Editor's Note

Jan. 15, 2014
Buried in the 466 comments that I read about career trends during the RDH eVillage salary survey last year was a Gandhi-demonstrate-nonviolently protest from Mississippi.

Buried in the 466 comments that I read about career trends during the RDH eVillage salary survey last year was a Gandhi-demonstrate-nonviolently protest from Mississippi. Mississippi, understand, is not a big player in the annual salary survey. The bulk of the 1,382 responses came from California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

You would think the related articles would fixate on a comment from one of those states. To a certain extent, they did. One of the articles appearing in late 2013 examined why only 21% of dental hygienists wished they could work more hours than they do. A common concern is that the recession's path included dentistry, and dental hygienists were being asked to work fewer hours than desired. Chicago is an exception. According to the survey's statistics, 37% of the hygienists in the city would like to work more hours than they do.

Mississippi took its place at the end of the line, as far as active participation in the survey went. Only four hygienists from the Magnolia State completed the survey. Only one of the four has a bachelor's degree. None work more than 24 hours a week, and two of them are just fine with their work schedule as it currently stands. Three of them expected to finish with an income of under $30,000 for the year from dental hygiene. The fourth one projected a 2013 income between $41,000 and $45,000. The three hourly rates reported were $23, $24, and $28.

This is probably not the picture of a dental hygiene career that you want to project to the outside world, even though the state does boast warm weather and a lower cost of living.

Then came this comment from Mississippi:

"Love what I do, but not the hourly rate in one office. Makes not working look better each day. My time is worth more. I'd rather volunteer and help someone in need than be used."

How Gandhi is that?

If you're tired of too many dental hygiene schools flooding the market with hungry applicants, willing to take jobs for lower wages to begin repaying student loans ... If you're tired of dentists coping with hard times by doing hygiene themselves ... If you're tired of Year (fill in the blank hopefully with only one digit) passing by without a raise ...

... volunteer.

Yes, Mississippi is a direct supervision state. So it would be difficult to legally walk down a street where it's known that the residents are struggling and ask, "Does anyone need any root planing today?"

Yes, Mississippi residents have to pay bills too -- utilities, gasoline, food, and a pair of soccer shoes for the little one. So volunteering isn't really a good idea. Still, you do have to admire the spirit of Gandhi in Birmingham.

"Hey! Just a little more than 100 years ago, a dentist felt prevention from dental diseases is very important and orchestrated the creation of the dental hygiene profession. I am well trained to do just that. I can make a difference in the health of my community. If the rest of you yahoos can't wrap your budgets and minds around that, I am going to shave my head, don a robe, sit in the middle of the street, and offer my services on a voluntary basis to anyone who needs them."

Well, maybe not that dramatically. Attempts to mask disgust with the direction of the profession, however, were thinly veiled in those 466 comments (see page 16).

I suppose most of my statements here can be interpreted as advocating discord. Not necessarily. One survey question asked dental hygienists about the percentage of production that salaries are based upon. My RDH eVillage colleague, Kristine Hodsdon, wrote about the results. Fifty-eight percent of dental hygienists do not know their salary to production ratio (of the ones who do know, 41% said their salary was approximately 20% to 30% of production). Among everything else you know about dentistry, you should know your impact on the business of dentistry too.

Many hygienists donate time to local community outreach efforts or even foreign charity efforts. Admittedly, "volunteerism" is not the answer for the long-term growth of the profession. What is called for is increased collaboration with health-care professions to promote the benefits of dental hygiene services. Support your dental hygiene association's efforts to do just that, and sustain the faith that 2014 will be a healthier year for both you and your patients.

Mark Hartley
[email protected]
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