Creating positive space: An essential for your office environment

This post is for Tiffani Horton, and for everyone else who is fighting a battle on the inside.

I’m against watching the news. Other people can watch the news all they want to. That’s fine. I just don’t want to watch it myself.

Dr. Vaughn

Dr. Vaughn

I don’t want to watch the news because buried in every news reel is a sad story. A story that reminds me I’m not invincible, I live in an imperfect world, and that sometimes bad things happen that I cannot control.

And unfortunately, regardless of whether or not you watch the news . . . sometimes a sad story still finds you.

In dental school, you rotate through many clinics. You meet a lot of faculty and a lot of patients and a lot of staff. And what’s nice about all this is that the conversations aren’t always about what X-rays you want to take or whether or not you’ve made the right diagnosis. Sometimes you talk about your weekend or what you plan to do once you graduate or how good the new restaurant in town is. You form this unique bond with all these different people, and it eventually creates this special thing with its own label.

The other night, a good friend sent me a message that told a sad story. Someone from my dental school had just lost her battle with cancer. Her name was Tiffani. A dental assistant that I, along with everyone else in my class, had weekly interactions with.

Ms. Tiffani Horton

Ms. Tiffani Horton

Tiffani was more than a name or a dental assistant. She was a friend, a wife, a mother, a person with thoughts and wants and emotions and ambitions. She talked to some of us like she had known us for years. She helped some of us get patients so we could take our licensing exam and become dentists. She was very much a part of our dental school family.

But the thing about all of this is that I had no idea that Tiffani was fighting this battle. She had liver cancer and was undergoing chemo. All while I was still in school. There were conversations I’m sure that we had, where she was living with this horrible disease . . . and I did not know.

Buried in every news reel is a sad story. But what I’m learning is that buried in every sad story is a truth that I need to know.

Because me and you and everyone we know are all the same. We all have bad days. We get bad news. We go through hard times. We hit rock bottom. And then we have to go out in public and try to be strong and keep it together.

Tiffani teaches us that you never really know what someone is going through.

What does that mean for us as we try and figure out this New Dentist world? It means that we have the vital responsibility of being aware. Of keeping social sensitivity as a priority within our practices. Because our staff will have bad days. Our patients will tell us horrible stories from their pasts. Our business partner might be dealing with chemo treatment or secretly going through a heart-wrenching divorce.

And as people who have dedicated their careers to serving others, we need to create space that allows people to escape the troubles of their daily lives. What does this look like? At its core, it’s being aware and paying attention. Picking up those social cues from your staff. Treating everyone in your office with the care and respect they deserve. Not letting your own troubles affect the way you talk to and interact with the people around you.

From the modern corporate office in Chicago to the paper-chart practice in rural Alabama, you can contribute to making the world a better place just by changing the environment of your dental office. A good dental office is one where honesty, respect, care and love are infused in its fabric.

Because you never really know what another person might be going through.

Dr. Joe Vaughn is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. He grew up in Alabama and recently graduated from The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry in 2015. He now lives in Seattle, Washington, where he attends the General Practice Residency at the University of Washington. Two cups of coffee, writing and indie music are everyday occurrences for Joe. Go Seahawks and Roll Tide!

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