A Hygienist’s 10-year Anniversary: Discouraged to Delighted

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To some, ten years seems like a lifetime. To others, it goes by in the blink of an eye. As I come upon my 10-year anniversary as a registered dental hygienist, I’ve found myself in deep, almost solemn reflection. What have I accomplished? Am I happy? Am I thankful for this career? What are my professional goals?

It’s easy to remember only the highs and lows of any memory, and it’s even easier to forget where we spend most of our time—the middle ground. The middle ground is the daily humdrum of your day, seeing the same patient every six months, eating lunch at precisely 12:14, and knowing what day of the week it is by the assigned scrubs for that day. Pink scrubs on Monday, blue scrubs on Tuesday…

While it is the highs that keep us going and the lows that keep us changing, it is the particular humdrum of our middle ground routine that often keeps us sane.

My recent personal reflection began when I was knee-deep in creating a continuing education course for a group of industry leaders and influencers. I was in the midst of rearranging the graphics of a PowerPoint slide when it hit me: Ten years ago, I had been stuck in a soul-sapping clinical role and utterly discouraged with my career choice. I would have laughed if you’d told me that in the same career and ten years later, I’d find myself completely fulfilled, delighted even! To me, ten years has seemed like a lifetime.

A quick survey of the dental hygiene landscape reveals that a good many in our shared profession are quite satisfied with the path upon which their career choice has led them thus far in life. Yet, there are those who feel deeply unsatisfied, seemingly trapped by the apparent constraints of the profession. If you listen closely to the rumbling sentiment of our peers, you can hear a significant murmur, a quiet unrest – dare I say, a calm before the storm?

The Quote on My Wall

As I write all of this, a quote hangs on the wall beside my computer. I had hastily scribbled it down on a piece of scrap paper and taped it to the wall. It’s been there for some time and is beginning to yellow slightly around the edges: The key to effective change is reflection.

Ten years ago, I worked in a dental practice just a few blocks down the street from my apartment. The workplace environment was toxic – full of bullying, strife, and flat-out survival. The dentist would regularly scream at patients. I would hurry to take my lunch break at home each day and often spent an hour crying, dreading returning to work for the afternoon.

Fast forward to today, and I feel like a completely different person with a whole new outlook on my life’s work. Today, I get to be my own boss and do things I would only have dreamed of 10 years ago. I’m lecturing on the conference circuit, planning and leading targeted dental conferences, and cultivating a deep sense of personal joy in helping to change the very course of our beloved dental industry.

Reflect on Your Need for Change

Take a minute to reflect on where you are today as a dental professional. Where were you ten years ago? Where do you want to be ten years from now? Are you happy? Or do you feel antsy, trapped, and frustrated?

A colleague of mine once remarked that dental hygienists are used to achieving great results in successive 45-minute increments. What an amazing feeling, almost a euphoric high, to know your patient is walking out of your op with a sparkling mouth and a chance to begin anew! How often do we get frustrated because we want our careers to instantly improve (or at most improve in 45 minutes)? How often do we allow ourselves the proper amount of time to reflect first in order to then begin anew?

What if, instead of expecting instant change, we take the time to reflect on the highs, lows, and humdrum of our last ten years and simply allow our reflection to help us transform the next ten? Our profession is on the brink of significant change, and so are you. Who knows? Maybe your future self will be just as content as you are today, or like me, maybe you’ll be laughing at what a drastic difference just a few years can make!

Now Listen to the Today’s RDH Dental Hygiene Podcast Below: