Many career alternatives are available due to what you already know as a dental hygienist
BY Sandra Sacks Berger RDH, BS
The choice of a major in college was very stressful for my middle son. His older brother always knew what he wanted to major in, and I went to college with dental hygiene as my passion and major. While I love clinical dental hygiene, I knew it wasn't the last stop in my professional career. I kept telling my son not to worry and that, at 49 years old, "I still wasn't sure what I wanted to be when I grew up." He didn't get it, but I'm sure many of you do.
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Hygiene may be your passion. You may love your job and your patients, but you still need a change. Hourly wages have gone down and the private practice market is saturated in many states. Health, injuries, lifestyles, death, divorce, and work environment can all lead to a need or a desire to transition to a different career. I believe dental hygiene as a profession isn't all about income, but more about job satisfaction. Dental hygiene necessitates a main body of knowledge along with the mastery of specific information. This knowledge and information can be used in nonclinical situations.
An entry on Facebook states: "I want to dress nice and look nice and be out. I don't like to wear scrubs any more and be in one room seeing patients all day long." This, too, can be accomplished while still using the main body of knowledge all dental hygienists possess.
What are the alternatives? Where do you start? Do you stay in the dental world, or leave it completely? These are all valid questions, and a consideration of specific information will help you with your decisions.
What are the alternatives?
The alternatives are endless; sales rep for a dental company, education, research, advertising, booth representation, and speaking are all possibilities. Do you like to travel or want to stay close to home? Is a bachelor's or a master's degree needed? These are questions you need to answer before searching and accepting a job in a corporate environment.
If you are interested in a certain company approach them, ask about specific hiring requirements, job openings, and other opportunities. Tony Stefanou has a workshop geared towards selling to dentists. The workshop is potentially helpful if you are unsure if sales is for you, or if you are already in sales and need some help.
Jodie Heimbach, RDH, BS, is a district sales manager for Sunstar Americas. She said she uses the knowledge gleaned from her 30 years of clinical hygiene when working with her dental office clients.
Jodie said, "I was there. I know how an office runs, and I know the products I used in clinical hygiene. The offices sense that I know their needs and listen to what I have to say."
Alternative clinical positions may be found at correctional institutions, military bases, hospitals, nursing homes, public health, veterinary practices, and mobile practices. Individual state practice acts need to be consulted for some of these opportunities. There are also opportunities internationally for those of us that feel stuck but don't want to leave clinical. Many are short-term positions, and you can travel on your off days.
What about starting your own business? Coaching, consulting, speaking, and writing are all available for those who yearn for entrepreneurship. Natalie Boecker is a Melaleuca.com representative who decided to become a business owner after 38 years of clinical hygiene and realizing she couldn't work as much physically.
Natalie said, "When you run your own business, you are in control. It feels good!"
I too started my own business consulting with continuing education. Superior Seminar Solutions can help with all aspects of CE and meeting planning. I love the flexibility it gives me as well as the opportunities. I can be the speaker or hire a speaker; I can be behind the scenes helping companies become AGD providers, as well becoming one myself. It is an evolving situation. Many other dental hygienists have started their own companies or invented products and brought them to fruition.
The key to any change is to find mentors and get started. While I was working part time in clinical and part-time coordinating a study club, I heard the author of "Write it Down Make it Happen" speak about her book. This book helped me focus and realize what I wanted to do. There are many books out there that can help you on your way to being "unstuck."
Where do you start?
In addition to self-help books, many other resources are available for insights about transitioning from clinical hygiene or enhancing your clinical career. Look for career counseling in your area. Local community colleges often have counselling available for free or a nominal cost. You can also plan and make the investment to go to a major dental meeting or career-based mentoring opportunity. There are many out there. These can be costly, but if you are serious about change and need help, I've found they are worth the expense.
CareerFusion, LLC, is a learning continuum highlighted each year with an annual retreat hosted in Daytona Beach, Fla., every January. Beth Thompson, RDH, BS, FACE, is the director and founder of CareerFusion. Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH, who frequently writes articles for RDH magazine, is a coach at CareerFusion. They have created something that is truly distinctive. It is geared toward health care professionals seeking growth and development to enhance their career options in addition to the clinical environment.
