Employment During Dental Hygiene School: A Daunting Challenge, but Possible

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Are you considering going to hygiene school but uncertain about supporting your family while in school? In my opinion, working through school is possible, but it takes a lot of work.

Many adults ask the above question before going back to school regardless of the chosen curriculum. However, dental hygiene school is much more demanding than typical liberal arts degrees. One needs to possess excellent time management skills before even considering employment during dental hygiene school. I recommend getting a planner where you can write down upcoming events to keep up with the coursework demand.

Dental Assisting

I am currently a dental hygiene student, and I work in a pediatric dental office as a dental assistant. I was fortunate to secure certification as a dental assistant before entering dental hygiene school. If you are interested in working in the dental field, see if you have the option of completing a dental assisting program between acceptance into your hygiene program and the actual start date.

Dental assisting programs vary from state to state. Some programs guarantee certification in dental assisting in as little as 16 weeks. Other programs, such as the program I completed, are more in-depth and take a year to complete. I recommend researching the options in your area. There were several months between hearing if I got into the program and my start date in my situation. I started a dental assisting program in August, was accepted into my dental hygiene program in April, and I did not start my dental hygiene schooling until the following August. Several dental assistants are in my current dental hygiene program. Some have been working as assistants for up to 16 years, and others are newly certified as assistants.

Be Honest with Employer

Before applying for a job, obtain details about the dental hygiene school schedule for at least the current semester and be upfront with your employer. Honesty and transparency have really helped me continue working through school.

Initially, I told the office manager and doctors at my dental assisting externship that I was not going to be working after getting my certification. An externship is similar to an internship, where you are required to meet a certain amount of hours in a dental office before you can receive your certification. I had no intentions of working as a dental assistant while I was in hygiene school. Somehow, that all changed when my externship offered me a position where they could work around my dental hygiene school schedule after I was officially certified as an assistant. When they told me this, it was a relief because I knew that it was going to be difficult for my husband to support my family with one income.

I was unable to work through dental assisting school due to my schooling being full-time. During this time, my spouse was the sole financial provider for our home. Therefore, after a year of dental assisting school where I couldn’t work, it started to look like a good idea to take a position that was willing to work around my dental hygiene schooling. I worked in that office for a few months and decided I needed an office that was closer to home if working was something that I was going to stick with through hygiene school.

Benefits of Being a Dental Assistant

With the way the market is right now and the need in the dental profession, I had no trouble getting a position that was closer to my home. Luckily, my new office was also willing to work around my school schedule.

The dental field is ever-expanding, and if working in an office before graduating from dental hygiene school is a possibility for you, I highly recommend getting your foot into the profession as soon as possible. Working in a dental office will help you become familiar with dental terminology, and it will give you a clear understanding of how an office runs.

Also, it is important to be aware of any tuition reimbursement opportunities in your area. During interviews, let your employer know you are in dental hygiene school and ask your prospective employer if they have reimbursed tuitions in the past or if it is something they would be willing to do. This information is also frequently listed on the job posting.

If you agree to work in an office after graduation, they may be willing to pay all or a portion of your tuition, and, of course, you will have a guaranteed job after you become licensed. If this option is presented to you, be sure you are aware of your end of the agreement. This type of situation usually requires you to sign that you will work for that office for an agreed-upon amount of time, such as five years.

Staying Focused on School

If you want to be successful as a dental hygiene student, your student title has to come before all other titles. Your school schedule will always trump your work schedule. Hopefully, you can find an employer that understands this dynamic. It can come off as harsh, but it is your career on the line.

It is important to keep in mind that the instructors and the director of the dental hygiene program stress the fact that no one should be working a job during their dental hygiene schooling. Unfortunately, for many of us, this is something that is just not realistic. If you have a family to support or your household is used to the extra income generated from your job, this may not be something that will work for your family.

Working through school is not something that is set in stone. If you are transparent with your employer, whether in the dental field or otherwise, that you are a full-time student, they may be willing to give you extended time off for exams or if working during school semesters is not feasible.

By the time you enter hygiene school, you should be familiar with your learning style from the prerequisite classes that you took. So you will know how much time it takes you to study for an exam or a quiz. This will help you organize your time and find time for studying. How you divide your time will be based on how you feel about each class and how difficult the course is for you.

If you have been considering going to dental hygiene school and you’re just looking for your sign, this is it. Go for it!

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