Respect young peers: Veteran dental hygienists should develop strong relationships with recent grads

April 15, 2016
JoAnn Gurenlian, RDH, reminds veteran dental hygienists to develop strong relationships with recent graduates from dental hygiene schools, bridging a communication gap in a positive way.  


I had the most interesting experience at a conference recently. I was teaching one of my favorite courses about facts and myths in dental hygiene, and several newcomers to our profession came up to me after the program and struck up a conversation. They were delighted with the course and found it inspiring that someone of my-how to say this delicately-advanced age, could be knowledgeable and cutting edge. Their experience in the profession had been less than favorable and they were somewhat disenchanted, so I asked them to tell me more.

As recent graduates, these colleagues were looking forward to entering clinical practice and changing the world. They had obtained positions in general practices in which more experienced (aka older) dental hygienists were working full-time. They were expecting to have a mentor in the practice, someone who would guide them in becoming acclimated to the office. Instead they felt as though they were on the set of Mean Girls Part II.

Their colleagues were less than welcoming and seemed threatened. If they talked about new instruments and procedures, they were told, "That's not how we do things here." They found that these individuals, whom they had hoped would be role models, were not involved in the profession, not members of their national or local organizations, not current in research or technology, not interested in improving health outcomes, not interested in being involved in community events, did not follow the dental hygiene process of care, and barely seemed to know how to sharpen their instruments. What made this worse is the young ones asked me if all hygienists of that generation were this stagnant. Ouch!

I know that not all of my contemporaries are of this nature. Many are vibrant, passionate, thoughtful, and considerate. They embrace recent graduates and are more than happy to be mentors. And, they welcome learning from young colleagues who have been exposed to new technologies, techniques, and concepts because they know this is an opportunity to stay current and involved.

However, maybe we need to take a look at the cohort who has been around the block and is now feeling defensive. These colleagues worry about their job security and are not happy with changes in the profession and their practices. They do not want to be transformed; they like things the way they were 20 or even 30 years ago. How do we reach those people and reassure them that change can be beneficial and not threatening?

One thing that comes to mind while reaching across the great divide is for the younger group to extend an olive branch and invite their more experienced colleagues to join them on their journey into the new world of dental hygiene. They can bring peace to an unsteady environment by asking for advice and assistance, and offering to reciprocate by sharing their knowledge and expertise.

"Can you show me how you managed to calm that anxious patient?" or "I'd like to learn more about your technique for motivating patients to perform better home care," or "I was wondering if you'd like to attend a course with me on advanced instrumentation? Anna Pattison is speaking in our area next month." These are all ways of engaging without being judgmental, and in time may forge a partnership that improves the working relationship.

For my "older" colleagues out there, take a moment and think about all we can learn from these young whippersnappers. They bring a breath of fresh air when they step out of dental hygiene school and into our practices. They are the future, and the changes they want to try do not mean the end for us, but another beginning. Let's respect them for their youth and enthusiasm, and welcome the opportunity to learn something new that may benefit our patients and practice.

That collegiality with our younger peers may be the key that enhances our ability to enjoy our careers and stay employed! So, don't take a role in Means Girls Part II. RDH

JOANN R. GURENLIAN, RDH, PhD, is president of Gurenlian & Associates, and provides consulting services and continuing education programs to health-care providers. She is a professor and dental hygiene graduate program director at Idaho State University, and president of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.

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