Practicing as a dental hygienist right out of school is not easy, no matter what position(s) you may have previously held in the dental office. You’ve studied very hard and passed many exams, including the National Board exam and clinical exam. Yet there’s so much you don’t know in your new role, and I assure you, that’s OK!
New clinicians are eager to get out there and help guide patients to healthier teeth and gums. We’re ready to share all the knowledge we acquired and worked so hard to attain. But it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed and nervous after seating the first couple of patients in the “real-world op.” Here are four ways to build your confidence and authority.
Own what you know
Have confidence in what you learned. School was not easy for a reason, and if it had been, everyone would do it. Everyone did not do it, you did! Own that! Not only did you study for classes, but you were also tested on the subjects. You passed and met the requirements to graduate. If that wasn't enough, you sat for the national written and clinical boards and qualified for a license to practice dental hygiene. You know your stuff!
Stay hungry to learn
There is so much to learn in the op about working with patients directly, so stay eager to learn about different types of patients and methods. You can always learn from the environments and interactions around you. Take notes in different environments, about different patient bases, and when working with different professionals. Whether it’s how to be more effective and efficient, or how to deal with certain situations, having a positive attitude about new information helps tremendously in the future.
Accept that you may not have all the answers
Patients welcome your professional honesty. There may be times when a patient will stump you with a question or present with a condition or symptom you aren’t sure about. When in doubt, seek answers. If you don’t know the answer, that’s OK! You do know the best resources to guide your patients to answers and that’s why you’re their go-to person.
Trust the process
Patients come to you because they don’t understand oral health, disease prevention, and how it affects their total body health. They trust you to inform them to the best of your knowledge. Yes, some patients may have negative perceptions about doctors and practices, and thankfully they are the exception. Other than helping these patients feel comfortable in the chair and providing the best care possible, those perceptions are none of your concern. Your concern is to treat patients in your chair with the utmost respect and tell them about what they’re doing well when it comes to home care, how they can improve their oral health, and why this is important. In the repetition, you’ll build authority and confidence.
Remember, some patients will heed your advice and share their improvements with pride. Some will not and will be in the same condition as you met them six months ago. Although it may not be ideal, you can only try again and hope they make the changes for their health.
What is important is that with time and continued practice, you’ll learn what does and doesn’t work. These experiences help you build confidence and authority.
Never forget—you studied hard and are well prepared to serve your community. You may do things a little differently than your predecessors, but a positive attitude and learning new things never hurt anyone. Your confidence in what you know and your commitment to learning will ultimately lead to your confidence and authority in the op.