your passion, it will keep you going! As Susan Cain wrote in her book Quiet: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, “When you’re feeling scared, genuine passion will lift you up and give you the excitement you need to propel you through your fear. Fear is a powerful enemy, but passion is an even stronger friend.”