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When it comes to your career, are you the problem?

Jan. 24, 2023
Amber Auger explains how adjusting your attitude can help avoid burnout, and it can also help you get things done.

"It's me, hi, I'm the problem, it's me!" I found myself singing along to Taylor Swift's "Anti-Hero" and relating it to the dental field. I thought about all the times I showed up exhausted or feeling hurt and disrespected by someone on the dental team. When I arrived with these unresolved feelings, I wasn't at my best. I have the privilege of working directly with hundreds of hygienists. During my time with them, I realized it all comes down to our perspective. I believe it's time for us to change how we communicate with our peers and patients.

You may not be "worth" the raise

Due to the dental hygiene shortage, hourly rates have gone up in most of the country. This is great for us in theory; however, we need to look at the bigger picture. Not all hygienists are worth a high-dollar salary. What I mean by that is, it comes down to what we produce. Before the pandemic, we wanted to produce three times our hourly salary for the doctors to break even on what they were paying us. Therefore, if your hourly rate was $50 an hour, you should have produced at least $150 per hour. I am a strong believer that you should be paid based on your performance. Many clinicians feel they deserve a raise but have no idea what they’re producing. Before you ask for a raise, understand what you’re producing. The practice owner cannot afford to give you a raise if you're not producing at least three times your hourly rate.

More articles by Amber Auger

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From burnout to invigorated—creating your dream career

Consider the stresses of the practice owner

We know there’s a shortage of dental team members. This has increased the practice owners’ stress, and we often don't take that into consideration. We must also consider the rise of supply costs, and this directly cuts into profits. How we present information to our practice owners is essential to improving the quality of care we provide. If we want to implement new technology, we must come prepared to explain its benefits. How will the technology enhance the patient experience? How will the technology increase patient acceptance? How will the technology increase the periodontal program? We need to find the balance between clinical care as well as being profitable so that we can continue to treat patients for years to come.

"What you believe is what you become." 

I was on a conference call with a hygienist who practices in a holistic office. She recently received a $2-an-hour raise, and her boss reduced her one-hour appointments to 45 minutes to "make up for the raise." The discouraged hygienist told me that she would never be able to find another job that would allow her to practice holistic hygiene. I channeled Oprah Winfrey and told her bluntly, "If you believe that's true, that will be your outcome." I could feel her anger toward her boss, and that she felt attacked by this situation. As the conversation continued, I realized that she had allowed small, negative interactions with her boss to pile up and she was ready to explode during this latest conversation with the doctor.

I can't tell you how many times I've been there. My past self was cheering her on. But she then told me that she’d talked to another hygienist who told her the situation was unfair and that she should immediately tell the doctor how terrible it is to cut patient time. I took a deep breath and remembered that I often used to feel like this. I coached her on how the doctor was likely terrified of being able to provide a $ 2-an-hour raise without confirming the money would continue to come in.

I suggested that the hygienist develop a strategic plan for the dentist to evaluate. I told her to come from the patient perspective and determine what would happen to the patient experience with a 15-minute-per-appointment reduction. We worked together to create a customized plan on how she could increase her production, and that she needed an hour per patient. We discussed adding salivary testing, laser therapy, and sleep apnea screenings. This would increase the production and quality of patient care and prevent her from becoming burned out.

What can you change this year?

Presenting ourselves to our bosses with evidence-based research and a confident and neutral tone, and collaborating and seeing one another's perspectives is what will change dentistry forever. What beliefs are you carrying that you want to let go of this year? Are negative experiences from past employers negatively affecting your relationship with your current employer? Do you assume that your peers are for you or against you?

There's a common misconception that when we discuss the business side of dentistry, we’re focusing on the money. But ultimately, if we're focused on money, we’ll never be happy as providers. Instead, we should focus on educating, increasing the standard of care, and elevating the patient experience. This will make you feel fulfilled as a dental professional and profitable as a business. Think people over profit, patient experience over rushing through treatment, and explaining how the patient can prevent oral diseases and systemic diseases. This methodology is why I love clinical care after 12 years and I don't feel burned out. Your new perspective is what is going to change your year.

About the Author

Amber Auger, MPH, RDH

Amber Auger, MPH, RDH, is an international lecturer, a 2019 Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction recipient, editorial director for RDH Graduate, creator of Thrive in the Op, and certified Functional RDH. Amber has more than 18 years of experience in the dental field and has been practicing dental hygiene since 2010. An active mentor to fellow hygienists, she champions personal and professional growth through her innovative Thrive in the Op on-demand courses and live coaching sessions. She can be reached at [email protected].

Updated March 28, 2024