I am an avid reader of RDH magazine and look forward to reading the many timely and informative articles. However, I think the editor and contributors to the magazine have been remiss in not addressing the issue of age and age discrimination.
I found it interesting that, in the salary survey (May 1999 issue) which I have forwarded, not one question even touches on age. To say that I am sensitive to this is an understatement. I think there are many others who would agree.
I have been a hygienist for over 35 years (even I find this hard to believe). I have seen the profession change in many ways. For instance, when I graduated, I moved to Florida (from Pennsylvania) where hygienists were used, dentists valued them, the pay was excellent, and you could make phenomenal money working part time. About a year later, I moved back to Philadelphia - my original home town - got married and found it extremely difficult to find a job.
Hygienists were rare, much less hired or considered part of the dental team. I finally found a job at what was then PGH (Philadelphia General Hospital) in the oral surgery department. I was trained to be an OR scrub nurse for the oral surgeons, since nurses at that time did not and would not scrub for them. I worked 10 to 12 hours a day, or more, five days a week. I was earning $55 a week - a pittance!
(When I left Florida I was making $250-$350 working 21/2 days a week; I was on a 60-40 commission split. I received 60 percent. This was a lot of money back then and would still be a terrific sum today.)
I became very disillusioned, left the profession to raise my family. I went back to school and received my bachelor`s in health care, and have worked part time through the years. I ultimately became an office manager for a psychologist (I am sure that sounds out of left field, but it has been a big help in working with patients in and out of the dental chair). I continued to work part time when I could.
I even took a refresher course, "Update on Dental Hygiene" for 40 hours over a period of eight weeks, thinking this would "give me an edge" in getting back into the field
However, I found it extremely difficult to find a job, let alone a part-time position. I am now in my mid-50s, and things are even worse. I have been told I am an excellent hygienist; I get along well with patients; I am very good at promoting good dental health, as well as suggesting dental work that a patient might consider.
The biggest obstacle is that dentists want a young image in their office rather than a competent hygienist - no matter what her age. They are not looking for dependability or someone to promote good dentistry, but they are looking for someone "young."
I can attest to that and so can many of my contemporaries who have not been able to find a job. Why not? There are jobs out there. But not for us. Just some thoughts...
Paula R. Leder, RDH, BS