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Employment opportunities

June 1, 2010
Clinical hygiene provides many positive opportunities. Often hygienists remain in clinical practice throughout their careers.

Reaching beyond private practice

by Ann-Marie DePalma, CDA, RDH, MEd, FAADH

Clinical hygiene provides many positive opportunities. Often hygienists remain in clinical practice throughout their careers. But for others, this leaves something to be desired. Day-to-day functions of practice can become a chore. So what’s a hygienist who still loves hygiene to do? A variety of opportunities beyond the clinical chair are available for those who are willing to grow and enhance their personal and professional skills.

To decide where a new opportunity may arise, hygienists need to determine where they want to be as hygienists. This process involves developing a mission statement, which is a formal business statement of aims or where the passion lies. What drives you as a hygienist? Is it monetary or education or innovation or sales? This self-discovery will help guide your direction as you seek an alternative to clinical practice.

The American Dental Hygienists’ Association defines six roles of the hygienist. A hygienist is a licensed oral health-care professional who integrates the roles of clinician, educator, consumer advocate, manager, public health, and researcher to prevent oral disease and to promote health. Whether a hygienist remains in clinical practice or seeks alternatives, these roles play a critical component of life. By focusing on a mission statement, these roles can be integrated into an employment opportunity that can provide hygienists with opportunities that go far beyond the clinical realm of practice.

As adults, our self-evaluation and personality characteristics bring about changes at various life transitions. We seek information on new goals and opportunities, but we also must have sufficient self-esteem to elicit a response that may bring about change and re-education. Our anger, frustration, or boredom with current practice is channeled into a positive movement to change the role in which we find ourselves.

However, change is not an easy road. It involves a desire to move beyond what we have without being afraid of the changes that occur. I have spoken to a number of hygienists who have wanted to move beyond clinical, but for one reason or another do not feel confident in their desire or motivation to take the “leap of faith” that change often entails. They feel trapped in their clinical situation but lack the motivation to change. Motivation for change must come from within. It is that inner drive, impulse, or inspiration that causes a person to do something or act in a certain way. Motivation is wanting a change for the better. Many hygienists who are motivated to change beyond clinical have mentors who help them along the way. A mentor is a loyal friend, a wise advisor, and a coach. Hygiene mentors are found in a variety of settings — at work, continuing-education meetings, and national and state associations. Mentors help guide new areas to be explored. These explorations can direct hygienists to find that nonclinical opportunity.

The options for nonclinical practice are varied. They include speaking, writing, consulting, sales, education, public service, administrator/manager, and research and inventor, to name a few. Some require a degree beyond the associate’s level, while others offer potential for what has been learned in “real life.”

Educational opportunities can be found in clinical and didactic educational experiences. Do you enjoy teaching someone a better way of doing things or sharing some of the things you’ve learned? There is a significant shortage of motivated, dedicated educators at all levels of dental education. Whether in a hygiene program, dental school or assisting program, public or private, nonprofit or for-profit, educational institutions are seeking qualified faculty and administrators to continue to educate the future of the profession. However, these opportunities involve more than an associate’s level degree.

A bachelor’s degree is needed to teach clinical courses, while didactic education requires a master’s or beyond. If you are interested in pursuing an educational opportunity but do not have a degree, many programs are available to help you gain that higher degree while staying employed. Education does not have to be formal; if you are comfortable with public speaking, becoming a continuing-education presenter offers a great opportunity to advance beyond clinical. Many of the current continuing-education speakers have had a desire to educate others about products or procedures they use, and many doors have opened as a consequence. Never think that no one wants to hear what you have to say or that they already know how to do something. You may have an idea that can change another’s perspective.

Opportunities in sales require an outgoing personality and a passion for the product. You can’t be afraid of rejection, and you must be willing to travel. Corporations often seek hygienists to fill sales or educational openings. A hygienist who has clinical experience in diverse settings can be an asset to any company’s sales force. Remember, hygienists sell daily in clinical practice, from promoting toothbrushes to determining a patient’s treatment plan, so “sales” is not a dirty word.

Hygienists have a vast array of information from their clinical experiences, from patient interaction to practice management. Consultants offer these experiences to enhance others’ practices. Whether hygienists choose to work with an established consulting firm or to venture out on their own, consulting can be a rewarding experience. Working as a consultant can be difficult but when the transitions occur and you have been an architect of that transition, it can be a worthwhile experience.

Many hygienists have taken an idea and turned it into a new product. Hygiene inventors have assumed challenges in practice and developed new ways of doing things that have led to new products or techniques. Corporations are looking for fresh ideas that will give them the edge over their competition. Hygiene inventions have transformed a number of practice modalities and given opportunities for those who have seen their vision.

Opportunities in research, public service, and management offer areas to expand beyond the comfort zone. Dealing in research, hygienists must possess a passion for numbers and a quest for answering questions. Public service requires a dedication to service-oriented pursuits, while management requires the ability to juggle a multitude of projects simultaneously. All require leadership skills. Each has its own positives and negatives as do all employment opportunities, but the advancements are limitless.

Opportunities abound beyond clinical that any hygienist can pursue. Believe in yourself, be patient, and ask questions. This will help you look beyond the operatory to a higher level. One of the first steps to uncovering employment opportunities beyond private practice is finding a mentor who can assist you in your goals.

Ann–Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FAADH, is a fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and a member of ADHA and other professional associations. Ann–Marie presents continuing–education programs for hygienists and dental team members and has written numerous articles on a variety of topics. She can be reached at [email protected].

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