143538213 © Daniil Peshkov | Dreamstime.com
Success 62fe5a8c7a4ec

5 ways to cope with hygiene school when you're struggling

Aug. 19, 2022
This hygienist tells hygiene students who are barely surviving that she also struggled, and succeeded. You will too! Keep your head up and don't be afraid to ask for help.

The commute from my apartment to hygiene school was 47 minutes, and when I tell you I cried eight out of 10 days on the way home, I’m not exaggerating. Why? Because I feared every day would be my last in school. I figured I would get kicked out or I would give up because it was so hard. Well, it's nine years later, and not only am I still practicing, but I made it to the other side and now I’m an instructor. Here are five things I wish I could go back and tell that crying girl. She's going to be OK, and so are you.

Every experience is different

One of the toughest things for me was the isolation. Some of my classmates struggled a little bit, but none to the extent that I did. It made me question my ability and affected my confidence. Years later, I found myself on a path alone again, but this time it was the path of education. I'm the only one in my class to pursue teaching and I don't know if that would be the case if I hadn't struggled so much.

My path and mission are personal. I don't want students to feel as alone or defeated as I did. When teaching in clinic, I relate to struggling students and give them comfort. I tell them, "I promise, you're going to be OK. We will figure this out together." No one ever told me that in school and I really needed to hear it. If you're struggling, know that it’s paving the way for much bigger things ahead. Once you get to the other side, it will be your privilege to pull up others.

Related articles

Life beyond the (hygiene school) ivory tower: How to follow the standard of care
4 ways to “Wow!” as a new dental hygiene grad

Hygiene school is not just about calculus removal

The detection and removal of calculus are integral to being a good clinician, but it isn't everything. To be a great hygienist you must care deeply, and often those who struggle do so because they care so much. If you're struggling with calculus removal, ask for help and know that the coming years will provide experience, and with experience comes greater skill. Also, calculus removal and detection are not easy! Remember that it can be hard even though you’re really trying, and it's hard because it's hard. Just keep going.

Some instructors are unnecessarily difficult

This statement may be a little controversial but now that I'm on the other side, I've seen a wide range of teaching philosophies and methodologies and I know this is true. Some instructors pour themselves into students’ well-being and take a "we will figure this out together" approach, while others take a sink or swim approach. This isn't fair but don't let it be a roadblock. Ask for help when you need it, even if your instructor must come to you multiple times while you’re treating your patient.

If you're struggling with a piece of calculus, ask to watch them instrument and then let them observe you. I know this sounds scary but sometimes calculus is burnished, sometimes there's an anatomical defect, and sometimes it's just tenacious! How will you know if you don't ask? Don't let yourself feel defeated. One instructor who was way too harsh in clinic affected my confidence. I've now had the good fortune of working with amazing instructors and know that while I did struggle, there was no need for that instructor to be so hard on me. All it did was crush my confidence, and confidence is key to being an excellent clinician. 

Learning disabilities are common

There’s a tendency when reviewing the syllabus to skip over the part about students with learning disabilities. Don't do that and don't let the word disability deter you. If you're struggling with material no matter how hard you study, consider seeking additional help through your school. Sometimes it’s not the material you're struggling with, it's the way it's presented. There's no need for you to struggle alone when so many resources are available on campus. Everyone learns differently and all you're doing is tailoring your education to fit your needs.

Your struggle will be the key to your success

Once you survive hygiene school, you'll have the lifelong affirmation that hard work pays off. I've done many things in my life and to this day hygiene school remains the hardest. However, my hygiene license proves that I can do whatever I set my mind to. Rough days in clinic and crying on the drive home and not knowing what the future held were some of my darkest days, but they also paved the way for some of my brightest. Looking back, I wouldn't change my journey at all. I'm grateful for it because I wouldn't be the hardworking and caring clinician I am today without it.

I made it, and so will you. Just keep going!

About the Author

Esmy Ornelas, MS, RDH, CDA

Esmy Ornelas, MS, RDH, CDA, is a professor, clinician, and writer in Oklahoma City. She has 10 years of experience in dentistry and is focused on exploring the professional development aspects of dental hygiene. She can be reached at [email protected].