Raising the pH of life’s job market acidity

June 1, 2012
Much has been reported lately about the dismal job prospects for dental hygienists.

Much has been reported lately about the dismal job prospects for dental hygienists. Nationwide, hygienists’ hours are being cut. Some who are working in less than desirable situations are sweating it out because there seems to be little else available. Graduating students consider themselves fortunate to find even part-time work once they have attained licensure. And on it goes.

One big target for criticism is directed toward the new schools that have popped up virtually everywhere. States with seemingly more than an adequate number of dental hygiene programs face competition from new for-profit venues that lure students from community college programs, producing a rush of new hygienists flowing into a job market that is already saturated. A growing concern is that wages currently paid to dental hygienists will decrease, as new grads desperate to find employment secure positions for as much as $20 less than the “going rate.”

There has been a recent successful drive to offset this trend. Potential new dental hygiene programs will be required to produce researched validation needs assessment of the surrounding locale. Without this, their programs will not be accredited.

Read on for a different view.

My niece Meghan wanted all her life to be an elementary education teacher. She chose that pathway, and graduated three years ago. Shortly afterward the economy tanked, and what was a rotten job market for elementary school teachers became worse. Meghan sent hundreds of resumes and got responses from a few. She began subbing in the town she intended to find a job that led to a long-term substitute assignment, which ultimately led to the dream teaching position she has today. Life handed her a lemon, and she made lemonade.

There would have been little point for Meg and the thousands of students walking in the same shoes to cry that colleges should “discontinue offering elementary education as a major because there are not enough teaching positions out there.” Universities could legitimately laugh, because these students choose their disciplines, just like potential dental hygienists do. Life holds us no guarantees when it comes to the job market. Should it? Let’s get real.

Last I checked, the statistic was that many Americans do not get dental care. Another significant statistic is that an overwhelming number of Americans are afflicted with periodontal disease. The economy has had a huge impact on hygienists’ ability to play a needed role in the dental hygiene workforce. Yet prior, when economics were less wretched, the two statistics cited were still looming large — undiagnosed or untreated periodontal disease, and folks who will not sit in our dental office chairs. It would seem that we need to expend energy toward reaching those individuals. When successful, there will be more work for all of us.

Who is going to take this on?

One last story for your inspiration introduces my close friend Nancy, who graduated 34 years ago in an era when there were no teaching positions for degreed physical education majors. Nancy subbed for a year, got tired of that, and landed a job as a bank teller. She worked her way up the corporate ladder and today is an assistant vice president of operational risk management. Nancy took her lemon and created mango lemonade.

Two different women, two different eras. One had the passion and determination to stick with her quest until she got what she wanted. Another took a different path and found success in a completely new field. A common trait I see in dental hygienists is the mindset that they are limited to working clinically in private practice. I propose that we expand our tunnel vision and realize that there are other doors to be opened.

I’ve given you a lot to chew on today. Onward we go; it is in our hearts’ core. RDH

Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Burlington County College. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at [email protected] or 609-259- 8008. Visit her website at www.eileenmorrissey.com.

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