by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS
Every dental hygienist should spend a little time scouring the Internet in an effort to see how others perceive the dental hygiene profession. There are some thoughts about the RDH from the general public, career analysts, and even academic institutions. While many are finally beginning to understand the important role dental hygienists play in health, misconceptions and degradation still abound. My latest "profession perception" quest began with a website that caused me to both chuckle and sigh.
Popular search engine Yahoo! highlights careers on its homepage regularly, with the focus ranging from high-paying jobs to those with low educational requirements. Before even clicking on the link, I knew "6 Jobs That Pay Surprisingly Well -- No Bachelor's Needed"1 would include dental hygienists.
Other articles by Laughter:
It wasn't the inclusion that annoyed me most, though highlighting the lowest possible education path to a job is a bit degrading, but rather the catchphrase at the end of the section. After pointing out that good pay comes from having a "good natured and cooperative attitude," the educational requirement section starts with "Ready to start scraping teeth?" Providing preventive and therapeutic treatment by the removal of toxins, bacteria, and irritants is, indeed, part of the clinical portion of dental hygiene, but even patients know we're not merely scraping teeth.
I'm the first to admit that every website offering is not factual or even researched for accuracy, but if we don't know what's out there we certainly can't help adjust the inaccuracies. One example is a piece on wikispaces dedicated to the profession of dental hygiene.2 While the page tries to explain dental hygiene in the proper light, some of the language is downright funny and the "facts" not so factual. For example, the career ladder description and image starts with entry-level practice and finishes with government positions. Nowhere on this ladder is independent practice, alternative practice, or midlevel provider discussed, which are all opportunities in some states.
The compensation and benefits section of the site really caught my attention, as the first sentence states, "Before you start earning money (which should be plentiful)…" The writer then suggests job searching by staying on with a practice where one worked in his or her senior year, or by contacting a dentist in your family eager to offer a job. But if those options don't pan out, the writer says, "Maybe you have to get out there and find a needy practice." Perhaps every resume should contain an opening statement regarding the applicant's wish to discover a needy employer.
Please don't leave this site without reading the directions for finding a practice, a task so much easier than we all imagined. According to the guidelines, one might have to post resumes or call around, but a benefit of health-care education is that one will likely find a position right away -- good news for all those recent graduates who are having difficulty finding an office that is even accepting applications. The most disturbing quote on the page just might be "Once you meet the dentist of your dreams, you are ready to make some serious cash." Not much of a strong stance for professional autonomy.
Educational institutions that provide an online glimpse into the education, skills, and dedication necessary for obtaining a degree offer varying amounts of information. One can almost immediately tell the difference between those websites administered by dental professionals from those aimed at attracting as many candidates as possible. One of my favorite academic homepages catches the eye with the question, "Serious About Health Care?"3 Right away visitors realize that dental hygiene is health care. Further reading reveals pride in a bachelor's level program that requires a variety of courses and full-time student commitment.
A key component of a web search is optimization, or the order in which web pages are listed, and this is determined by popularity. The ADHA has an excellent section on Dental Hygiene Education Programs4 that offers suggestions from entry level to master's degree completion opportunities. Unfortunately all three search engines that I checked listed the site in slot 3 to 5.
The first position on every list was held by a site titled simply "Dental Hygienist."5 Slightly more than a teaser and cover site for collegesurfing.com, most of the hyperlinks take the user to the homepage. The site claims to offer online education for dental hygienist schools, yet all three of the programs listed are on campus, and each subsequent click makes focused exploration a bit frustrating. The best thing about this site is that the role of ADHA is covered, though the hyperlink again goes to their page and not the ADHA.
There are too many false advertising sites on dental hygiene and the professional education required to mention in one column, but there is something each RDH can do to bring factual information to the forefront of all Internet searches for dental hygiene. Visit sites sharing your career values, goals, and experiences often, even if only for the sake of a click, because ranking on search engines is solely based on keyword and site popularity.
I suggest daily hits on www.dentistryiq.com6 and www.adha.org,7 as well as your state and local component websites. Type "dental hygiene" into a search engine and locate the pages you support and click, no matter where they appear on the ranking, to increase visibility and exposure of valuable resources. It might take some catching up since many visits to less desirable sites were necessary for this article.
I truly hope 2013 was a year of worthwhile web weaving for you, and I share wishes for an even better Internet experience in 2014.
LORY LAUGHTER, RDH, BS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Links to web-based materials referred to in this column
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