When dental hygienists look for their “forever dental home” or “unicorn office,” they tend to focus their efforts on identifying red flags—office characteristics that alert them to issues they might encounter as future team members. While you do need to be aware of red flags, little emphasis is placed on the positive, desirable attributes when selecting a place of employment. Here are our top "green flags" that every hygienist should expect to see when on the hunt for the right position, and how to make a lasting impact as a new team member.
Positive work environment
Our views and beliefs about the profession of dental hygiene begin the moment we accept our first job offer. Our careers are deeply impacted by who and what we surround ourselves with. Finding a dental team that is supportive and works collaboratively will reduce your risk of experiencing burnout. A positive work environment is one where you can head into work without anxiety in the pit of your stomach. It’s one where you can laugh a little throughout the day, enjoy conversations with your coworkers, and leave feeling like part of a team. When we feel uplifted and empowered, it amplifies our passion and dedication to providing quality care. The work environment not only affects you, but also your patients.
Quality over quantity
As hygienists, we prioritize patient care over production. This starts with being given adequate appointment lengths. We’ve all heard the term “hygiene mill” or read a job listing that says “seeking a rock-star hygienist.” This typically means they’re looking for a hygienist willing to accept short appointment times or double-column hygiene. If executed correctly, double-column hygiene and short appointment lengths can be successful. However, these types of schedules tend to cause burnout and take advantage of the hygienist. An office that allows hygienists the necessary amount of time to properly treat patients is one that truly values patient care. These offices will see higher patient and employee retention.
The sight of a bonus structure can often scream that the office is only interested in production, but that’s not always the case. There are ways to implement a bonus structure that won’t turn you into a salesperson. Having a daily production goal doesn’t have to mean overdiagnosing periodontal disease and completing scaling and root planing on every patient. It can mean recommending fluoride to a patient with high caries risk or recommending an electric toothbrush to a patient with poor oral hygiene. A bonus structure can include incentives for scheduling recare appointments, performing fluoride applications, achieving daily/monthly production goals, and more. Bonus structures create opportunities for hygienists to earn more than just an hourly wage.
Availability and condition of instruments and equipment
While some aspects of a dental practice can be overlooked or negotiated, one thing that cannot be valued highly enough is the office’s supply of quality hygiene instruments. Having sharp, plentiful hand instruments that are available in a diverse selection communicates that the office prioritizes patient care and supports the important work of the hygiene department.
Power instruments, whether they are polishing handpieces or ultrasonic scalers, should be in optimum working condition with all the accessories required to tackle any type of dental hygiene scenario. An office can receive bonus points for investing in cutting-edge technology such as hygiene lasers, cordless handpieces, air polishing systems, advanced high-volume evacuation options, or equipment that encourages ergonomic comfort for the clinician. Working with these types of tools helps to minimize provider stress and increase patient comfort and care.
10 ways to make the most of your new role
Once you’ve found an office that checks all your boxes and you officially join the team, there are some things you can do to make sure you get off to a good start. While you need to be selective in choosing where you practice, you also need to make positive personal contributions to your new team.
Try these suggestions on how to make the most of your new employment opportunity and build long-lasting relationships with your colleagues:
- Keep an open mind about new policies and procedures.
- Don’t expect to come in and make immediate changes.
- Work to understand and support your dentist’s patient-care philosophy.
- Treat your patients and teammates with kindness and respect.
- Refrain from gossip and negative side conversations.
- Help maintain the sterilization area and turn over operatories.
- Vocalize your desire to be a leader within the hygiene department.
- Come to your team with solutions to the problems you encounter.
- Ask your teammates how you can help them before leaving the office each day.
- Share any new knowledge you acquired at recent CE events with your team.
When you’re on your next job search, make sure to look at the whole picture. We often laser-focus on one thing, such as hourly rate, but there’s much more to consider. Every office will have its pros and cons, but being aware of both the red flags and the green flags will give you a better idea of what to look for in an office.
Once you land your dream job, remember that you have a responsibility to use your unique skills and abilities to complement and enhance the team. A collaborative relationship between team members is a beautiful thing. We wish you the best of luck as you search for your ideal office!Editor's note: This article appeared in the December 2022 print edition of RDH magazine. Dental hygienists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.