Reflective practice can be achieved by the constant process of analysing, constructively criticising and evaluating not only your own performance as a dental nurse but also that of your dental team. It should include all areas of the normal work routine, especially decision making skills and interacting both with patients and other members of staff.
Keep a diary
It can be hard to recall any day-to-day significant events with complete accuracy, so a practice diary or journal could be developed and used by all team members to record events – whether positive or negative – throughout the day or week. This will help you to review or analyse any entries at staff meetings, or can provide a guide for you, as a dental nurse, on your own personal progression.
The evaluation process can be carried out as a team or privately for yourself, hopefully to identify not only areas for change in how the practice may operate in a more cohesive manner but also to identify how to carry forward any changes in the clinic or staff’s performance. A level of honesty with oneself is paramount to a more productive reflection.
As dental nurses we should be receptive to the fact that, regardless of past or continual education, learning opportunities are created from most aspects of our daily work practice.
How to reflect
When you are reflecting or thinking about a work situation, ask yourself:
• What went well and why?
• What did not go so well and why?
• Did I achieve the desired result?
• What was the impact of my actions or behaviour on the situation or on the patient/staff members?
• What did I learn in this situation?
• What, if anything, could I do, or would I do, differently in the future?
It could be that you have forgotten to order essential stock for a procedure or you had to try to manage an anxious patient. In recording, and later reflecting on, these situations we should be able to see where we could have done something to achieve a better outcome. Perhaps you will come to the conclusion that you should have asked another team member for help or that you need to develop your communication and patient management skills. Reflection can facilitate positive changes.
When dental nurses have an annual review or appraisal, this is also reflective practice. Your employer is reflecting on your performance, your role and your impact on the dental team, and so they act on that outcome, whether that be through praise, constructive criticism or remuneration.
Reflection allows your role and other staff members’ roles and responsibilities to be clearly recognised and discussed. It also allows you to implement any suggested protocols or positive changes within the clinic and dental team. Reflection is something we do on a daily basis naturally – ‘I should have’; ‘I could have done it this way’. These are all part of reflecting on our actions, and we need to act on them in order to move forwards in our professional development and life-long learning.
There are two types of reflection we can do from day to day. There is reflection ‘in’ action whereby we reflect at the time of doing something how we might do it next time. Then there is reflection ‘on’ action, where we record the situation at the time and later consider how we could have handled things differently to achieve a more successful outcome.
We must also promote good teamwork and communication skills as dental nurses. These are essential skills in practice, allowing effective organisation of the surgery and facilitating communicating in a positive manner. In this way our reflection can drive the team’s efficiency and patient management skills forward.
Working as part of a team can be rewarding, difficult or downright frustrating. If you have poor communication on your team, you may often feel left out, confused or misunderstood. A successful team should be supportive of others’ ideas and give them due consideration.
Share suggestions, ideas and solutions with your team or dentist, but do choose an appropriate time. Having reflected on what you would like to suggest changing or improving, communicate this effectively and reassure the team that you also are open to change. Remember, they will also reflect on what you have said and your proposed solutions.
To achieve good communication we must develop good ‘active listening’ skills. This is simply achieved by:
• Looking at the person who is speaking to you
• Acknowledging by gesturing (nodding your head as they speak)
• Do not interrupt, even if you do not necessarily agree with what they are saying, but rather acknowledge what they are saying by paraphrasing points that they have made.
All of these actions show your colleagues/patients that they are being listened to and their view/opinion/complaint has been acknowledged.
As a team you will all be working together to achieve a specific and common goal – a practice that is efficiently run and organised, and that provides a pleasant patient environment and good staff morale.
A clinic that promotes good communication and teamwork encourages reflective practice and the benefits of life-long learning.