Bridget and I went on a date night last night and, for something different, we got a manicure together before dinner. It was awesome! The people helping us were obviously experts who were also very nice and went about their work efficiently. When they spoke to us, they spoke English but most of the time they spoke Vietnamese to each other and to the other staff members in the room. Usually they seemed to speak in general terms but several times it was obvious (or seemed to be) that they were talking about Bridget or me. Sometimes they would laugh and point… and it made me think about our patients and how we make them feel. I’m neither young nor shy and I’ve done a fair amount of traveling but having someone talk about you in a language you don’t understand can be still disconcerting. Now imagine being 12 years old, insecure about your looks (obviously, you’re getting braces) and having this experience. It’s embarrassing at minimum and terrifying at worst. But WE do this kind of thing every day to children, tweens, teens and even adults in our orthodontic offices and don’t think twice about it. For all our patients know we are making fun of them when we use all those tooth nerd words in the new patient exam, while doing records or at the chair.
As an experiment, I asked Bridget to start speaking to me in Afrikaans and I responded with the few words I know while making a point of glancing around at the salon employees and laughing from time to time. It was funny to watch how taken back the Vietnamese speakers were when we started speaking in a language that they didn’t understand. After a couple minutes we went back to speaking English and, from what I could tell, there was much discussion among the team about why we switched languages and the possible meaning. It was very interesting and instructive as life can be!
The experience made me consider other aspects of our practice:
- We need to be sure we have team members who speak the language of our patients and their parents on hand and easily accessible in the clinic and on the phone. We can’t make them feel welcome if we don’t!
- We need to redouble our efforts to minimize talk at the chair that doesn’t involve the patient – especially during longer appointments like a bond. It is so tempting to talk about our weekend plans or what movie we saw among team members or with the doctor but having a conversation that excludes the patient is not acceptable.
- We must make an effort to speak to each and every patient, parent or friend we come close to by remembering The Six Foot Rule. We want everyone to feel welcome, noticed, important and appreciated.
Making people feel good about being in our offices is not difficult or time consuming but it does take intentional action and reminding ourselves of how we would feel if the situation was reversed. Talk to your teammates and make a plan to be sure that everyone who is kind enough to visit your office is certain they made the right choice.
***As an aside, if you don’t already, Bridget and I strongly recommend you set a day and time each week for a date night and stick to it… or it will never happen. Put it on your calendar. Have a standing child care arrangement. Go even if you don’t feel like it! It may seem expensive in time, money and effort to do so but the alternative is much more so.