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Who Let That Wife In?

Posted Jun 13 2009 12:17am

    I have a few friends that are married to dentists.  I've been talking about what it's like for them because I'm getting ready to write the next installment of my Other Side of the Chair series for Dental Office magazine.  So, I go to the source and luckily I have some very good ones.  I also think about Ben, who writes the dmdstudent blog.  He wants to be prepared for the real world when he starts out.  What would they tell him about having his wife work in his practice? 
    It sounds to me like it's just like everything else.  It depends in part on what you bring to the situation and part on who you surround yourself with.  It also has a lot to do with communication.  Let's break it down and look at it. 

    A dentist and spouse start a practice from nothing.  They need to identify a location, buy equipment and furnishings and hire staff.  It's tough going at first.  They probably hire a minimal staff, they spouse may work in the practice and little by little the practice grows.  More staff members are added, better equipment is purchased and maybe now the spouse backs out for a while to raise a family. 

    In the meantime the spouse may do things from home or come in on a limited basis.  Let's assume it's a wife so I can use a gender here.  Maybe she starts to sense the staff would rather she stay away.  Why?  Whenever there is an issue with a person feeling unwanted I always think it's best to take a good look at yourself first.  Have you done something to put the others off?  You have to be honest here, you know if you've been acting like a jerk.  If the answer is "no", look at them.  Are they worried about you because they are somehow lacking and they are worried you'll see it?  If the answer seems to be "no" again, ask for a staff meeting.

    Am I crazy?  Well, you could get conflicting answers on that, but that's a different concern altogether.  It's not crazy to call a staff meeting and get that burning question on the table.  It's very honest and straightforward.  It saves time and anxiety.  Of course, you have to establish trust and you must be willing to listen and hear what is being said.  You can't punish anyone for their honesty either.  If they let you know that they just resent the fact that you are the boss's wife and they don't want you there, you have to let them know that you will be a fact of their life.  You should state the purpose that you will serve and ask them to support you.  Your husband should then ask them to commit to working with you in peace and with a shared vision. 

    As the wife, you may feel that the staff expects you to shower them with appreciation.  Not necessary if you have the right staff.  Sometimes dentists train their staff to expect too much or, by denying them any appreciation, make them crave it.  A reasonable dentist/staff relationship involves mutual respect and regard.  A reasonable spouse should be able to enter into that culture and move with the flow.  It is all easy to achieve by having patient care and service as the desired end result.  That may be where the relationship between the staff and wife goes bad.  If the staff perceives that the wife is only concerned with the bottom line it will feel wrong.  They will wonder why they listen to so many discussions about patient service if the wife is going to come in and ask why overhead is high or why collections are low.  Yes, those things are important and if they are not controlled the service to patients will suffer.  They can't be the only thing that she is about though.  So, as in everything, the balance must be right.  The balance of what she shows interest in, the balance of how she uses her authority and the balance of how friendly she is with the staff.  It is a difficult juggling act at first, but once you get it right, It is very rewarding for everyone.


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