Getting Out of the Op: Advice is Everywhere, but Beware

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Googling “dental hygiene burnout” will give you articles, blogs, and videos, all with great ideas and information on how to beat it. This isn’t a new concern in the field of dentistry, especially within dental hygiene. If you are a person who has experienced burnout, doesn’t want to settle for the status quo, or knows their skills can be used for greater things, you will probably start to explore what there is outside of the op through courses, social media groups, blogs, and videos. As a result, you may find the many ways you can use the experience and knowledge one gains from clinical experience, in another career. In today’s world, where social media can be a great way to stay informed, sadly, it can also be a great way of crushing your dreams before they even get started.

The advice given to you from the personal experiences of others, even done with the best intentions, should be taken with caution. As many RDHs have experienced, being frustrated can make one jaded and weary. This can make one vulnerable to giving advice that comes from a place which is negative, and this can be disheartening to the receiver.

For example, a dental hygienist may leave clinical practice and take a sales position, quickly discovering sales is a very different experience than the clinical life they just left. This can lead to frustration and possibly leaving the world of dental sales. Not all sales positions are fun and exciting, especially if you struggle with sales. Your disdain and explanation of all your hardships may cause you to advise others not to go into sales and further to explain all of your hardships, in a jaded way, while in that career. Your experience with sales, however, will not be everyone’s experience; everyone has a proclivity towards certain skills, and sales may be a great choice for some, but not all.

It is important to consider everyone has their own experience, though it might not be yours when receiving advice. Not everyone will be a great consultant, salesperson, educator, writer, or speaker. Some will be amazing in these roles, while some may be amazing, but find no joy in it. Because of this, getting out of the op should first start by exploring what you are great at.  What brings you joy? If you didn’t have that joy in your day to day experiences, would you be okay with it?  If you had to follow a budget, send in expense reports, “live” in an airport, and be away from friends and family, would this be practical for your lifestyle? For some, it will, and for others, they may start to see the value in being a clinical dental hygienist. This is exactly what happened to Rachel Tomasek, RDH.  Here is her story, in Rachel’s words:

“Burn out, fatigue, and all that goes with being a clinical hygienist can be difficult at times. It may even prompt you to want out of the op and to explore what else the world of dentistry offers. If you take a moment to really look inward, maybe it is not so much ‘what else is out there’ as ‘what is inside of you.’ Personally, I know this struggle, as I am sure many of you do. The truth is, most professionals get frustrated with their jobs at some point in their career. A year ago, I too was at this point.

At the time, I had been a hygienist for ten years. My body ached, my mind was elsewhere, and I started to question what else was out there for a clinical hygienist. Between my aches, mental distractions, and seeing the recent push within the hygiene community for more non-clinical jobs, I quickly got wrapped up in wondering what else is out there. This new fixation with finding a new path started to take hold of me. I found myself not happy while working and became set on getting out.

I started to get involved with networking locally, and before I knew it, I had branched out of my little bubble and began to network internationally. Through this, my eyes were opened to all that dentistry provides. I may be one dental hygienist sitting in an operatory treating one patient at a time, but there is a whole world of providers that I can connected to. Simply by plugging into my community more, attending conferences, reading new books, listening to podcasts, volunteering in my profession, reaching out asking other professionals’ advice, reading professional articles, and truly branching out, has provided me a renewed joy and pride in being a registered dental hygienist.

Of course, we all still have difficult days, and no career is perfect.  I, however, have personally found a resurgence and passion in my career by starting small and networking locally, to being able to now reach others to help them find the joy they may have lost along the way. Through all of this, I have actively tried to reframe my mind and how I approach all matters.”

Looking inward, as Rachel did, may help to change your perspective and breathe new life into what you can do as a clinical dental hygienist. This may also show you what part of dental hygiene you love, and allow you to pursue exactly that, but outside of the op. Taking courses like “Beyond the Operatory” by Tony Stefanou and Teresa Duncan, reading blogs and articles and soaking in as much information, not just the advice on social media, may help you to navigate what you really want out of your career.

The possibilities are endless for what we, as dental hygienists, can do in the world. Maybe leaving the op is your next step. Maybe it is elevating what you provide to patients in the op and how you change the often-monotonous work day.

Not every day in dentistry is a good day, but at the end of the day, if you love what you do, embrace it. If not, put forth the effort to explore your strengths and what brings you joy about this profession; then capitalize on it. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it!

SEE ALSO: Expand Your Hygiene Career by Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

DON’T MISS: 5 Non-Traditional Career Opportunities for Dental Hygienists

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Michelle Strange, RDH, BHS, MSDH
Michelle Strange, RDH, BHS, MSDH, has been a clinician in dentistry since 2000. She currently, is a practicing hygienist, surgical assistant, volunteer, educator in a dental hygiene program, lead clinical educator for TePe Oral Health Care, Inc., and podcast co-host for “A Tale of Two Hygienists.” Michelle is a self-proclaimed dental nerd and sees the dental profession as not only her forever career path but her hobby. With a Master’s in Dental Hygiene Education and a belief in lifelong learning, Michelle hopes to continue to learn and grow within the dental profession and one day see the gap bridged between medical and dental. Her experience as a hygienist began in an implant driven office where she gained much experience with the placement and maintenance of dental implants.