The results of the “2004 RDH Salary & Benefits Survey” contained in this issue prompts some additional comments from me, including:
• In previous years, dental hygienists in New York City, for example, got tired of being grouped with their peers from Plattsburgh (way up on the north side of the state near Quebec). One year, we asked for zip codes but there were not enough responses from specific zip codes to make a difference. So the 2004 report is broken into “urban,” “suburban,” and “rural” groupings, if enough hygienists in the state responded (and, yes, New York responded nicely to the questionnaire that was published last August). So the salaries of the New York City folks may be grouped with the downtown Buffalo crowd, but presumably that’s more palatable than Plattsburgh.
• Personally, I don’t think the preceding comment is all that significant. It is generally true that you make less money the farther you are away from the city’s lights. But the dropoff is not drastic in many states. My observation is that many rural dental hygienists are hardly suffering from abject poverty. They do very well for themselves. If you prefer crowing roosters over alarm clocks, go for it!
• The state reports indicate how many of the hygienists are veterans (11 years or more) and how many are relatively new to the profession (10 years or fewer). So you can guess what job-experience level is dominating your state’s information about salaries and benefits.
• Personally, I don’t think the preceding comment is all that significant. The rookies, as many veterans pointed out rather dejectedly in their comments, earn as much as someone much more experienced.
• Speaking of comments, a few notes came back to us, declaring something like, “So-and-so recognized me from my comment that you published in last year’s survey.” We tried to keep everything anonymous in previous years, but I guess we were not completely successful. It certainly is not our intention to shine the spotlight on someone who is kind enough to fill out the questionnaire for us, so we refrained from “quoting” anyone this time. But we did read every single comment that was sent to us, and we may incorporate some of the information in future issues.
• Perhaps some of the fewest responses were of the greatest interest to me. We asked part-time hygienists if they were experiencing difficulty in finding full-time employment. Only a handful said they were, so that’s good news in one sense. The overwhelming majority of part-time dental hygienists choose that type of a work schedule. On the other hand, with all the talk about manpower shortages of dental hygienists, the boom of two-year associate degree programs in some areas, and the delegation of dental hygiene duties to dental assistants, I think we’ll keep asking this question.
• It seems like most hygienists got a raise last year. It seems like most hygienists receive some paid vacation time. It seems like most hygienists are covered by some form of health insurance, whether it’s their own, their employer’s policy, or a spouse’s. But am I the only one who is bothered by the existence of that minority out there?
• In many states, the percentage of hygienists who don’t think they receive raises in “fair intervals” are not the exact opposite of the percentage of those who did get a raise in 2004 (although I’m sure you’ll be amused by the number of states that do reflect that weird balance). We can blame the lack of raises on 9/11, bankrupt dot-coms, and other factors behind a weak economy. Even if they don’t understand every decree from the Federal Reserve Board, I think most readers recognize that the economy is far from healthy. But, still, large numbers of hygienists are questioning methods of compensation and incentives, which tells me that there’s still room for the dental profession to improve its reputation as an employer.
• Most of the hygienists who do not receive vacation time work sporadically or on a commission-only basis, but not exclusively so. Shouldn’t the percentage of these health-care professionals who must take unpaid breaks from a demanding occupation be zero?
• Ditto for this group of uninsured health-care professionals who face occupational illnesses and injuries every day.
Anyway, those are my thoughts about your wages in 2004.
In closing, I want to bid farewell to one of the magazine’s longest-running columnists. Trisha O’Hehir is taking a different direction with her life, and we’re sad to see her go. She was one of the original board members for RDH when the magazine started in 1981, and she has penned Periodontics for 14 years. She was a fixture here. While it’s sad to see that era end, we wish her the best.
Mark Hartley is the editor of RDH. He can be contacted at [email protected].