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Office Etiquette

Post date: 31/08/2014 | Time to read article: 4 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 14/11/2018

Office Etiquette

A young dentist discusses office etiquette, the challenges she faced and how to handle oneself in a working environment.

Unprofessional is not a word you would use to describe me. I used to pride myself on that at university. So being called unprofessional by hospital consultants not just once but on three separate occasions within my first months of graduating started to ring alarm bells!

I appreciate there are different standards and responsibilities in the real world compared to dental school but professionalism is a constant and doesn't require a textbook to be good at. So where was I going wrong? Our formal teaching of office etiquette is minimal to non-existent, which meant my understanding of office politics, wording emails and proper team work was pretty poor.

I graduated in July and landed a job as a longitudinal dental trainee in the Yorkshire and Humber Deanery splitting my time between primary and secondary care. Within my hospital placement, I worked on a maxillofacial ward in hospital and a paediatric department in dental school. Working in three different settings is a fantastic opportunity to broaden your understanding of dentistry but each environment has its own etiquette and rules needed to fit in.


We are pretty clued up on our obligations as part of the dental team. Since most of us will settle into general practice life, our universities spend time making sure we understand our roles and responsibilities. Nonetheless, putting them into practice is not always as easy as it sounds. I work in a small practice with a welcoming, informal team and have become close friends with my nurse and trainer. It has taken some time to get settled and build good working relationships. I found showing that you are willing to compromise means when you want things done your way colleagues are happy to reciprocate. Also spending time with my nurse explaining extra skills meant my treatments became more efficient and we delivered better care for our patients. Getting to know the team on a personal level leads to an open, honest, working relationship facilitating any changes you want to make. It is still important to maintain some professional boundaries though if you want to keep the respect of your colleagues!


This was the environment I was most unfamiliar with and the one where I encountered the most difficulty. Learning to work alongside consultants can be demanding. They like things done their own way and it takes time to learn this, I made many mistakes in the early days and still occasionally do! It is important to not take it to heart, just learn from the incident and move on. Not all consultants consider offering training and support to junior dentists as part of their role, some only do it once you express interest and show initiative. It is expected that you will take a proactive role in your own development. Any offers made for extra teaching or practical work, take it. Or just ask if you can take part. I have found you are unlikely to be offered these opportunities unless you show some initiative because, let's face it; they can do it in half the time and with half the mess!

Also, getting to grips with all the paperwork is an excellent skill. If you can master this early, you'll make friends with the whole department. Other SHOs have managed this faster than me and being able to get tasks done efficiently makes everyone's jobs easier, all the staff will thank you for that!

Dental School

Having spent five years at one, I was pretty comfortable with the disjointed running of a typical dental school. I only spent one day every two weeks there though and that made it difficult to settle into the department. I found explaining my role and understanding what my responsibilities are quite difficult. This all came down to effective communication. I followed all the usual tips - be polite, respectful, honest etc. but there is more than that to team work. People now rely on me to contribute to the department, if I finish clinics early or have a cancellation, I am expected to offer my time elsewhere, not break rank at the first opportunity, I found that out the hard way!

Overall, the thing I struggled with the most was integration. I often found that different staff members or organisations would not routinely communicate with each other. I would be expected to be in several places at the same time and know department protocols without being told. Emailing supervisors only led to further confusion since they rarely keep each other informed! This is still something I have difficulty with. This article explains what I have experienced since starting work but there will be many differences within teams and placements. National recruitment and centralized application systems lead to a more diverse team so you will meet people from different areas with different attitudes, learning how to relate to others is invaluable and should contribute to a successful working environment.

Top Tips on Etiquette

  1. Don't pass the buck, own up to your mistakes, it should gain you more respect than covering up.
  2. Ask if you are unsure. You are not expected to know everything from the start and don't do anything you feel uncomfortable with.
  3. Get to grips with paperwork ASAP.
  4. Socialise with colleagues but try to maintain some professional boundaries, mutual respect is invaluable.
  5. Use professional language in your emails to senior staff and cc your supervisor if the emails are regarding difficult /controversial topics for added support.
  6. Check with the rest of the team that your help is not needed elsewhere before leaving work early.

Good office etiquette is an essential skill for success in working life. Effective communication with all your colleagues is a given but learning how to communicate with each person individually in different environments is the key. Being honest, pro-active and patient will help to achieve this...and a bit of resilience won't go amiss. I am still working on developing my office etiquette and I don't believe it will stop evolving or that I won't make mistakes, the important thing is to learn from them!

Renna Mahsoub

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