Add me to the list of burned-out hygienists. It’s been nearly a decade since I graduated, and I’ve felt my passion and fascination for my career plummet over the last several years. The cycle of eight to 10 patients a day seemed neverending: medical history, chief complaint, x-rays, small talk, probe, scale, polish, floss, exam, schedule recare. My nightmares of monotony were forever ongoing.
I have worked full-time since I graduated but decided to try temping when I relocated to a new city. I currently live in Colorado and the temping market is wonderfully busy. I wanted to slow down and reap the benefits of a flexible schedule while being my own boss. My previous job was so demanding that I was at my wits’ end with hygiene. My body, soul, and mind ached for a much-needed change.
Filling in as a hygienist for various offices has been my saving grace, and I regret not doing so earlier. I’m learning about new software, equipment, and instruments I’ve never used before. I’m also given the pleasure of seeing how numerous offices operate and how different dentists and clinicians practice. I’ve been given the opportunity to meet and make friends with others in the dental field, especially my fellow preventive care specialists.
A turning point
One turning point for me was at an office I subbed at for several months. I was put to shame by one hygienist in particular. She was by far the most amazing RDH I’ve ever worked with. She was in her late 30s, as kind as could be, and an absolute joy to be around. The way she interacted with patients on a personal level was astonishing, and the amount of love and respect her patients gave her was nearly jealousy inducing. My memories of those days were long gone; I didn’t realize just how bitter and resentful toward my job I had become.
Never in my life have I seen a clinician pay so much attention to detail as well as communicate perio, home care, and the overall status of a patient’s dentition. Additionally, her patients were well trained and stayed religious to their recare appointments (even the three-month and four-month recares!). I saw several of her patients, and every single one understood their entire appointment process and dental needs. Very rarely, if ever, have I heard a patient tell me they were, “Due for a FMX today,” “Don’t forget my fluoride,” or even, “We’re using the laser today, right?”
Holy cow, I needed to step my game up! These patients were essentially doing the work for me. It was a true patient-clinician partnership all thanks to that hygienist. Her philosophy of patient care is why she loved being a hygienist, so I followed suit. I was blown away by how my attitude was transformed when I rediscovered how rewarding my job can be. I relearned how to care for others.
The encouragement to keep going
I’ve seen the good and the bad of dental practices. It’s the good offices that threw me a lifeboat. The thankfulness and appreciation given to me for showing up, working hard, and helping out assured me that I am well versed at my job and still have several years in me. It was the positive encouragement I needed to hear. I’ve experienced nothing short of delightful offices, which has combatted my negative experiences at past jobs. I regularly receive help with tasks like perio charting, sterilization, and x-rays. At previous jobs, help like this was such a rare occurrence, and I was shocked that I was receiving it without feeling like a burden. I constantly felt alone and overworked at previous jobs; it’s no wonder I was barely running on fumes.
I can’t overemphasize how temping has been such an eye-opening experience. I’ve heard from coworkers over the years that hygienists are overrated. I was once even told that I was “overpaid and don’t deserve help.” I felt guilty when I heard comments like that, and it made me slowly devalue being a hygienist. It turns out I was working at the wrong offices that don’t value teamwork or each other. If I choose to work permanently at an office again, company culture will be my number one priority in my search criteria.
I was once so exhausted with hygiene that I pursued grad school as a means of leaving the dentistry field altogether. I used to love what I do then quickly began to hate it, but I don’t feel that way anymore. Thanks to temping and surrounding myself with the right people, I’ve found my passion for dentistry again. My advice to those hygienists who have felt the same way: temp and find the office that makes you happy. It might just be the perfect way to rekindle your career. Overall, my experience has been uplifting and provided me with motivation to come to work, have fun, and improve patients’ lives once again. Being able to set my own schedule is a nice perk, too. I can’t thank that hygienist and the enjoyable offices enough for being the inspiration I needed to continue with this profession.