What are you worth?

June 1, 2004
As a speaker and author I am often asked, "How much money can I make as a hygienist?" I answer, "How much are you worth?"

by Janet Hagerman

As a speaker and author I am often asked, "How much money can I make as a hygienist?" I answer, "How much are you worth?"

RDH publishes its annual hygiene salary survey, which clearly indicates wide variances in compensations. The classified ads also show additional salary ranges. Industry friends and associates may be able to provide useful comparisons.

In the past, longevity prevailed. Raises were determined by how long the seat of your pants had been planted on your treatment room stool. While loyalty is a virtue, and hard work and patient rapport are undeniably important, they are still not enough. In today's world of hygiene, you must bring still more to the practice to establish your worth.

Today's hygienist is more than just a clinician. What you learned in school is only the beginning — the clinical basis of your profession. This education should be complimented with expertise in the business component of running a hygiene department. You should also develop elegant and effective communication skills. The ability to create and maintain rapport with your patients, fellow team members, and doctor is crucial. Developing yourself as a well-rounded dental professional will serve you well in establishing your worth.

Developing your worth starts with your job search and interview. What is your mindset during this process? If it's, "Where can I make the most money?" adopt a new attitude. Instead, ask yourself these questions:

• What skills do I have that would be excellent contributions to an office?
• What am I passionate about concerning patient care or team support?
• How have I best served my patients in the past?
• What is it about service that appeals to me, and how is that apparent in my work?
• Why would I be a welcome and excellent addition to any team?

Try writing your own letter of recommendation. Tell "to whom it may concern" why you should be hired. List your best qualities. Be honest and forthright in assessing yourself. Use this as a guide to project your best self during an interview. You can also use this as a personal tool for self-improvement.

When interviewing, negotiate like a professional. Look sharp and well groomed. Be punctual. Come prepared. Before your interview, think about the following items and rate them in order of importance to you.

• Appointment time allotted
• Type of perio program
• Benefits (health, retirement, vacation, sick pay)
• Schedule flexibility
• Daily/hourly salary or commission
• Continuing education
• Any additional perks

Consider your entire compensation package when negotiating. Once you get your job, create and maintain regularly scheduled performance reviews. Chances are you will have to initiate this yourself. Ask your employer for this review at three and six months, then annually. This will not only give you opportunities to improve, but also to show your employer your growth and professional development, as well as how production increases within your department.

Take ownership of your hygiene department. Develop the business skills necessary to monitor the department's growth and challenges.

Here are some systems you can monitor:

• Production
• Percentage of patients that you pre-appointment
• Re-care efficiency (What percent of your patients are overdue for re-care?)
• Restorative treatment enrolled from hygiene

Track your daily, weekly, monthly, and annual production. Access your production by procedure report in the computer. If you don't know how to do this, ask your office manager to show you. This report is available with all dental software, and you can access it for any date range. For example, you can pull a report for yesterday, all of last month, or the entire year-to-date simply by entering the desired date range.

By learning how to analyze these reports, you will be able to solve problems in your department and make corrections very quickly. These reports provide an enormous amount of information about your department and the performance of every clinician. Savvy hygienists know how to increase their compensation by using these tools to increase their department production.

The ability to use this information in order to expand your department will make you a huge asset to your employer and improve your worth, not only as a clinician, but as a business partner and professional.

Many of us have heard that the two things doctors fear most is losing their patients and losing their staff. By leveraging these two concerns, you can tap into an important way to maximize your worth.

Patient rapport is paramount. This involves developing a trusting relationship that results in treatment enrollment. What good is a social chat with your patients twice a year if they do not get the treatment they need? So it is imperative to develop excellent communication skills that enable you to elegantly influence your patients to treatment.

These same communication skills help you get along with your fellow team members. You don't have to love, or even like the team members, although it helps. But you must treat them with respect at all times. Thanking and acknowledging your team will create amazing positive results and cooperation.

Here's an acronym to help you with these goals — PTS. Usually the abbreviation for the word patients, PTS now stands for how you can best create your value and worth.

Always think of the:
• Patient first
• Team second
• Self last.

Finally, how do you get along with your doctor? Dental professionals vary in their degree and interpretation of treatment and diagnosis. As hygienists excel in the area of periodontal therapy, and as dentists move into the areas of cosmetics and functional esthetics, they need to support each other.

Schedule regular meetings with your doctor for case reviews and to study the progress of your department. Share with the doctor your latest findings and research from professional journals, and encourage them to do the same for you. Stick to a regular schedule of meetings to maintain harmony. If you really want to win brownie points, take him/her to lunch periodically!

These are the things that will make you invaluable to your employer. Start off on the right foot. Be a professional. Meet regularly with your employer to maintain production and harmony. Be an astute hygiene business person. Take ownership of your department. Develop elegant communication skills. What employer in their right mind would not want this kind of hygienist? Create your value and create your worth.

Janet Hagerman, RDH, BS, is a speaker, writer, and the director of dental hygiene for Coast Dental. She can be reached at jhager [email protected].