10 Tips for the New Hygiene Grad from a New Hygiene Grad

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As I approach the first anniversary after completion of my dental hygiene degree, I find myself knowing quite a bit more compared to this time last year. While by no means do I consider myself to be an expert, there are numerous things that I wish I had known when I had first graduated and was looking for my first job.

In many ways, the opportunities truly are limitless. It can be difficult to hone in on what you value when it comes to looking for employment.

The following are a few things that I found useful with landing a job. They can help grow and push your career trajectory. At the same time, they provide high job satisfaction, enabling you actually to enjoy what you’re doing.

1) Don’t underestimate the value of building a strong professional network.

Connect with your local hygiene job groups and local dental staffing agencies. Many communities also have periodic study groups. The study groups are a great way of learning and sharing knowledge, but you also meet other professionals. Also, don’t forget that the ADHA is a great resource for networking with other professionals, reaching from the national level down to your local community.

2) Protect yourself!

Get malpractice insurance and disability insurance. Don’t wait because, once you need it, it’s too late.

3) Lacking confidence?

Try temping or per diem work. It’s a great way to gain experience and get your foot in the door of potential employers. Temping is also a good way to feel out offices and get an idea of what you want in your “forever office.”

4) Be paid what you are worth.

Don’t settle for a wage less than what you’re worth! Do not think that there is only one job out there for a new grad, so a low wage must be accepted. There are always offices that are currently expanding or looking for temporary hygienists. Learn the average hourly rates for compensation for a dental hygienist in your area and request a reasonable rate for yourself and stick to it.

The most accurate occupational wage breakdowns can usually be found on your state’s employment department website. They tend to breakdown wages from the lowest 10th percentile to the highest 90th and break down city by city or county by county. For example, click here for Oregon’s occupational breakdown (scroll down to “Wage Range 2019”). As a side note, please remember that this website is for Oregon and will not be accurate for where you live.

However, do respect the fact that as a new grad, you will likely not be paid the same as someone with years of experience in the practice. Compensation models can also vary dependent on the office. Note and learn the differences between hourly, daily, and production-based pay models. Do note that, if paid on production, you should be paid on production, not collections.

5) Too busy? Good. It means you are learning.

Seeing more than 12 patients a day? “Prophy mills” may be a term that you may or may not have heard. These are clinics that generally schedule anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes for general adult prophylaxis.

Have you received an offer from this type of practice? Are you concerned about what new ethical dilemmas that may pop up? Worried about how you are going to manage time and whether you can deliver quality care?

Don’t fret. These are perfectly valid questions you should be asking yourself! As mentioned earlier, don’t underestimate your own worth. Practices that place these time constraints do so in order to squeeze in more patients, which can compromise patient care. Hygienists may feel rushed to stay on schedule and, as such, may miss things like medical history updates, pathology (abnormal lesions), and periodontal disease. These happen also to be some of the most common reasons hygienists get sued!

Furthermore, shortened appointments may also be detrimental to the hygienist themselves, leading to clinician burnout and increased risk of musculoskeletal injuries.

Having said that, a busy schedule has its benefits, as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of patient care. Whether it’s patient management skills or even clinical skills, you’ll eventually learn how to be both fast and efficient, ultimately taking a step further in developing your own identity as a dental hygienist. This is what will allow you to maintain a busy schedule without falling behind and deliver quality patient care simultaneously.

6) Learn from the drama but don’t be bullied.

As with any other job and career, there will always be instances of office drama where you may not get along with staff or patients. Don’t take it too personally. You can’t please everyone. Be humble in your capabilities, but also be confident.

As a new grad entering the workforce, there will be times where you may have underperformed in someone else’s eyes. As long as you’re learning from these opportunities, you will continue to grow. Be open to learning and criticism, but do not let someone look down on you.

7) It’s in the details (of a contract).

When it comes to your employment contract, do read through it very carefully. Consider finding a legal professional to review your contract. The contracts will generally dictate the scope, responsibilities, and terms associated not only with your employment but often what happens once you leave.

8) Welcome to the world of insurance coding.

Learn about popular insurance policies that your practice accepts. Learn the ADA procedure codes and how they differentiate from each other. Depending on the insurance policy and the procedure code that is being billed, the treatment and recall schedule for your patients may differ. Learn about simple terminologies associated with dental insurance such as “annual maximum,” “deductible,” or “co-payment.”

9) Your peak is way down the road.

Your career is not a race. Don’t let time constraints bother you. Grow at your own pace. Your career has just started, and there is a lot of time between now and retirement. Don’t expect to hit the peak of your career during your first year out of school. There is a lot to be learned and tons of opportunities ahead. Be open about these experiences and embrace it!

10) Don’t start out trying to look for the ideal dental office.

There is no one ideal dental office, as all offices have their quirks. But there is an office that pertains to what you like and shares the same goals as you.

As you explore your new home away from home, you’ll discover things that really please you. Other things, not so much. But you’ll find solutions for some areas needing improvement. Eventually, you may realize that a certain dental office is truly a happy place for you.

Congratulations on moving forward towards this next chapter in your life. While it may seem daunting and even challenging at times, have faith in and embrace your commitment towards a profession that will be both impactful and rewarding!