We receive more than our fair share of anonymous correspondence. Admittedly, we don't personally know everyone who reads the content of this publication, RDH eVillage, or any of the related Web site information. Among this group are readers who are, frankly, troubled by the situations in their dental hygiene career.
This note arrived the other day via the Web site: “I am writing in reference to a crisis I see happening in the dental hygiene profession in the southwest area of Florida. There are hardly any jobs out there, and it is sad. I am an experienced dental hygienist and cannot find work in my profession. I went the other day to a dental office for a checkup; please note I never say that I am a dental hygienist. I saw how rude and cruel the hygienist was treated there. She told me the reason the dentist treats her that way is because she can be easily replaced.”
First of all, I'm sure there are some readers who are very much enjoying the fruits of their labor in that stretch between Sarasota and Naples. I have no tangible proof that dental hygiene is a bad career choice in southern Florida. Secondly, authors and the magazine spend a lot of time advocating positive thinking, including about the current economic climate. I hope we never take the tribulations of our peers too lightly. It is hard to make a go of it sometimes, and plastering a silly grin on our faces is only part of the solution, if at all.
This reminds me of a recent conversation I had with Lory Laughter, the author of the “From the Edge” column in RDH. She referred to colleagues who take antidepressants. I asked why, and she replied that, in her opinion, many dental hygienists are “high achievers” who “find roadblocks and limitations at every turn.”
Occupational stress is a legitimate concern and does not necessarily refer only to workers who go “postal.” I have three observations to share:
• The Canadian Mental Health Association describes workplace stress as coming from “fear of job redundancy, layoffs due to an uncertain economy, and increased demands for overtime due to staff cutbacks act as negative stressors. Employees who start to feel the ‘pressure to perform' can get caught in a downward spiral of increasing effort to meet rising expectations with no increase in job satisfaction.” Anything sound familiar?
• In regard to the usage of drugs to relieve occupational stress, a 2004 MedicationSense.com interview with Dr. Richard Lippin, an occupational health expert, yielded this quote: “I observe antidepressants being routinely prescribed as the first treatment. The problem with this approach is that there are other proven nondrug methods that work equally well or better, such as counseling or psychotherapy, stress reduction, exercise methods, and others which may also be more cost-effective. ... Overall, I believe anti-depressants are over-marketed by the drug industry and over-prescribed by doctors ... Finally, the use of medications raises workplace safety issues for the workers themselves and for co-workers and the public, especially when side effects or interactions with other medications occur.”
• In case your eyes glazed over that last sentence, a 2006 article in Occupational Health & Safety magazine adds, “Depressed workers are more accident-prone because of depression's interference with concentration and focus.”
My opinion is that dental associations should be a little less obsessed with regulating the skilled workforce in dental hygiene. It's not a win-win situation to undermine what dental hygiene attempts to do as a profession. Also, I want to say: Keep communicating, even if it's anonymous correspondence to RDH. We are paying attention to the challenges you face.