Forums like Facebook make it easy for clinicians to congregate and share thoughts on everything from products to office politics. It’s exciting that it is so easy to get information, but it’s also sad to see how many in our profession are unhappy. Obviously, there is no way to accurately measure the overall discontent, but it appears to be at an all-time high as compared to previous decades.
Those of us who have enjoyed or are enjoying satisfying careers are scratching our heads. While we are not so naïve to think that everything is perfect in every clinical practice, we love this profession and are disturbed by how desperate some are to leave. At times the anger is palpable, as clinicians lash out at employers, patients, coworkers, and the health-care system.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out for clinical work, but that is where most jobs are these days. The traditional office setting with a handful of doctors and employees is becoming more and more rare. Some aspects of the future are scary and disturbing, while others, such as more open practice acts, are exciting and invigorating. Today’s clinicians will have to be nimbler than ever in adapting to the changing landscape. Dental hygiene has a growing number of practice models, including corporately owned offices, multilocation practices, federally qualified health-care centers offering multidisciplinary care, and the advancement of dental hygiene services provided outside of a traditional office setting using portable dental equipment.
Here are some strategies that can help refocus your future as our profession evolves to meet these changes.
Remember why you chose this profession
Most of us chose dental hygiene because we wanted to take care of people, earn a decent living, and have a flexible schedule that allowed us to have a reasonable work-life balance.
While not always fun, and not always easy, clinical dental hygiene care can’t be outsourced to a call center across an ocean. The mere fact that people make and keep appointments with us allows us to earn an income. Learn to focus on patients that bring a smile to your face and fill your heart with joy.
Find a mentor or support group
Dental hygiene can be very lonely, especially if you are the only hygienist in the practice or never get an opportunity to work side-by-side with a colleague. The only person who will ever really understand what we do is another dental hygienist. Sharing ideas is magical and support is critical.
Let go of the perfection gene
We might get more than two hours to treat each patient we see in dental hygiene school, but as soon as we get our RDH license, we’re expected to complete every task in one third to one half the time. It’s just not possible. Seasoned clinicians develop strategies to stay sane. Expecting to be perfect 100% of the time wears people out. Learn to do the best job possible, in the given time frame, with the tools that you have. If the professional disconnect is too high, start looking for another position.
There are good patients everywhere
Following up on the last comment, don’t be afraid to relocate if the practice philosophy does not work for you. Hygienists often mourn losing connection with “their patients.” While we can have amazingly strong ties to those who we treat, the patients belong to the practice where we are employed.
Take responsibility for your career
This is not a new topic. Nothing is more invigorating than choosing to make a decision that affects your career pathway. It can be something as simple as buying your own saddle stool or instruments. You can go up a notch by joining your professional organization or attending a local, state, or national meeting like RDH Under One Roof on your own dime.
Keep on learning
The same old song and dance gets old, whether it is products or how we treat patients. Science is presenting a whole new look at the oral microbiome and how microbes actually create disease. Technology has enlarged what we can do for patients as well as what they can do for themselves. What we now know about products and therapies aimed at disrupting pathogenic biofilm communities will change oral health outcomes. Learn about advances in silver diamine fluoride, prescription tray therapy using hydrogen peroxide gel, arginine bicarbonate chemistry, glycine subgingival delivery, water flossing, and dozens of other topics.
Not everyone is cut out to do clinical hygiene day in and day out. In today’s world, there are opportunities to work with companies as a brand ambassador or as a clinical representative in many new arenas. Clinical dental hygienists are now providing information to colleagues in live lunch-and-learn formats, at traditional CE events, or in internet-based events. Typically, the compensation is reflective of a clinical pay scale, but these opportunities offer diversity and a chance to dip one’s toes into an entirely different world.
Volunteer, give back, pay it forward
Clinicians who participate in volunteer activities are forever changed. Volunteers are required to be adaptable and deal with the reality of the job at hand. These life-altering changes can come from a wide range of events, such as attending a lobby day, providing clinical care at a Mission of Mercy event, placing sealants or doing oral cancer screenings, or securing oral hygiene supplies for veterans. Volunteers view the world with a different lens.
Reduce financial stress
Getting into a financial pickle is easy, and getting out is complicated. We all make choices about money, but it is possible to make it a goal to live more simply and create a nest egg that can help make your financial future more secure.
Plan for the future
The “what if” may never happen, but what if it does? Are you prepared for the financial and emotional drain? Certainly, death and taxes are inevitable, but are you prepared if your career takes a sidestep, your boss has a sudden heart attack, your shoulder needs surgery, or your parents need your attention day in and day out? Life happens, and not being prepared to shift on a dime can wreak havoc.
Is it just a job—or do you have a career?
Most of us who have chosen dental hygiene as a career path are blessed with knowing that we have helped people have healthier lives from head to toe. A remarkable number of hygienists can recount one or more stories when they actually saved a life or their quick actions prevented a very negative outcome. Thousands have detected oral cancer, sent a potential stroke patient to the ER, or encouraged a diabetic patient to seek appropriate medical care.
We all have stories and we have all made a difference. We can choose to do our jobs with a clock-in/clock-out mentality, or we can embrace our professional pathways with a new set of eyes and new vigor.
Life is not about change—it’s really about how we adjust to change.
ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, MPH, RDH, CSP, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971, and can be contacted at [email protected].