by Trish De Dios, RDH
Before writing this column, I asked myself, "Trish, what sorts of questions do Millennials have about their careers?" I thought, if I could draw from my own experiences, I could offer some worthy insight for the Millennials and new graduates who are now in the dental hygiene profession. Nowadays, team members of different generations often make up the workplace whether it is a dental office, a classroom, a community event, or a board that leads a dental hygiene association.
Generations working together is a not a new concept. But I am inspired to be a voice for those new hygiene professionals that seek guidance as they enter today's tough job market and aspire to grow and develop as a professional. I can relate because I am on a similar journey. I am currently pursuing new opportunities of professional growth and fulfillment.
This column is tailored for the recent graduates; many of them are part of the Millennial generation — born between 1980 and 2000. We are known to be tech-savvy, obsessed with our personal technological devices, the social media gurus, the multi-taskers and generally, the movers and the shakers. We are described as confident and can be misread as being demanding. Not demanding as in barking orders, but Millennials prefer autonomy in the workplace and having their opinion carry some weight.1 Millennials want to be part of collaboration; they want to participate and be innovative. In the workplace, Millennials are said to desire a personal connection with their work, and we want our work to be meaningful.2 Who wouldn't? These are reportedly some strong attributes and trends of this generation, and I enjoy thinking of these things as they apply to a dental hygienist.
I chose the title to this article because of the attitude Millennials have when it comes to getting what they want. The rumor is that we expect 24-hour service and want things and actions to happen pretty much yesterday. In our defense, this is just encouraged by what technology has afforded us. I can easily think of a dozen things I can do in a moment's time — share a photo, transfer money, schedule a doctor's appointment, buy movie tickets, etc. Whatever it may be, this mindset I'm describing is what I want to discuss as it relates to the dental hygienist.
HOW MILLENNIAL TRAITS CAN WORK TO YOUR ADVANTAGE AND DISADVANTAGE
I think it's pretty fair to say that at the end of our dental hygiene schooling we are at the top of our game, and our confidence is high regarding how to practice our profession. Transitioning into private practice all of a sudden creates a downshift in confidence in our skills, and we are now expected to perform for real patients of a private practice and work alongside a practicing dentist and staff we aim to impress.
This scenario can be overwhelming to new graduates, and our Millennial thought processes could make the transition tough, since we would like to fit in with the team and "win" patients over immediately. One of my mistakes as a new graduate was not being able to see past the imperfections of an office. I made it my priority to intitiate changes, which is right in line with Millennial stereotypes. A headstrong, aggressive approach like this was not the best plan, because, in the hopes of implementing change, I was missing out on my new experiences and learning from them.
Here is an analogy. A good friend recently told me that, when I call him, he closes his laptop, turns off the TV, and proceeds to give the conversation 100% of his attention. I was taken back by this — or perhaps I was guilt-stricken — since all my phone conversations usually are supplemented with Internet browsing, television, and, on some occasions, I have even put someone on speaker phone so that I could send a text while they were talking. Intrigued by this, I probed further and learned that, although he was perfectly capable of multitasking (phone, computer, TV), he realized he wasn't giving people the attention they deserved and was probably only absorbing a fraction of what he could give.
This ah-ha moment left me thinking of my early experiences in the office and how I probably short-changed myself on some learning opportunities because of my drive to move ahead and change things so hurriedly. We must be cautious not to let our generational tendencies compromise our learning and growth.
On the other hand, I absolutely encourage you to unleash your Millennial strengths when appropriate. When it comes to patient care, don't worry about what you might not know or what you don't understand about each clinical case. The truth is that you are a qualified clinician, and every patient can be a new learning experience (if you let it be). I remember that with the very first patient I saw in private practice, neither the doctor nor the patient knew it was my first clinical experience since graduation. I followed the sequence I learned from school, starting with the review of the medical history to the flossing of all contacts at the end of the appointment. The patient left very pleased and even praised me in front of the dentist.
Here are a few reasons why I think the appointment went so well. First, I acted confident. While a clinic jacket may not look good on everyone, confidence does, and apparently Millennials are known for wearing confidence well. My attitude was the variable that I could control. I was strategic in my demeanor from the moment I called the patient from the waiting room. I strived to make a strong first impression with the office staff and with the patient (no one knew me well), and would be judging me by the rapport I established.
I learned quickly that performing a comprehensive EOIO/oral cancer screening was an easy "win." Confidently performing this potentially life-saving exam, while explaining the process, instantly created a trust between the patient and me. The comprehensive exam also set the tone for the rest of their visit; I believe the patient trusted that the remainder of the appointment would continue to be very thorough.
For the ensuing patients who did not initially value the oral cancer screening and seemed a bit skeptical, I made sure to not let that scare me or be less thorough. Eventually, I would see them again at recall appointments, and I would have another opportunity to educate them. Moreover, demonstrating consistency between appointments is a strong attribute that adds value to the hygiene appointment. A "wishy-washy" approach with treatment and care can certainly create mistrust between you and the patient.
To this day, one of my favorite clinical tips that have I learned is called "toothbrush polishing." I do perform a rubber cup polish with prophy paste and I use an air polisher on almost all my patients. But at the very end of the appointment, I finish with simply brushing the patient's teeth with a toothbrush and either a liquid medicament or toothpaste, depending on what I see fit. I find so much value in this that I could never eliminate the tooth brushing from my sequence.
Frankly, my patients would miss it because it feels great, especially after being scaled. I often refer to it as the gum massage at the end of the appointment. The tooth brushing removes any residual grit from the prophy paste, and it is a great conversation starter regarding brushing technique and amount of toothpaste to use. I love to remind patients about what two minutes of brushing actually feels like.
Also, many of my patients bring in their own electric toothbrushes for me to use on them. I love this because not only can I tweak current technique if need be, but this also gives me an opportunity to examine the unit and inspect the brush head. The amount of positive feedback I get from brushing the patients' teeth at every appointment is incredible. I do it for educational purposes, but also for the extra touch of "customer service" that it has seemed to add to their experience. These are a few of the things that has helped me remain confident when meeting new patients and working for new employers.
To this day, I still find myself sifting through my strengths and Millennial tendencies as a dental hygienist. I've applied concepts that work and some that didn't work. Being malleable is important. Some say, "If you don't bend, you will break." Hygienists are committed to being lifelong learners, but we also know that changes in our profession often happen slowly. It's inspiring to see many of my peers who are recent graduates, take initiative, and get involved in professional growth. As Millennials, we are not afraid to lead, collaborate, or compromise; we often just wish we had all that we strive for … well, yesterday. RDH
1. The New Millennial Values. Forbes Magazine. Jul. 4. 2012. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/prospernow/2012/07/05/the-new-Millennial-values/ on Dec 8, 2012.
2. Millennial Generation Trends for 2012. Your Success Network. Retrieved from http://ysn.com/Millennial-generation-trends-for-2012/ on Dec8, 2012.
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 [email protected].
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