Preceptorships and two-for-one sales!

March 1, 2002

by T.K. Allen

Stop me if you've heard this one ...

A hygienist walks into an interview with her neatly drafted resume, a degree, over 20 years of hygiene experience, and the hopes that this office is as progressive and innovative as her last one. She smiles as Dr. Bargain glances over her resume which includes years in perio and a number of achievements regarding her profession. Her glowing letters of recommendation are left on the table, untouched.

The doctor looks at the hygienist, cocks his head and asks, "Very nice, but can you assist?"

This joke isn't funny; it's ironic! Scenarios like this are very likely to be played out everywhere preceptorship exists. It's the old "two-for-one sale mentality" that many dentists have adopted since preceptorship was created. If you start with an assistant, as preceptorship does, you always are assured of having at least an assistant, even if she loses her desire to practice hygiene.

Overlapping job descriptions
The lines are getting real fuzzy in our profession as expanded functions overlap job descriptions between assistants and hygienists. This is a step forward for the assistants! In some states, hygienists, too, are carrying their profession to a new level. This is a step forward for these hygienists. But, in a state where preceptorship has already taken hold, it's assumed that the hygienist probably performs assistant's duties, too.

Those who don't have a clue about assisting — having gone straight from high school to "hygiene school" — already have two strikes against them. College-trained hygienists have been turned down at interviews, learning later that the doctor preferred a preceptor to fill that position. Even some preceptors can't figure this one out, though they enjoy the benefits of having the edge.

In hiring a preceptor over a college- trained hygienist, the doctor benefits in two ways:

  1. He now can pay the lowest hygiene salary in the country with no objections.
  2. He can double his assets by taking advantage of this two-for-one sale!
  3. Frustrating, isn't it?

Selling your wares
Well-known institutes in the dental field teach the concept of dentists "selling themselves" to the patient ... their expertise, their years of education in a well-respected dental school, etc. I sat and listened while a dentist, immersed in this philosophy, not only spouted his own accolades, but cast aspersions on other dentists' work, labeling it as "junk."

"I don't know what your reservations are in having your work done here, Mr. Smith," he said. (This hard-selling, over-inflated dentist was also very expensive!) "But, I'll be very angry if you come in here next time with junk in your mouth!"

This dentist was fully convinced that he was the most skilled, educated, and qualified to perform the procedures that poor, ignorant Mr. Smith needed ... and he had the diploma to prove it!

This is not unheard of in dentistry. Speakers tour the country, making a pretty penny emphasizing the importance of enlightening the patient about the fact that he or she is in the presence of a great dental mind. Therefore, any fee charged for this work is a "fair" fee. The patient is paying for the honor of being treated by this giant among dentists.

Do all dentists have to go to college? I think so. No dentist would dare come up with alternative practice for dentists. And yet, among college-trained individuals, there's a fierce competition to be known as the best in the field — superbly educated and on the cutting edge.

Are these the same great minds that are trying to shut down the college-trained hygienist's ability to emphasize her own education? How can she sell her qualifications to practice hygiene when they are looked upon by some as unnecessary ... and even a detriment to securing a hygiene position! Her patients surely would appreciate her expertise if only she could get past the job interview.

(Some don't even make it that far if they list their degree on their resume in a preceptorship state. In such a case, the hygienist has inadvertently "sold" herself down the river without a paddle.)

The college-educated hygienist's prospective patients will never know of her credentials and will never benefit from her education or clinical skills. That dentist who prefers a preceptor has effectively gagged her and sent her on her way. The dentist knows that if she were allowed to see patients, she would be "selling herself" to them without even trying ... and without all the self-exaltation and belittling of others!

To those dentists who love preceptorship, employing a highly-qualified hygienist would be dangerous for their preceptors and it would be self-defeating and counter-productive.

Worse still, the dentist would have to pay her!

What can a hygienist do? If you don't like the prospect of all this, you can do one of two things:

1. Work with your state and national hygiene association to maintain the standards of hygiene that your patients have come to expect.
You worked hard for your degree, but how hard will you work to keep your state's dental association from "having its way" with your profession, not to mention your paycheck? Your degree doesn't mean much when you can't get past that darn job interview ... and that can have a devastating effect on your professional aspirations.

2. Go back to college, enroll in a CDA course, and learn how to assist.
Which road will you take?

T.K. Allen is a pen name for a contributor to RDH.