156029041 © Nejron | Dreamstime.com
Job Interview 6446ee9a86f3b

Job-hunting tips for new dental hygiene grads

April 25, 2023
Before looking for your first position, consider what you want and how to get it. No need to jump at your first job offer.

Way to go, new graduate! Now that you have your license, it’s time to look for work. With the current shortage of dental hygienists, there are plenty of job openings, making it easy for new graduates to find employment. 

It's essential to look for a job that aligns with your goals and preferences. This ensures you’re comfortable with your first job out of school. Consider these factors during your job search and interview process to find a suitable match. 

Job listing: Watch out for “rock star” 

You’ll probably see dental practices advertising for a “rock star” hygienist to join their team. Although this sounds exciting, some of these practices expect hygienists to complete their work within unrealistic (and sometimes unethical) time frames, as well as push patients to invest in adjunctive services for bonuses, which can compromise the standard of care. Doing such things can lead to burnout, increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, and make it difficult for hygienists to enjoy their work.

Should you decide to interview for that “rock star” position, ask questions about their standard of care and expectations during the workday. Talk to current hygienists about their experiences there. Remember, interviews are a two-way street that allow you to learn more about the practice and determine if it's the right fit for you. 

You might also be interested in: 5 tips to navigate from new grad to private practice

What are the job expectations? 

It will be tempting to jump at your first offer, but you should carefully evaluate the organization’s expectations to ensure they align with your professional and personal goals. As you assess the expectations, consider work schedules, patient load, and standards upheld in the organization. (Remember that “rock star” listing.) 

During the interview, don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

  • Is the position full-time or part-time? 
  • How many patients will be seen each day? 
  • Are the expected duties within the hygienist’s scope of practice? 
  • What is the infection control protocol? 
  • What is the standard of care? 

Consider practice culture 

Workplace culture impacts morale, which you should evaluate before accepting a job. During your interview, consider asking if you can schedule an observation day to gain a sense of the practice dynamic. Observe how team members interact with each other and patients, and the overall workflow. Also, observe communication between management and employees. Are the team members generally happy and supportive, or do they seem tense and stressed? 

Healthy workplace culture thrives on open communication, teamwork, and respect. Everyone should feel valued, and their opinions and feedback should be encouraged. You should also feel comfortable bringing up concerns or making suggestions for improvements without fear of backlash. 

In an ideal workplace, continuing education opportunities are provided, and there is recognition for your work. Prioritizing a positive, healthy workplace will encourage consistent, high-quality patient care.  

Check for workplace safety 

The recent global health crisis reminded us about the importance of workplace safety standards for our patients and ourselves. Proper infection control is fundamental, and the protocols you learned in dental hygiene school should transfer to the professional setting. This ranges from cleaning, disinfection, use of PPE, and adherence to sterilization procedures as required by state and federal guidelines. Anything less raises a red flag.  

Ergonomics is another critical factor in workplace safety, as dental hygienists are at high risk for musculoskeletal disorders. Assess the practice’s instrument inventory, clinician chairs, and operatory setup. Will you be able to practice safely and comfortably? Can adjustments or accommodations be made to ensure your safety? If it seems like a struggle for the practice to provide a safe working environment, it may be a sign to look elsewhere.

Consider total compensation  

Not only does compensation include salary, but benefits such as health insurance, vacation time, and retirement plans. It would be wise to research the average salary in your area and compare that to what’s being offered.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Remember, you deserve to be compensated fairly. While higher pay comes with experience, you should not be severely underpaid compared to a seasoned hygienist; where you lack experience, you compensate with up-to-date skills and knowledge that will contribute to the growth and success of the organization.   

Happy job hunting! 

Looking for your first job may seem overwhelming. With proper research of a practice’s job expectations, workplace culture, safety, and compensation, you can decide on the best opportunity for you. Don’t forget to prioritize your own well-being and career goals. Ask questions and be open to negotiation. You’ve dedicated time and persevered through your academic career to get here. You deserve a fulfilling and rewarding job! We’re cheering for you!

About the Author

Kevin Ohashi Lopez, MHA, BSDH, RDH

Kevin Ohashi Lopez, MHA, BSDH, RDH, is a San Francisco-based dental hygienist. He graduated from West Coast University in 2019 and obtained a master's in health administration. Currently practicing in Napa Valley, Kevin brings diverse dental experience, with both front- and back-office expertise. He is a speaker, ambassador, mentor, Guided Biofilm Therapy trainer with the Swiss Dental Academy, and NBDHE review faculty with Sanders Board Preparatory. Connect with him on Instagram @kevstalksteeth or via email at [email protected].