The 4-½ day retreat focuses on developing presentations, writing, networking skills, and elements of continuing education program design. It is a unique environment with health-care providers, corporate representatives, support staff, and others who are interested in exploring options within as well as outside of the clinical environment. Corporate partners have an opportunity to train the trainers, engage in guided learning sales and marketing activities and sharing their educational materials to develop product specialists. The learning continues throughout the year with monthly webinars on various topics, get-togethers at national meetings and always available support from Beth, Shirley, other members of the team, and attendees.
Websites to the information stated in this article, as well as some other resources, are very useful in a dental hygienist's quest for career alternatives.
Beyond the Operatory is another great resource. It is a workshop hosted in New York City twice a year. The hosts, Dr. Anthony Stefanou and Teresa Duncan, explore details on available options, help determine your strengths and interests, share what is most in demand now and the future of the industry, and help develop your game plan. Tony and Teresa have experience in all of these areas, plus the important aspects of strategic corporate relationships, marketing, and the fine art of networking. They will share with you not only "what to do" but also the pitfalls to avoid when getting started so you don't make the mistakes they made!
Professional associations are also a very good resource to help in your career alternative search. The ADHA has a section called Career Paths on its website. This is a great place to start your search. The American Dental Association also has a Career Options page with alternative suggestions and resources. As with CareerFusion and Beyond the Operatory, the networking and mentoring a professional association provides is most valuable in your alternative career search.
Do you stay in the dental world, or leave it completely?
Now that you've "written it down," and you have an idea of what direction you want your new career to go, let's make it happen! This is a process, involving research counselling opportunities, career-based mentoring opportunities, association information, and mentors. If possible, let people know you are looking. If you've taken a course on career change, keep in contact with the organizer. Timing is important, and keeping your mentors appraised of what you are doing and what you want to do will keep you in mind. This way, if an opportunity opens up, you will be the first one they call.
Our knowledge, which includes the mastery of specific information about dentistry, can be utilized in other arenas in the health-care world. Administrative opportunities are available in medical, physical therapy, and chiropractic offices. Insurance companies are also a possibility. My expertise in continuing education is now being put to use in the financial world. Accountants, lawyers, and financial planners all need continuing education just like dental hygienists. While I can't be the speaker for these courses, I can coordinate them and know the ins and outs of applying for CE certification.
Do you have a hobby, make crafts, or love to write? Does the hobby fit into a CE course or event for a local study club? Sell crafts at a local dental meeting. Write an article and submit it to one of the dental publications. RDH magazine and its dental hygiene newsletters are always willing to look at an article and use it if possible. These are all ways to think out of the box and merge your interests with your current training and knowledge of dental hygiene.
Some dental hygienists choose to leave the dental world completely as their career alternative. If you are a new graduate, going back to school for an additional major may be an easy option. One dental hygienist states that she graduated in 2012 and is now pursuing a degree in nursing. She only has to take the core nursing courses as the basic ones were fulfilled when she got her dental hygiene degree.
I support all hygienists who advance their education, be it traditionally as a bachelor's or master's, or through any other type of leadership conferences, association affiliations, and networking occasions. Don't feel "stuck" in your career. Many opportunities are open for dental professionals with dental hygiene degrees. RDH
Sandra Sacks Berger, RDH, BS, is president/owner of Superior Seminar Solutions (SSS), which manages all areas of continuing education, study clubs and dental event planning. She has presented at Yankee, Greater New York, and RDH Under One Roof dental meetings, as well as many other venues. Sandra's entrepreneurial side was enhanced while attending CareerFusion and she started her own company. Sandra is very active in New Jersey dental hygiene association, received the Sunstar RDH Award of Distinction, and is a Beyond the Operatory Alumni. Sandra lives in New Jersey with her husband, Jonathan, and dogs, Chip and Wendy. Sandra can be reached at [email protected].