Is it about the money?

April 1, 2006
In this month’s salute to the history of RDH, I mention the appearance of my first three bylines in the magazine.

In this month’s salute to the history of RDH (page 14), I mention the appearance of my first three bylines in the magazine. When I flip through the back volumes of RDH for this review of history during our 25th anniversary, I sometimes wince, particularly if it has my name attached to it. It’s sort of like yesterday when Carroll Hull, PennWell’s dental division executive secretary, and I left the building at quitting time. She pointed toward an erasable wall planner and chuckled. Some young child, who was probably waiting for a parent, had attempted some sort of artistic exercise with the different colored pens, complete with stick figures. “Although it’s my skill level, I did not draw that,” I commented dryly.

I sometimes look back at something that I wrote 20 to 30 years ago, and wonder if I was six years old when I wrote it. Heck, make it something I wrote last week.

The first three articles that I wrote for RDH were about “independent practice.” Two of the articles were based on surveys of dentists. The third article focused on supervision issues in seven states in 1987, and I still like the way the article began, since writers for consumer publications don’t get to use dental puns much:

“The most dramatic portrayal of a recent conflict between dentists and hygienists perhaps occurred within the pages of the lay press. The Seattle Times, for example, published an article on the supervision issue that started off, ‘While dentists drilled into her proposal in a nearby hearing room, [hygienist] Pam Yarborough wielded a tiny pick and scraped plaque from one of [Washington State] House Speaker Joe King’s molars. She was breaking the law.’”

In 1987, most dentists (71 percent) said hygienists were seeking to “increase income” rather than provide more comprehensive care, enhance professional stature, or be more involved in treatment planning.

A hygienist was quoted as saying, “The dentists see the movement of hygienists as being one of a financial/income distribution orientation.”

A former hygienist turned dentist said, “I believe the reason many hygienists would want independent practice is not to further the dental health of their patients, but rather to further their own financial needs.”

Even though I’m inclined to believe a survey taken in 2006 would yield different results, I remembered this “show me the money” motivation attributed to dental hygiene when I was scanning through the other day. The Web site had a chart based on Warren Farrell’s “Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap.” The chart, though, was supposed to make women feel good since it listed 39 of the 80-something occupations that Farrell determined were where women earned more than men. I did not read the book - just looked at the chart. But, based on RDH salary surveys from the past, I’m thinking dental hygienists did not make the list, since our own surveys tend to show male hygienists doing just as well financially, if not better than their female counterparts.

Anyway, the thing I’m noticing about this CNNMoney chart is that 14 of the 39 (36 percent) occupations showed women earning less than $30,000 a year, and, yes, men earned even less. In another nine occupations (23 percent), women earned less than $40,000 a year, even though they again earned more than their male counterparts.

Add those two percentages together and you realize that many women tend to earn more than men in occupations that don’t pay that much to begin with.

We’re not talking about Wall Street sharks here, which was sort of Farrell’s point. According to CNNMoney, Farrell states that women are more likely to seek “careers that are more fulfilling, flexible, and safe.”

So let’s go back to those dentists from 1987 (although I’m not sure why we would return to yesterday, since we still hear a lot of griping about how much money dental hygienists currently make).

Income, of course, is important to the assortment of “independent” hygienists I’ve met throughout the years. However, what always seemed more important was to seek out a practice setting outside of traditional general dentistry where they felt like they could accomplish more good.

It really isn’t about the money, is it?

Mark Hartley
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