Ask Kara RDH: Inadequate Instruments when Temping

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I am a new grad working as a temp hygienist with an agency. I’m noticing more and more that the offices I’m temping in do not have sufficient instruments at all! I know I was spoiled in school to have like 5 of everything, but now I’m working in offices that don’t have any curettes at all – no Graceys, no universals, nothing. The prophy cassette will have like three things, a mirror, H6/H7, probe/explorer, and sometimes a sickle. I’m struggling because I don’t feel like I’m providing the best patient care with the provided (or lack thereof) instruments. Is it normal for offices to not provide adequate instruments so hygienists can do their job properly?

I can assure you that there are wonderful offices and doctors out there that provide their hygienists with the necessary instruments (and equipment) needed to provide top quality patient care. At my last office, if I even made mention of wanting to try a new prophy angle, handpiece, fluoride varnish, you name it, it would appear in my operatory within the next week. On the other hand, I have also worked and temped at offices that were the exact opposite. So I wouldn’t say it’s “normal,” or at least it shouldn’t be! It all comes down to how much an office/doctor values not only the treatment of their patients but their employees. No matter what profession you are in, you will find both ends of the spectrum.

You do have some options when you encounter an office when temping without adequate instruments. You can let the temp agency know that you’d prefer not to return to a certain office. Be sure to give the agency the reason why; they need to know what kind of offices they are sending their temps to. A potential downfall to this is you might limit the offices you are able to temp for if you are finding a lack of instruments at several offices.

Another option is purchasing and bringing your own instruments with you when you temp just in case you aren’t able to work with the ones provided. Many hygienists are investing in their own instruments (and equipment) for the very reason you described. It is a financial investment on your part. However, it’s also an investment for the patients you treat and an investment in yourself and the longevity of your career. When using inadequate instruments (past their prime, overly dull, over-sharpened, or not the right ones needed for treatment purposes), you are working harder and inefficiently, which has the potential to lead to musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) and injury. MSDs can shorten your career due to their impacts. If you do purchase your own instruments, you should be able to use the cost as a tax write-off. Of course, I’m not a CPA, so I would suggest speaking to a CPA and/or the person who prepares your taxes.

On the bright side, if you can call it that, if you are temping as a way to gain experience and to find your “forever office or “dental home,” you can add adequate instruments to your list of must-haves when interviewing. It’s better to know now, through your experience temping, what you should be looking for and asking about before accepting a permanent position. It’s never fun to accept a job, to quickly learn that it’s not somewhere you can work happily and provide your patients with the very best patient care possible.

Lastly, I want to mention that your concern about the need for proper instruments shows a lot about your character and your ethics as a clinician. I applaud you for that! While showing up to an office to find you don’t have the greatest of instruments available to treat patients is not fun, you do have some options. I hope this helps just a bit!

SEE ALSO: The Pros & Cons of Dental Temping

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Kara Vavrosky, RDHEP
Kara Vavrosky, RDHEP, is a co-founder and the chief content officer of Today’s RDH, an independent educational publishing company for dental hygienists, encompassing articles, a podcast, virtual continuing education events, and self-study continuing education. Today’s RDH was launched in 2018 after Kara built her social media presence with her largest following on her Facebook page, Dental Hygiene with Kara RDH, which was created in 2013. An Oregon Institute of Technology graduate, Kara has a deep passion for spreading knowledge about the importance of oral health and its association with systemic health. Kara’s passion extends to helping other hygienists understand current protocols and evidence-based research – all with the goal of lifting dental hygienists and the dental hygiene profession. Kara was recognized in 2020 as one of the Top 100 Women in Media for her entrepreneurship as a co-founder of Today’s RDH. In 2022, she was recognized by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association for their Standout Seven Award in the Entrepreneur category. Kara lives in Vancouver, Washington, just outside Portland, Oregon, with her husband, Ben, and their four Chihuahuas. When she’s not working, Kara loves riding the Oregon Dunes on her quad, spoiling her Chihuahuas, and spending time with her close-knit family.