Serving at the pleasure of the people: Clinical excellence does not excuse the absence of basic etiquette

By Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS

I’ve just returned from an office visit for a checkup on my new health-care “product.” This was intended to be a short appointment, strictly a follow-up. The practitioner who treats me kept me waiting for a full hour. When she finally came to retrieve me, she called my name with a blank stare – no smile, no greeting. She turned and I watched her back as I followed her down the hall to the treatment room. This is how it goes at every visit.

Because I was following her lead (and writing this column in my head), I said nothing, sat down, and patiently waited as I’d been doing all morning. She did not acknowledge her tardiness. In fact, there was no small talk of any kind. At this point, I’m guessing we were well into her lunch hour, so she was probably annoyed and anxious to get me out. The waiting area was empty when she retrieved me. After reading my chart, her first words were: “How are they?”

I was referred to this clinician from within the practice because she was touted as a specialist. I’m told she is a legend. I was informed that she has built a following because of her conscientiousness and attention to detail.


If there is a take-home message, it begets these questions. RDH, are you a legend in your dental practice? And if one is a “legend,” so to speak, does that excuse the absence of basic courtesy and social skills?

I have a following in my dental practice, as does my coworker hygienist, Danielle. We are both very skilled at what we do. We are also well versed in the basics. That would be Practice Etiquette 101.

dental clinical etiquette

If I were ever to keep someone waiting that long – which is more than the equivalent of an entire patient appointment in our office – my doctor would take control within 11 minutes and figure out some sort of plan B. No one waits more than 7-10 minutes in our office. In fact, there is typically no wait. We take pride in valuing our patients’ time. Those who arrive late may be seen but not at the expense of those who arrive punctually for the appointments that follow.