The Value of the Prepared Hygienist

Dental hygiene is undergoing an identity change as the job title "dental hygienist" now encompasses more than just clinical duties.

by Trish De Dios, RDH

Dental hygiene is undergoing an identity change as the job title "dental hygienist" now encompasses more than just clinical duties. Dental hygienists are broadening their scope of expertise and becoming true advocates for a profession celebrating its centenary this year.

As a hygienist who has her hands in multiple pots, people often ask me what my "job title" is. I take great pleasure in explaining the complexity and diversity of a contemporary hygienist. Although I approach each role with similar vigor and commitment, I consider myself a clinical dental hygienist, a volunteer for The Oral Cancer Foundation, a columnist, and, more recently, an independent consultant and product educator on behalf of Water Pik Inc. This is not in order of importance but rather a chronological representation of when each position was acquired.

I am often asked, "How did you get that job?" It seems more than ever, dental hygienists are seeking positions outside of the operatory. It is my opinion that the groundwork for earning nonclinical positions starts as early as the first year of dental hygiene school. As a student, I kept mindful of my future aspirations to speak, teach, and be a key opinion leader in the profession. I wanted to create a network of contacts and gain experiences immediately.

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Other articles by Trish De Dios

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I took advantage of leadership roles within my class and begun to get involved and educate myself through platforms such as Amy's RDH List and RDH magazine. I would take the time to write to authors and ask questions I had about an article or just let them know their article inspired me. Before I even realized it, I was networking! I was pre-planning the career I wanted to have by being engaged and proactive.

Career planning paves the way to future career success. The networking that starts early on helps you build your credibility, professional reputation, and simply assists in you during the development as a professional. This "self-development" never stops! To this day I continue to work to grow into the professional I desire to be. I consider the "golden nugget" to new career opportunities is building relationships within the field.

How to network and what networking is can be an article all on it its own, but don't let the word "networking" turn you off. Networking does not mean you are the life of the party or a Type A extrovert. It means seeking out those who are doing great things with their knowledge and skills, and developing a professional relationship with them for two reasons:

  • To learn from them
  • To leave them with an impression of you that you wan them to remember

With regards to my dental hygiene journey, I can attest that being professionally active with your professional associations absolutely opens more doors for you. You will absolutely benefit from attending seminars, but remember your journey is what you make of it. If you find yourself going through the motions and attending but not engaging, then you are likely not going to reap the benefits you are looking for in the first place. Being involved with professional associations such as the ADHA and local and state components have somehow always kept me surrounded by like-minded mentors and just the "right" people who keep me inspired.

Please keep in mind, I am not an expert by any means. I am simply writing from experience, and I am so happy to say that if you feel you need an expert in professional career development there are many dental hygienists who have made it their business to help hygienists get where they want in their career.

Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors the prepared mind." Everything you do for your career counts! Be attentive and capitalize on every opportunity you get. Don't be disheartened if every aspect of the dental hygiene profession does not engage you. Inspiration can come in many forms, and I cannot recommend enough attending conferences such as the RDH Under One Roof! If even only to socialize, the benefits of enjoying a drink and a laugh with a concurring and passionate peer may be the spark you require. What is it that you need to commit to, to get to your desired end point? Is it completing your degree? Taking a computer class? Is it signing up for a CareerFusion conference? Whatever it is: Commit. To. It.

If you are hungry for something, it needs to be sought after with significant effort. Don't wait for an opportunity to come to you; instead, I encourage you to be the "cog in the wheel." You need to be your own best representative of what you are and what you can do and what you want. An RDH friend once told me (and I never forgot it), "Do what you love, and the money will come." My interpretation of this was do not look for a well-paying position; instead, look for a position that you will enjoy and love and then because of your passion it will move you forward to your next endeavor. RDH


Resources mentioned in this article

Amy's RDH List -- This was a great way for me to learn who's who in the dental hygiene field. Many "listers" are also key opinion leaders in dental hygiene, and many do more than clinical hygiene. This e-mail forum is a great resource for all your clinical or nonclinical questions and a way to network with hundreds of dental hygienists. For more information, visit: health.groups.yahoo.com/group/RDHListers/

RDH Under One Roof Conference --
www.rdhunderoneroof.com/index.html

CareerFusion -- careerfusion.net

TRISH DE DIOS, RDH, graduated as president of her dental hygiene class in 2008. She currently works full-time clinically and is also a Regional Coordinator for The Oral Cancer Foundation. She can be contacted at hygienist.trish@gmail.com.

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