BYKara Vavrosky, RDH
I am often asked what hygienists can do to expand their career outside of the clinical setting. This is actually a quite difficult question to answer. Not because there are no other options - in fact, there's many. It's difficult to give a one-size-fits-all answer because it really depends on the particular individual and his or her specific goals, expectations, and skillset. However, there is one common theme to help you expand your career beyond clinical work if that's what you want to do. You need to develop an entrepreneur's mindset.
Having an entrepreneur's mindset doesn't mean you need to start your own business. Of course that's an option, but starting a successful business is not an easy task. Having the mindset of an entrepreneur is all about identifying, pursuing, and most importantly, creating opportunities for yourself. For better or for worse, we are in a profession that is highly specialized, and for the most part our career path is laid out for us. We go to school to learn the technical skills of dental hygiene and (hopefully) are able to get a job where we put those skills to use. We aren't taught to think like entrepreneurs, which can cause us to sometimes miss opportunities that are right in front of us.
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So how do you start to develop the mindset of an entrepreneur to expand your career beyond clinical work? First, identify your goals. Are you looking to completely replace your current job or just make a little extra money every month? Your specific goals determine the opportunities you should seek. If you desire a complete career change, but want to put your knowledge of dental hygiene to use, identify your strengths. Are you a natural educator? Do you have the personality and drive to work in sales? Do you enjoy research? Maybe you can easily identify a problem and develop a solution. Whatever the case may be, it's important to be honest with yourself about what value you can bring to the table. The ability to clearly articulate what you want and what you can offer others will give you the confidence to spot and pursue opportunities around you.
Once you have identified your goals, and the strengths and value you can offer others, it's time to start looking for opportunities that will be a good fit. While it would be great if opportunities would just fall in our laps, that's just not how the world works. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - you will stand out that much more by taking the initiative to reach out to others because most people won't be doing the same. At this point, you may be asking yourself whom you should be reaching out to. This depends entirely on your specific goals, but attending the various annual dental conferences is a great place to start. Dental conferences in your local area are a great option, but I also recommend RDH Under One Roof, a national conference, as its structure encourages networking and having fun.
Your goal should be the same regardless of the conferences you choose. Approach the vendors who have booths; they are there because they are trying to get their name out to people in dentistry. They all appreciate and respect the perspective a hygienist brings. Talk to the vendor representatives and let them know you are looking to expand your career. Ask questions about what their company does and look for ways to use your strengths to help them out. They may be looking for somebody to help with sales, research, or even CE instruction.
If you are unable to attend any dental conferences, all is not lost. You can find a vendor list on most conference websites and can reach out to many companies via their website. The goal is still the same - practice contacting others and seeing what value you can provide to them.
Expanding your career beyond the clinic takes some work. Opportunity doesn't always knock on your door, so it's your responsibility to seek out those opportunities and open up your own door. By developing an entrepreneur's mindset, you will begin to see more and more opportunities around you, as well as exactly how you can take advantage of those opportunities to grow professionally. I encourage you to explore this mentality - the results just might transform your life beyond what you ever thought possible! RDH
Kara Vavrosky, RDH, runs the popular Facebook page, Dental Hygiene with Kara RDH, and is also the founder of DentalHygieneAnswers.com, a question and answer platform for dental hygienists. Kara serves on the Clinical Advisory Board of GoodMouth, a toothbrush subscription service, and the Advisory Board of Support Clean Dentistry, an initiative to raise awareness of cleanliness in the dental office. Kara currently works for a one-doctor, family-oriented practice in Portland, Oregon.