Volume 9 • 2022 • Issue 6

a very respectful and positive workplace. After I had my children, I went to work at the University of Manitoba (U of M) Dental College where I worked towards my certificate in Human Resources (HR). I started on the clinic floor and eventually transitioned to a career doing administrative work in many departments, ending my career as the office assistant in the graduate prosthodontics program at the U of M. I’ve been involved with dental assisting professional organizations at both the provincial and national level for many years, with the goal of advocating for healthy workplaces for my colleagues—ones that support both the physical and psychological health of the entire team. assistants to leave the profession. A lack of competitive compensation and benefits also act as contributing factors for attrition. The CDAA recognizes that there are also capacity limits for training and, unfortunately, some bottlenecks in the system that we’re planning to address with a new project in partnership with CDA. As we work towards planning for a bright future, I think it is important that we look at some of the factors that have historically shortened dental assisting careers: stress, challenging work environments and a need for more competitive compensation and benefits. Perhaps one of the key areas of focus should be not only to attract more people to the dental assisting profession, but also on giving dental assistants good reasons to stay with the profession longer and addressing workplace environment issues. Q Let’s talk more about why dental assistants are leaving the profession before traditional retirement age. HB: The CDAA did a workplace conditions survey of dental assistants in March 2019. One of the findings was that dental assisting employee turnover and exit from the profession is caused by many factors. In response to the survey findings, we collaborated with CDA and the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA) on a Healthy Workplace Matters working group where we developed resources for oral health providers that are available online (oasisdiscussions.ca/ healthy-workplace-matters). In our survey of the mental health status of dental assistants conducted this year, the results showed that nearly 47% of respondents had experienced some form of bullying or harassment from either a dentist, work colleague or patient at some point in their career. The survey also showed that 18% of dental assistants reported that they experienced discrimination in the workplace, 27% said they felt worthless in their job most of the time, and that most dental offices do not provide mental health resources or stress management resources to their staff. These results show that opportunities exist for improvement within the dental workplace; improvements that will benefit all members of the oral health care team. Another factor that could help improve retention is compensation levels. For example, I talked with one dental assistant recently who started a job at a new dental office and was offered the same starting salary that she was offered 17 years ago. So, it is important that wages keep up with inflation and cost of living. Q In the past few years, it seems like the number of people entering the dental assisting profession has decreased. What factors might be causing that change? HB: The oral health profession is not unique in this situation. Working in a health care environment in general is stressful, especially since COVID-19 struck, and some people have left health care altogether because of it. My husband has appointments with a home care worker four times a day. You would not believe how many visits are cancelled because they do not have enough staff. There are news stories about ERs that are shut because there aren’t enough nurses or doctors. Staffing in health care is a sector-wide challenge, one we must all address by working collaboratively across health care professions. When I’ve spoken with representatives from dental assisting training programs, there are wait lists for people who want to enter the programs. So people are still entering the profession, but the demands of today’s dental office are complex and often highly stressful. These are some of the factors that cause dental The oral health profession is not unique in this situation. Working in a health care environment in general is stressful, especially since COVID-19 struck, and some people have left health care altogether because of it. 18 | 2022 | Issue 6 Issues and People