Negative Thoughts

Dec. 1, 1995
Like all professionals, dental hygienists get the "blahs." There are days when you just don`t feel like going to work. The job has become routine, and the routine has become boring.

Feeling the Christmas-season blahs?

Think the job might be the reason?

If so, shake the blahs by remembering all the good reasons you became a dental hygienist.

Robert Ramsey

Like all professionals, dental hygienists get the "blahs." There are days when you just don`t feel like going to work. The job has become routine, and the routine has become boring.

When the blahs hit, you can barely stand the thought of gazing into gaping mouths all day long, listening over and over again to your own pat lecture on brushing and flossing. You`ve heard every possible cavity-causing excuse a thousand times. All patients begin to look alike. You`re in a rut.

It`s called "burn out." It can happen to anyone. It is usually temporary; but it can be long term.

Burn-out occurs when you`re lulled into a blasé attitude by the mindless repetition of ritualistic tasks. Doing the same thing the same way every day can get to you. Sometimes, it helps to vary your routine. Do first things last, and vice versa.

Recapture the old excitement

More often, however, the cure for the blahs comes from remembering why you became a dental hygienist in the first place. When you recapture the reason for doing what you do, the routine takes on meaning again and the old excitement returns. When people lose sight of their original goal, it`s easy to feel overwhelmed by minutia and bogged down in mundane, day-to-day operations. The antidote, according to human-resource experts, is to get back to basics and recall why you chose your field of specialization in the beginning.

Most hygiene practitioners didn`t choose the field because it is merely a "good job." They chose it because it is an exciting, growing, worthwhile, meaningful, and rewarding professional career. In case you`ve forgotten, here are six common reasons why people, like yourself, decide to be dental hygienists.

Stability. Unlike many other occupations, being a dental hygienist offers steady employment. It is not subject to the "boom and bust" economic swings which characterize a great many professions. The threats of downsizing and layoffs are foreign to the field. There have never been large numbers of dental hygienists out of work.

Obviously, most dental hygienists can keep their positions for as long as they want. Training to become a dental hygienist is an investment, not a gamble.

Unlimited Opportunities. Not only is being a dental hygienist a stable profession, it is a career with a future. Everyone needs the service. The growth potential in the dental health-care field is virtually unlimited.

Employment opportunities for registered dental hygienists are expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations from now into the next century. Of all the health-care fields, dental hygiene is predicted to be in the top 10 expansion categories until well past the year 2000. It is always exciting to be part of such a rapidly expanding field.

Flexibility. Few occupations provide as much latitude as dental hygiene. Professionals in the field can usually work as much or as little as they want in a variety of settings.

Job openings are widely available in private practice, in public health clinics, and in educational and community institutions. Additional opportunities exist in hospitals, nursing homes, commercial dental product firms, and dental hygiene educational programs. Not many professionals have such a selection of work settings.

Dental hygiene is also the envy of many other professionals because of the unusual freedom practitioners have in choosing their own hours. If you want to work full-time, part-time, overtime, weekends or evening hours, you can usually work it out in the dental hygiene field.

This makes it an ideal profession for those who want to balance a fulfilling professional career with more traditional marriage and family responsibilities. Flexibility, like this, is hard to find in other occupational fields.

Rewards and recognition. Being a dental hygienist isn`t a get-rich-quick scheme. But the salaries in the field are equal to other health-care professionals. According to the American Dental Association, the average wage for full-time dental hygienists is $18.90 per hour. Part-timers earn an average hourly wage of $22.30. This is a highly favorable level of compensation by any professional standard for occupations with similar training qualification requirements.

Of course, not all of the rewards in dental hygiene are monetary or tangible. For many, the respect and prestige associated with being a highly skilled specialist and a valued member of a professional health-care team are more important than the financial and benefit considerations. By any measure, dental hygiene is a richly rewarding professional career.

Variety. Despite the fact that some dental hygienists complain about rote routine and dull, repetitious tasks, they really enjoy a greater variety of activities than most professionals. Although specific assignments differ from office to office, all dental hygienists experience a wide range of challenges and opportunities.

Dental hygienists don`t just do one thing and do it well. They are expected to perform a number of diverse functions and do them all with precision and professionalism. Whether working chairside or elsewhere in the office, registered hygienists are masters of myriad tasks.

If variety is the spice of life, dental hygienists have it all. No two days in a dental office are alike. That`s what makes it fun for many proud members of the profession.

Personal satisfaction. Personal satisfaction is essential to career success. Few occupations offer more sources of satisfaction than working in the dental health-care field. Dental hygienists have the rare opportunity to work with both their hands and their minds, blending technical know-how with human-relations skills.

Practitioners have the unique privilege of caring for people of all ages and of working with special populations such as children, senior citizens, and the disabled. It takes creativity and professional competence to help prevent, care for, and cure dental discomfort and disease for a full range of patients.

Dental hygienists can take great pride (satisfaction) in their contributions. They don`t just take home a pay check. They give back valuable leadership and caring to the entire community.

The six factors above make up the motivation for most women and men who join the ranks of dental hygienists. If you`re like most of the 100,000 active dental hygienists today, you didn`t choose the profession for any one of these reasons. You probably pursued the career for "all of the above."

Dedicating your life to a career as a dental hygienist offers stability, unlimited opportunities, flexibility, rewards, recognition, variety and personal satisfaction. It doesn`t get much better than that.

If you will simply remember the reason(s) you became a dental hygienist in the first place, you`ll beat the "blahs" every time. It`s hard to feel burned-out when you`re busy with respected work that makes a difference in almost everyone`s lives. It feels good to be a dental hygienist. Don`t forget it!

Robert D. Ramsey, Ed.D., is a life-long educator and free-lance writer from Minneapolis. He is a previous contributor to RDH and is author of 501 Ways to Boost Your Child`s Self Esteem (Contemporary Books).