by Noel Paschke, RDH, MS
There has never been a better time to be a dental hygienist! Career opportunities abound. Our options were once confined to private practice, public health, or education. Our career choices have expanded as dental hygienists have proven their value in a variety of settings, including the corporate dental industry. How can a private practitioner make the transition to corporate dental hygienist? It can begin as early as dental hygiene school by increasing your awareness of career opportunities and attending regional meetings.
At the recent Northeast Regional Student American Dental Hygienists' Association meeting, a group of students listened intently to various corporate representatives give presentations. Some presenters were sales representatives and others were corporate educators. After the presentation, a few students asked one speaker, "How can I get a job like yours?" The speaker suggested that the students practice clinically for a few years and advance their education. This is great advice.
Being a good, sound clinician will pay great dividends in any position you seek. You will be able to speak from experience. In fact, some of the most successful corporate dental hygienists are engaged in part-time clinical practice. They can truly relate to the dental professional.
Gail B. Stoops, RDH, past president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association and a professional educator with Philips Oral Healthcare, practices part-time and describes herself as a "down-in-the-sulcus dental hygienist." When she gives a presentation and answers questions from the audience, she relates from her clinical experiences and connects instantly with the audience.
Kristen Sheehan, RDH, MBA, a practice management consultant with the Levin Group, was recently having lunch with a dental hygiene colleague to discuss her plan to pursue additional education. Kristen asked the million-dollar question, "What is your five-year goal?" Great question.
Your motivation for being a corporate dental hygienist should be based on your goals and talents. When I meet dental hygienists who inquire about corporate positions, I ask why they are interested in a corporate position. If the response is vague such as, "I'm burned out in clinical," or "I want to do something different," my inquiry usually stops. Companies are searching for goal-oriented, focused, and energetic personnel.
Corporate positions offer many avenues for dental hygienists. The assumption is that if you work for a dental company you must be a sales representative. It's not just sales.
In preparation for my introduction to give greetings to a dental hygiene group, I handed my business card to the meeting organizer. The card contained my specific job title. The person then introduced me as the local sales representative. While that was a compliment, it was not correct. Not all corporate positions are sales positions.
Consider the possibilities of utilizing your basic science and clinical education, your communication skills and detail-oriented nature. The following list details some possibilities in the corporate environment:
• Clinical research
• Quality assurance
• Professional relations
• Professional education
• Professional marketing
• Professional sales
• Customer service
• Market analyst
• Product management
• New product development
• Sales training
Remember the feelings of camaraderie from dental hygiene school? Bonds were formed through the thick and thin of anatomy, dental materials, community health, and being a classmate's first patient.
Stay connected to your classmates and build your network of contacts. Many corporate positions are obtained by networking. One of the best ways to begin your professional network is to be an active member in the American Dental Hygienists' Association.
More importantly, serve as an officer or on a committee. The experience obtained from being a state delegate to the ADHA House of Delegates provides transferable skills to the corporate environment. Lessons can be learned on how to be a team player and move an issue forward for the good of the group. Not to mention, you'll be meeting new people and extending your contact list. If you want to be a mover and shaker, you have to be with the movers and shakers. Developing relationships is key.
Once you have assessed your strengths, weaknesses, passions, potential companies, educational preparedness, professionalism, and connections, the next step is to build a powerful resume that will get attention. A great resume gets you an interview. A great interview gets you the position. Whether your decision is to change your role in dental hygiene or to maximize your clinical practice endeavors, many of the same skill sets are necessary in the corporate environment and the clinical environment. With so many choices, there has never been a better time to be a dental hygienist!
While corporate positions may sound intriguing, you must develop an action plan with the first step being assessment. Sound familiar? We do assessment with every clinical patient. Now we are going to transfer that process to the corporate setting.
In the assessment phase, one principle must be maintained. You must be truthful to yourself. Corporate positions may look glamorous, but when you really investigate them, you may realize that the joys of private practice outweigh the "glamour" of the corporate position. Valuable information can be gleaned by asking any corporate dental hygienist why they were attracted to the corporate dental industry, as well as what they like and don't like about their type of work. Their response can serve as a reality check.
• Assess your strengths and weaknesses — What do you like to do, and what are you good at doing? Are you absolutely in love with basic science and clinical research, including designing research? Or, do you like to write curriculum and give presentations?
What do you not like to do? If you don't like to be away from home overnight, a field position such as professional educator who visits schools in several states would not be a good fit. If you can't stand statistics, research may not be rewarding. Some positions may require that you move to the city where the corporate headquarters are located.
• Assess your passions — Only work for a company whose products you have tried and about which you are passionate. Just as in clinical practice, we always personally try products that we plan to recommend. Since you'll become "the face of the product" in your corporate role, your integrity will be on the line.
• Assess the company and the potential position — After having tried their products, attend large, major conventions such as the ADHA, ADA, CDA, Chicago MidWinter, or Hinman, to name a few. Using the directory, go to the booth of your target company and observe the people at the booth. Are they engaged in conversation with the dental professionals? Do they know their products, and can they communicate that to you? The show directory also contains valuable contact information about each exhibitor. Don't be shy. Ask to speak to a manager and introduce yourself.
Closer to home, get to know your sales representatives. Ask what they like about their products and their company. Ask if their company has the particular kind of work that interests you. Obtain a contact person's name, including his or her title, email address and telephone number. Check the company Web site for employment opportunities.
If a position does not exist, consider creating it. As a senior dental hygiene student, I became very intrigued with dental hygiene in hospitals. I decided that I wanted to work in a hospital after graduation. There was an obstacle. There were no positions open, or the hospitals in the area didn't even have dental hygiene positions. Living in Baltimore, it was clear to me that the Johns Hopkins Hospital should have a dental hygienist. I created the position and became the first dental hygienist appointed to the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School. Just because a position does not exist now doesn't mean it won't exist in the future. Companies do internal reorganizations periodically and identify new positions that are necessary for them to carry out their business.
• Assess your education — Many companies require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. The degree could be in dental hygiene or other fields such as business, marketing, or adult education, to name a few. The level of the position that interests you will determine the entry education necessary. It is never too early to begin preparing your options for the future. There are on-site and on-line degree completion programs in dental hygiene and other fields.
• Assess your professionalism — Corporate image is very important to dental companies. Be sure that your verbal and written communication skills match the level of the company with whom you hope to work. Brief, concise, and insightful communications are the expectations in the corporate environment. The rules of grammar also apply to email communications.
Consider taking refresher courses to hone your skills. Community colleges offer courses on-site and on-line. Commercial entities, such as SkillPath Seminars, offer one-day business writing courses. The American Management Association offers four-day business writing courses. Attending Toastmasters International meetings can help with the development of public speaking skills.
Dress like a professional when you attend dental hygiene meetings. You only get one chance to make a first impression on a corporate representative. You never know when you are going to have the opportunity to meet a key corporate contact. Keep in mind, companies do send their regional management personnel to attend dental hygiene meetings. Many times, their purpose is to scout for new personnel.
Practice and feel confident in shaking hands and be prepared with business cards.
Noel Paschke, RDH, MS, is the Professional Education Manager for Philips Oral Healthcare, where she manages the U.S. Professional Education team. Mrs. Paschke is a part-time faculty member at the University of Maryland, Department of Dental Hygiene where she teaches the senior dental hygiene clinic and is an examiner with the Northeast Regional Board of Dental Examiners. She can be contacted at [email protected].