I'm going to speak from my heart for a little bit.
I've been in the dental field for over 7 years, and in that time, I've learned a lot. In dental assisting school, we gained a lot of knowledge. We crammed so much information into 10 months worth of school and became professional memorizers. We learned not only how a cavity forms but also the entire process of how a tooth forms (hello, Biology!). We memorized the age that each tooth comes into your mouth (no small task, considering humans have one set of 20 teeth that take several years to come in, in a very specific order, and a second set of 32 that take over a decade to fully arrive.)
We were taught every detail of any dental procedure the dentist might need to do – all of the materials he or she might need, the step-by-step order of these procedures (the how), the reason for doing the procedures (the why).
Then we all got into the real world and realized how little we all actually knew. We were all surprised to find out that the specific list of materials required for a filling, the list we had all so carefully memorized, was only used by a few dentists. Everyone else had their own, slightly different (or drastically different) list. It's so hard when you think you've prepared well for something and find out that it means nothing.
But, you adapt. We all did. After enough “real world” experience, we all learned pretty quickly that each dentist has their own favorite way of doing everything, and you just learn to keep up. Dental assistants are pretty amazing that way.
However, the one thing we aren't taught in school is the person to person interaction part. The psychology of how differently patients will act – towards us, towards the dentist, towards the front end staff whom they have to pay. (I think this is probably because there would be so much material, it would take 10 years to cover, instead of 10 months!).
Some days are hard. I think healthcare jobs tend to attract a lot of caring, empathetic people. People like this are gifted with strengths such as warmth and compassion, and are usually very nurturing.
I'm a very sensitive, empathetic person. I think for a long time, I've tried not to be. Often, sensitivity is confused for weakness and I've even felt that myself. However, they aren't the same thing. Sensitivity means a greater awareness of senses. Sensitive people are just more in tune with the nuances. A tiny flicker of sadness on someone's face. Minor changes in light or temperature. Flavors of food. I think it is an asset to be more aware of these things, and it allows me to be more careful of how other people may be feeling.
The problem with empathy is that, for me at least, you tend to absorb other people's moods and feelings a little bit. While this is good in one sense (it helps when you need to show compassion or understanding in a situation), it can be hard to shake. Less sensitive, less empathetic people can have an encounter with a negative, mean person and just “shake it off”. I don't know how to do that. As a defense mechanism, I've found that I've learned to kind of build up a guarded exterior. While this does help to protect my soft heart, I don't think this is healthy. It's something I'm working on.
This past week at work has been rough. It's December now, which means Christmas is on everyone's minds. It's supposed to be a joyful time but I know it's also a really stressful time for many. Money is supposed to stretch so far during this season, and it can often feel like there's never enough. It's also the end of the year for a lot of people's insurance plans, so there's a lot of urgency felt by us as people scramble to use up their insurance benefits before they lose them.
Today I was screamed at by three different people on the phone. Not strangers, patients – actual people I have talked to face to face. I know three isn't a lot, telemarketers should probably call this a good day, but I don't think it's something you get used to. The worst part is that each of these people was screaming at me because their insurance won't cover something….meaning, something that is not at all my fault or in my control. I truly felt for all three of these people, I understand how tight money is, especially this time of year, but it's so unfair to put that onto my shoulders. I wish I could say this was a rare occurrence but it's not. Most days I honestly just block it out. To the point that if you ask me about my day, and what happened, I have to think hard to remember anything that happened. I think I suppress it, or something. Again, not healthy.