By Anne Guignon, RDH, MPH, CSP
Internet forums are full of disgruntled clinicians complaining about how they feel physically, problems with their employers and coworkers, and, most regrettably, unfortunate scenarios with patients. Hygienists of all ages and from all parts to the country take pride in figuring out ways to ditch clinical dental hygiene.
It is easy to get sucked into the negativity, but typically complainers are way more vocal than people who are content with their working environments. While the practice of dental hygiene has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, there are some amazing bright spots that can and will take our profession forward.
Dental hygienists are health-care providers. We serve people. With few exceptions, we all graduated from accredited dental hygiene programs. School was hard, the faculty was exacting, and graduates are well prepared to provide good clinical care. Obviously, there are other career pathways such as teaching, sales, research, writing, and administration, but to perform in those arenas, we still must have a solid background in clinical care.
Dental hygiene practice is not all moonlight and roses. But how we approach our profession determines our personal future. When online discussions start going south, it is sad to see hygienists who embrace a victim mentality. They bemoan unfair employee practices, endless aches and pains, lack of professional opportunities, and poor earning potentials. While I agree that there are some very shoddy working conditions, not all dentists are bad employers, not all coworkers are out to get us, and not all patients are demanding or creepy.
While the competition for a good position can be stiff, the last time I looked clinical care still involves putting our hands in someone’s mouth. The mere fact that our positions can’t be outsourced to a third world country should fill our hearts with gratitude and thanksgiving.
Playing victim is easy. It is much harder to figure out a way to make our working situation better or even change to a new venue. Without a patient, those of us in clinical can’t earn a living. We need to be grateful for patients who believe in what we offer. They carve out time from their busy schedules to come to our offices and dental practices are willing to hire us to provide services for these patients.
At this point, some of you are probably shaking your heads, but think about the housekeeper who earns a pittance to clean your house every week. What about the restaurant server who relies on tips to create a full wage, or the bus driver who works split shifts to bus your kids to school?
I can hear your response now. But we have an education and a college degree. Yes, you do and that is why you earn more per hour than many other workers in the country. Student debt has been a way of life for most dental hygienists and dentists who have graduated over the last 10 years. But student debt is not new. I clearly remember driving down the road six months after graduation realizing that my first loan installment was due in a couple of weeks. You would laugh at the amount today, but back then it was a lot of money.
The positive side of connecting
From my vantage point, we should also be grateful for our ability to readily connect via the internet. Companies often underwrite these forums. The Colgate Oral Health Advisor site is a perfect example. Over 15,000 dental hygienists communicate 24/7, 365 days a year. We need to champion and support companies such as PennWell who fuel our education pipeline with publications like RDH, and continuing opportunities through RDH Under One Roof and the Dental Academy of CE.
Have you given thought to the time and expense a company incurs to bring innovative products into our hands? Recent innovations such as the Young Dental’s Varnish Pen, Orascoptic’s Spark headlight or the OmniOptic loupes, and Ansell’s UltraForm half sizes are products that will help improve our clinical outcomes.
What about the dental hygiene entrepreneurs who often place their lives on hold to bring new ideas and products to us? What about the potential to care for patients when we incorporate teledentistry to care for patients with innovations such as MouthWatch?
Each of us also needs to be grateful for the unsung hours that our colleagues spend trying to craft meaningful legislation that allows us to practice outside of the four walls of a traditional office. We should be grateful for those who are willing to support our professional organization, the recognized voice of our profession on a state and national level. We need to be grateful for the California pioneers who put their member interests at the forefront when the state’s dental hygiene association choose to follow an independent path.
So, what are you doing to make your workplace a better place? What are you willing to do to support the advancements in our profession? It’s time to express sincere gratitude and give thanks that there are so many willing to support us. RDH
ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, CSP, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971, and can be contacted at [email protected].