Not Treated With Respect Because of My Age


I am a qualified dental nurse at a very relaxed dental surgery. So relaxed in fact that the manager and the nurses are all best friends. Can I point out at this stage that I am the only qualified nurse at work. I am only 18 years old but I have worked very hard to get where I am today. The other nurses are much older than me, one is 21 and the other is 30 and both have failed their exams several times, whereas I passed mine on the first try.

My real issue is that despite being the only qualified nurse at work, nobody seems to register that I should have some respect with that. For example plenty of staff meetings have gone on in which, when I voice my concerns about serious issues such as malfunctioning equipment, I am ignored, my concerns are not written in the staff meeting notes and I am often talked over. This still makes me feel like an apprentice! The other example I have is that the hygienist I work with seems to have a particular issue with me. Okay, granted I am human and I make mistakes. But when I do make a genuine mistake she feels the need to verbally discipline me in front of patients that she is treating.

Not only does this make me feel extremely penalised as she doesn’t do this to other nurses (who make plenty more mistakes than I do!!) it almost belittles me as it makes me feel as if I’m not any good at my job.

I would like to point out that the hygienist is just my colleague and is no way superior to me and can not discipline me. I know a lot of people would advise that I speak to my manager, but considering how relaxed my work is, the practice manager doesn’t do anything. I have complained about the hygienists attitude towards me four times now, all to do with telling me off in front of patients. All my manager does is laugh and say that I shouldn’t be making the mistakes in the first place.

What can I do? I feel so helpless and realistically like I’m terrible at my job. I know that I’m a great and passionate nurse, it’s just I feel as if being 18 means that I have no respect from my colleagues and boss.


Under-Valued Nurse


DearĀ Under-Valued Nurse:

I can understand why you would feel frustrated and hurt. Age barriers are real at both ends of the age spectrum. Many people over 50 or 60 say the same things you’re saying. It points out the need for all of us to focus on knowledge, skills and practical experiences, rather than on issues over which a coworker has no control.

Let me suggest a few things for you to consider as a way to manage the only thing you can manage–your own work and reactions.

1. I often mention the three requirements for influence: You must be credible, you must be valuable and you must be an effective communicator. The more those things are evident in your life and work, the more influence you will have.

Credibility is the hardest part to gain, because even if you have value for the work, you don’t have years of experience–and experience is often valued more than education or certifications.

“Paying dues” is part of almost all work and less-tenured employees simply have to work through it. Of course, it is also true that some people have one year of experience and some people have ten years of experience and some people have one year of experience ten times. Make every day a day in which you are getting better and in which you show your desire to learn. That will be much more valued than your certification.

2. You can also help yourself by putting your focus on patients first, then on the team and the business. Your work, by it’s nature, creates stress for those who need your services most. Patients can tell when there is conflict or tension and it adds to theirs. They want everyone to be focused solely on them at the time and even to think about them in-between times. They want to be nurtured and they want to feel that their discomfort or fear is the most important concern of the entire office and every dental technician or nurse.

The more you give yourself to your dental patients, the less the issues of the office will bother you and the more you will gain experience and credibility. You will also be doing more of what you wanted to do when you started in your profession.

You also can help the team by doing what you can to help your business be a financial and professional success. Sometimes that just involves taking care of daily work. You can put instruments away, set up the tray for the next procedure, even if that’s not your job, clean up public areas when needed, straighten up the break area, and other things that show you want to lend a hand and be useful. You may already be doing those things. If you are, you can also be helpful by thanking others for their work and assistance. A quick smile, a thumbs up and few words, all mean a lot and are remembered.

3. This next bit of advice will be the toughest to follow, but I have seen it work so successfully that I always give it and know it is worthwhile. Instead of resisting being criticised by the hygienist, go with it and ask for further critique. Nothing is so disarming as someone thanking you for letting them know about an error and later asking for even more input. It also allows you to learn. You are human and make mistakes, but that isn’t a good excuse to the patient. Also, by accepting the critique and asking for more, patients and others will be much more likely to empathize with you than the person who is rudely chewing you out.

If the hygienist is genuinely over the top with her anger in front of a patient, that’s different and I’m surprised any manager would allow it because of the impact on the patient. But, if the hygienist is just sharply corrective, she may feel that is needed for the situation. I still don’t think that is appropriate and there are other ways to let you know about mistakes, but you may not be able to get her to change.

Let’s assume she corrects something you’ve done. Your first inclination may be to provide an excuse or to just mum up and not say anything as you fume and continue working. Try having a few words memorized that you can say without thinking too much about it, as you correct the mistake. “OK. Thanks for pointing that out.” Then, look at the patient or touch the patient’s sleeve and ask if they are OK or say something to reassure them. “OK. Thanks for pointing that out. I want this to be perfect for Mr. Miller” Or, “OK. Thanks for reminding me. I want Tom’s x-ray to be perfect.” Or, “Oh, OK, thanks.” Then, as you’re doing the procedure differently to fit her critique you say, “How’s that?” When she says it’s correct you can say, as you work, “I want this crown to be perfect for Joyce.” Joyce, (your patient) will be thrilled to hear it! Then, after you’ve done it differently or corrected it, you ask, “Is that better?” Or, “How am I doing with it now?” Or something else that fits the situation. Be ready with the words so you don’t have to think of them when you feel hurt, angry or frustrated. Later, thank the hygienist for the correction. The truth is you don’t want to make mistakes and if she hadn’t pointed it out you might have. So, just acknowledge that fact. “Hey, Barb, thanks for catching my mistake. I’d rather you’d tell me than for me to do something wrong.”

That’s all you need to say and it will start having a positive effect. Wait and see. Even if there have been conflicts in the past, you can start doing that now and it can make a difference. Just make the next time it happens be the first time in your new program and be willing to learn even when it hurts a bit.

Consider this as well. You know that probably the hygienist says something to others when she has corrected you. Maybe not always, but sometimes. If they ask her what you did in response, think of how it sounds for her to have to say, “She thanked me and later asked me if had any advice for that kind of procedure.” It’s hard to keep criticizing someone who so obviously is trying to learn, even though their credentials would indicate they have a lot of education and training.

None of this will make things magically better because you will still be eighteen and for many years yet, if you’re lucky, you’ll look youthful and in some people’s eyes, less experienced. But it can help you feel you have some control over it.

I work daily with young employees and have found that some are not treated with much respect while others are not only treated with respect they are encouraged, supported and praised. The difference nearly always is the degree to which they are improving and the deference they show to those who have more experience–even a year or two more experience.

I can tell that you want to be the best professional possible. Use this time to build that foundation. Never forget it when you encounter new employees or older employees or any employee who needs to feel included and respected. If they are not doing well, that needs to be dealt with directly. But, if they are willing to learn, able to learn and in the process of improving, keep your own experiences in mind as you encourage them.

Best wishes to you in your career and this current situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.