A survey in your own words

Aug. 1, 2003
Based on my conversations and correspondence with RDH readers, I know that many of you have been only a "hygienist" during your career.

By Mark Hartley

Based on my conversations and correspondence with RDH readers, I know that many of you have been only a "hygienist" during your career. If a doctor added an "Inc." after his name, that's probably as close as you have gotten to a corporation.

A few of you, though, started your careers outside of dentistry — or perhaps have tried more than one career. For those of you who have ventured outside of the dental profession, you'll know what I mean when I ask you to visualize a couple of old ladies stuck in a back room, sorting through piles of paper.

Those sweet grandmothers crunched data by the ton. They would go through one stack of paper, and talk about how their bowling teams did in the women's league last night. Once information had been painstakingly transferred from another stack of paper to a legal pad — rows and rows of dots, checks, or sticks to designate each single recording of data — they would talk about the best and most superstitious way to buy a lottery ticket. After the next stack, they'll promise to swap a recipe or two.

I remember helping clean out a closet once at the headquarters here, which also serves Dental Economics magazine — a publication that's 90-something years old. There were boxes and boxes of old subscription cards that probably several generations of old ladies sorted through. In my own office, I always keep a couple of years worth of the forms completed for the RDH salary survey. You never know when someone will have a question.

The thing is that the old ladies have disappeared, as well as any need to save old completed forms for the RDH salary survey. The computers do all of the data-crunching now, and you can view the last salary survey online anytime you desire to do so — whether it's at midnight, breakfast, or during the lunch break. Just log on.

Computers, of course, are cheaper and arguably more efficient. But I kind of miss the old ladies. They were always pleasant to talk to, especially when you're surrounded all day long by corporate workers who apparently cannot go 24 hours without at least one verbal reference to revenue. The old ladies were the first to volunteer for blood drives, and they baked for the company's fund-raisers for charity.

They opened your envelopes and sorted through your faxes. They turned thousands of numbers into something meaningful that I could interpret while writing the analysis about salaries and employee benefits in the dental hygiene profession.

The system worked. However, technology hasn't stopped its onward march. Last year, for the first time, RDH readers had the option of answering the survey online at our Web site. About a third of you did so.

Thirty-three percent, though, doesn't give me much comfort. I debated whether the online version of the survey should be the only option on how to respond. Thirty-three percent, though, tells me that most of you still prefer to sit down at a table with a hard copy of the survey, answering the questions with a trustworthy pen or pencil.

The survey on page 18 allows you to respond by snail mail, e-mail, fax, or through the Web site. There are fewer questions this year, since we no longer have the old ladies to record the answers. The survey is very basic — just the facts, ma'am. The simplified approach will help us during this transition between the "little old ladies" and the time when RDH readers are completely comfortable with online surveys.

I guess if there's one thing I'm nervous about it is the small box (or "field" in the Web site version) for "your comments." It's kind of small. I hope that you will also share your perceptions about the profession as "employees." You know what it's like out there in the trenches.

The little old ladies used to separate out your comments for me. I read them all, and I would try to use a few "quotes" in the related article. Sometimes, they would attach a note to your comments: "Poor woman. Had surgery on both of her hands. Can barely work anymore." "Job market must be tough there in (name of state). Too many hygienists. I hope she can find a job."

Without your comments, the survey is pretty meaningless, as far as I'm concerned. As we make the technological transition to instantaneous feedback through the Internet, don't forget to tell me what you think.

You're not just a number.

Mark Hartley is the editor of RDH. He can be contacted at [email protected].