Since its first publication, I have been reading RDH from cover to cover and am always especially interested in your editor`s note. Never have you failed to be on the side of the dental hygienist, looking out for our welfare.
I participated and was especially interested in the recent survey on salaries and benefits. Your editorial in the October 1996 issue pointed out an undesirable trend that I have been aware of since I joined the profession almost 30 years ago. Of course, I`m referring to the 8 percent increase in income that the average hygienist can expect to realize over a lifetime of dedication to her profession.
Having personally compared salaries with my peers since I began practicing in 1967, I would like to offer my opinion as to why this shortcoming is even greater today.
Overhead is always the dark cloud in any business, and whenever it is analyzed, the first thing looked at is salaries. In a dental office, the hygienist is typically the highest paid staff member, and the first that the business consultants want to attack.
As a hygienist remains with a practice over the years, gradual pay increases drive her salary higher than that offered to a hygienist right out of school. Just as hygienists do, dentists compare what they are paying their staff. Many times, they fail to consider the amount of production being performed or the number of years of service. Before you know it, the wheels start turning and the temptation to hire someone at a lower salary with less benefits becomes a strong consideration.
Eventually, the long-term, dedicated hygienist is almost always approached about increasing overhead and faced with the ultimatum of swallowing her pride and accepting a pay cut or starting her career over.
The problem with starting over is that her new employer will expect to hire her at the same pay as a hygienist right out of school, regardless of her experience. Along with that, she has to walk away from patients who have truly become her friends. No one wants to do that. I`ve seen this happen countless times over the years, and two years ago it happened to me after 21 years of dedication to the same practice. Fortunately, for me, I was able to relocate with three highly respected dentists who appreciated my capabilities.
However, I believe my case was the exception.
As long as hygienists do not defend one another and continue to replace other hygienists whom they know are being "downsized" the trend will never end.
The answer, in my opinion, for the future of dental hygienists is independent practice. Although many dentists argue against this in the name of patient welfare, we all know the greatest fear is financial loss.
Yolanda Dobbins, RDH