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10 tips for dental hygienists looking to do more with their career

March 1, 2020
Meet Josey, aka Josalyn Sewell, RDH, a dental hygienist who no longer makes a living by what she can do with a scaler, but by what she influences as a leader. Do you want to do “more” with your career too? Here are some insider’s tips.

“Dear Josey, 

I listened to you speak at the Dentist Entrepreneur Organization conference last week. I loved hearing about your experience and your growth from a dental hygienist to the leader of a large organization. As a dental hygienist myself, I am trying to reach the next step in my career. I know I want to do more, but I am not sure what “more” is. I don’t even know where to start. How did you do it? How did you make the jump from clinician to COO?” 

I am Josey. A dental hygienist who no longer makes a living by what I do with a scaler, but by what I influence as a leader. I’ve done some crazy awesome stuff in my career, and I’ve been really successful. I am a sought-after speaker and influencer, so it isn’t uncommon to receive messages like the one here.

The question, “How did you do it?” has been a hard one for me to answer. In fact, I cringe a little every time someone asks me. The truth is, I never anticipated my life or my career being what it is today. If someone would have said to me on the day I graduated from hygiene school, “In 13 years you will be the vice president of education for a dental software company and you will enthusiastically and passionately throw yourself into helping dentists and managers understand people and the business of dentistry,” I probably would have called them crazy. And yet, here I am. Things are nothing like I thought they would be, but I am more me than I have ever been. 

I feel within me a calling to share my experience with other dental hygienists. I share not for fame and glory, but to demonstrate a critical point: if I can do it, so can you. I have come up with a list of 10 things for anyone looking to do “more” with their career. “More” might simply mean being a more intentional, focused clinician, or “more” might be venturing outside of the operatory. Whatever “more” is for you, here are some of the most valuable lessons I can share. 

No. 1: Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way.

You won’t be ready when opportunity knocks. Readiness does not create opportunity; rather, opportunity forces you into readiness. Therefore, be open about your desires to grow and start sharing that information with key people around you. 

No. 2: Network, network, network.

Invest in attending conferences and join Facebook groups where others who are doing what you want to do are hanging out. Pay attention to what the market is asking for. Don’t copy someone else; find a problem that you can solve. Be involved … don’t just scroll. 

No. 3:  Help first.

You will do lots for free before you have the credibility and the experience to charge people. As much as possible track your results, document your systems, and quantify your success. 

No. 4: Protect your reputation.

Your reputation is the greatest asset you have. Be mindful of your social profile. Every time you post something, you need to consider it marketing yourself. Nothing is private these days online—no matter how much we want it to be. Avoid the party pics (even stories), and be mindful of how you talk about hot topics like politics, etc. I talk pretty openly about my faith, but I’ve made the conscious choice that it is part of my brand… which reminds me: you are your brand. 

No. 5: Never, ever stop learning.

I read all the time. I am intentional about being curious and investing in learning more. I have been the COO of a 40 million-dollar company and led a team of 200. I have an Associate of Applied Science degree, but nobody would ever know. That is because I am a lifelong learner. It sets me apart. It can for you too. 

No. 6: Take care of yourself.

If you look at any influencers—whether in the dental industry or influencers such as Rachel Hollis—they are in the best physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual shape they have ever been in. Exercise and meditation are critical to my routine. 

No. 7: Surround yourself with people who don’t downplay, minimize, or doubt your dreams—no matter how big they are.

Surround yourself with others who dream big, believe anything is possible, and fully support you and your vision for creating something new for yourself. 

No. 8: Embrace failure.

Take calculated risks. Be smart about the risks you take, but by all means take them. There isn’t a question of if you will fail, but when you will fail. And that’s OK. It is all part of the process. You will learn more from your failure than you will learn from any of your successes. I am not saying don’t try or be lazy. If you decide to do something, fight like hell to make it the most amazing thing ever and put your heart into it. Just remember that some things will flop, and some presentations will suck. It’s OK. Learn from it. Grow through it. Make the failure worth it. 

No. 9: Some people will love you; some people will hate you; and it will have nothing to do with you.

Center in your purpose and know that as you grow, the criticism will come, the haters will be there, and there will be days you want to shut it all down and just go back to the “easy stuff.” But things worth doing were never meant to be easy. Find those friends and supporters who will love you and support you even when it feels like the rest of the world is against you. 

No. 10: Enjoy the process of becoming.

I consider myself a pioneer. I enjoy the journey and the challenge far more than I enjoy the end point, the arrival, or the finish line. Don’t postpone your happiness until you’ve “made it.” Celebrate every single win along the way. It makes this crazy journey a whole lot more fun.  

Josalyn (Josey) Sewell, RDH, is currently the vice president of education at Dental Intelligence (DI), where she leads an immersive leadership program to help leaders successfully create healthy teams and practice profitability. Before she joined the DI team, Josey was the chief operating officer of CarolinasDentist, a group practice in North Carolina. Her greatest passion lies in the growth and development of others, and she is on a mission to see more hygienists take leadership positions throughout the industry.