Expand Your Hygiene Career By Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

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The question comes up a lot: How do I expand my career outside of the clinical setting?

It is quite difficult to answer this question. Not because there are no opportunities, there’s actually many. It’s because there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to answer this question. It really depends on you, as an individual; including your particular goals, expectations, skillset, and what you actually want to do.

If you want to become a product educator or rep for a dental company, there’s obviously a different path to take than if you want to become an instructor for a dental hygiene program. There is one thing in common when it comes to which path you want to take. You need to develop the mindset of an entrepreneur.

Having an entrepreneurial mindset doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start your own business.

Starting a business is always an option. However, starting a business is not necessary to think like an entrepreneur and have an entrepreneurial mindset or goals. An entrepreneurial mindset is more about being able to identify, pursue, and most importantly, create opportunities for yourself. Dental hygiene is extremely specialized and the career path many take is the clinical route. Dental hygiene programs educate us as clinicians (as they should), and while we are taught critical thinking skills, we aren’t taught to think like entrepreneurs. This can cause us sometimes to miss opportunities that are staring us right in the face.

How do you develop an entrepreneurial mindset to expand your career beyond clinical work?

First and foremost, you need to identify your goals. Are you wanting to just make a little money on the side or completely replace your clinical job? The goals specific to you are what determine the opportunities you should seek.

Next, what are your strengths? Are you a natural at educating? Do you have the drive and outgoing personality to work in sales? Is research and writing more up your alley? Do you excel at identifying problems and developing solutions? Whatever your personal strengths are, you need to play to those. This takes being honest with yourself about the value you bring. You need to clearly articulate not only what you can offer others, but what you want for yourself. This ability will help you with your confidence to spot and pursue opportunities around you.

Once you have clear goals and have identified your strengths, it’s easier to spot opportunities that may be a good fit for you. Sometimes opportunities do present themselves to you but don’t wait or expect that opportunities will just fall into your lap. You must take the initiative and put in a real effort to find those opportunities. No one is going to do it for you. Taking the initiative will actually make you stand out more, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

How do you take the initiative to start?

This obviously depends on what your goals are. Again, do remember that we were all thought critical thinking skills through the dental hygiene programs we attended and these skills didn’t end when you graduated, nor do they end once you cut-down or leave clinical work.

Critical thinking skills are life skills, so put your thinking cap on and put in some effort! If you’d like to be a dental hygiene educator for a hygiene program, jump online and look at programs in your area and see if they are hiring. Pay special attention to the requirements for the position. To apply, you might need a Bachelor or Master’s degree.

You can always reach out to educators you know to put your feelers out. Don’t expect them to get the job for you though. You will be teaching students critical thinking, so you need to show that you have those skills yourself.

If you want to become a sales rep or product educator for a dental manufacturer, you can check out manufacturer websites of companies that you happen to love their products and that you believe in, to see if they are hiring and what the requirements of applicants are.

Attending a dental conference and speaking with manufacturer reps and vendors directly explaining that you are looking to expand your career is always an option too. You never know if a dental manufacturer is looking to hire a hygienist for sales, research or even CE instruction until you ask and/or put the effort in by looking online at their website.

If you want to start writing for a dental publication, check out publications’ websites and look for “submissions.” (You can submit to our publication here!) Many publications are on the lookout for content and clearly explain how to submit your work with their requirements. You just need to take the time and put in the effort to look.

no one is going to put in the effort and find opportunities for you, nor should you expect it.

You must take the initiative and put in your own effort, which is ultimately thinking like an entrepreneur.

If you ask a lot of people about the secret to success, they will tell you networking is key. This is true in a sense because opportunities come from people you know. However, don’t expect opportunities to be thrown at you just because you met somebody. You will need to earn them.

When you network and contact others for help or guidance, you should look at this as a “give, give, give, then ask situation” (a.k.a. jab, jab, jab, right hook from one of my personal idols, businessman Gary Vaynerchuk). What this means is that before you ask for what you want or need from somebody, get on this person’s radar by providing value to them.

In other words, reciprocate in a pay it forward kind of way, but you reciprocate first. Give before you take. Always being the “taker” never ends well. It leaves a bad taste in people’s mouth and doesn’t help your reputation or get you to your goals in a positive manner.

In closing, if you don’t see a door of opportunity, don’t be afraid to build your own door. The most successful, entrepreneurial hygienists I know did this very thing; they built their own door of opportunity and weren’t afraid to walk through it.

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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.