Dental Hygiene Career Enhancement: Why Just Settle for Good?

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You wake up one morning, look yourself in the mirror, and realize there is so much more you can be doing. You start to question what decisions need to be made to change the course of your life. All of a sudden, impending fear overtakes you as you come to the realization that it will require surrendering a comfortable lifestyle, a job that provides all the perks a hygienist can ever desire. How do you walk away from a position with exceptional pay, extensive benefits, incredible team parties, and vacations?

If you are ready, you will, and you must!

Recognizing a Need for Fulfillment

Several years ago, I was in this exact situation. I was employed in an office that had the WOW factor. Team members were appreciated, patients were spoiled, and the environment was unique. Despite all of this, I felt unfulfilled and underutilized in my role as office manager and clinical hygienist.

I had a longing desire to make a difference, yet there was not much more change that needed to be implemented in the practice. They already had it together. It was time for me to move on! The question was, move on to what? Where was I going to go? What opportunities were available for the taking?

Immediately, I began to explore my options. I knew my level of expertise and what I had to offer. Yet, I questioned whether I would be able to convince a potential future employer of my value?

As I strategized on what to do next, I remembered a dentist I had encountered several years back. He owned 14 practices at the time and had me deliver a mandated child abuse course for his group. He also scheduled me to come back to provide a local anesthesia continuing education course for his hygienists.

Afterward, the doctor shared how he wanted to push his practices forward. He told me about all the technologies he had available for his hygienists to provide comprehensive care, many of which were collecting dust. Patients were scheduled for one-hour appointments, yet he had no systems in place and wasn’t convinced that all of his hygienists were on the same page with his vision.

As I thought about my interactions with this dentist, I couldn’t help but strategize on how I could help change his practices. I wasn’t his employee, but I had a plan. So, what was my next step? How could I contact him to let him know my interest? Well, I thought, we do live in a technology-driven world, so why not a text? A text that read something like this, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I spoke to your group, and you had shared your desire to implement systems in your practices that could lead to practice growth. I have a lot to offer. Would you be interested in meeting with me?” To my surprise, five minutes later, a text that read, “Sure, do you want to meet later today?”

That text got my foot in the door, and, after three long interviews, a new position was created just for me − director of operations/clinic educator. This new position would allow me to create and implement new systems in our practices that would lead to comprehensive care. It would provide me the opportunity to implement an employee handbook and create a benefits package for our team and deal with human resource-related issues. I would also have the opportunity to implement new technologies and treatment modalities and provide trainings to help our team members to become proficient in their use. I had a “longing” desire to be utilized to my fullest potential. This new role would absolutely fulfill my every need.

I look back to the decision I made two years ago and am so thankful I found the courage to make a move. It was an extremely intimidating decision, but it needed to be made. I was at great risk of losing the yearning and passion that was so alive in me. Had I stayed at my previous job, my love of the profession would have slowly dwindled.

Making a Difference

Dental hygienists have incredible potential to make a difference. They are full of passion, incredible knowledge, and persistence. Yet, many times they just settle for their current situations. Perhaps they fear change and making drastic decisions that may just very well shake up their lives, or maybe they believe it is easier to settle. After all, at least their job is helping to pay their bills.

The problem in settling is that it can lead to burnout, the stripping of one’s passion, and may lead to a decision to leave the profession altogether. While the grass is not always greener on the other side, new opportunities lend themselves to the acquiring of additional knowledge and experiences that can lead to continued growth and even greater adventures in the future. Hygienists are most definitely square pegs that will not fit into round holes. We are strong and driven and have the potential to revolutionize the way dentistry is practiced.

While I would love to say that taking a stand and moving on will bring about all positive changes, there are also many challenges that individuals must be ready to face. Assertive and knowledgeable hygienists who practice with integrity, ensure they are staying abreast of the latest treatment modalities, and have high standards for ethical care will, at times, come across as intimidating and assertive to those they work with. Perhaps this can be because hygienists of this caliber have no issues in speaking up when things are not in alignment with their moral beliefs?

Despite all of this, these challenges are what mold us and prepare us for excellence. They force hygienists in leadership roles to learn how to deal with different personalities in order to bring about much-needed change, and most importantly, prevent a hygienist from becoming too comfortable, as the next chapter in their lives may be just around the corner.

The truth is dentistry needs these types of hygienists. As dentists want to grow their practices and remain competitive, it will be imperative they create positions for hygiene leaders that have the knowledge and desire to create systems that will impact the way dentistry is delivered. After all, we are not in the business of just saving teeth; we now have the incredible responsibility of saving lives. We must create an experience for our patients that will keep them coming back so that they can enjoy overall health.

I challenge every hygienist to evaluate their current situations. Ask yourself the following questions: Am I being utilized to my fullest potential? Do I feel fulfilled in my current position?  Do I have a longing desire to make a difference?

If so, it is time to take a stand. Perhaps it can be in approaching your current employers and presenting what you can contribute to helping their practices grow, or maybe it is time for you to seek out opportunities that will help rekindle the strong passion you once had. Whatever decision you make, make sure it is a decision that you can look back to in 20, 30, or 40 years, and with certainty say, “That was the best move I ever made.” So, once again, I have to ask why just settle for good? Don’t let fear be your driving force, take the plunge, and strive for greatness!

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

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Lisa Maisonet, RDH, PHDHP, EFDA, CDA
Lisa Maisonet, RDH, PHDHP, EFDA, CDA, received her AAS degree in Dental Hygiene from Montgomery County Community College and a BS degree from PA College of Technology. She is enrolled in a Master’s Program in Adult Education at Penn State University. Further, she is certified as an Expanded Functions Dental Assistant and teaches local anesthesia for licensed dental hygienists at Montgomery County Community College. As a director of operations/clinic educator for her current employer, Lisa works with 22 practices to implement systems that are geared towards prevention. She provides her team with training opportunities that allow them to implement new products and technologies in enhancing patient care and handles all benefits and human resource aspects for the organization. Although she is busy in her role, she makes it a point to jump into patient care in order to satisfy her desire to make a difference in patients’ lives. She is part of the national speaker bureau for Premier Dental and also gets to share her passion on a national level. Currently, she serves as Governmental Relations Chair/Member at large for PDHA and loves to help push the profession of dental hygiene forward.