Keeping It Real as a New College Grad

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I have been working in a dental office now for less than a year and have landed my first real job as a licensed dental hygienist. I am learning new things each day and am beginning to feel more comfortable using my instruments and taking radiographs. However, being new comes with its own set of challenges; especially patients joking about my qualifications and experience. Here I share my patient interactions to help future new grads and those who are in the same boat as me. You aren’t alone!

Being the new dental hygienist in a dental office is no walk in the park.

You inherit new expectations, new colleagues, and new patients with their own set of challenges. All of this can be stressful for a new dental hygienist fresh out of college because you really don’t know what to expect. Yes, you were given the information necessary in order to be successful and have had multiple patient interactions in clinic, but once you’re out there on your own, it’s a whole different story.

I am a young 22-year-old dental hygienist. Being the youngest and newest hygienist in the dental office has been challenging, yet rewarding. I was given the pleasure, if you would even call it that, of stepping in as a replacement for a retiring hygienist who has worked at the office for about 42 years. I inherited a good portion of her patients and let me tell you, most of them don’t know how to take the news that their beloved dental hygienist has retired. I constantly hear, “You have high expectations to live up to,” and “You look too young to be here.” Admittedly, It isn’t the best feeling to be questioned about your qualifications. With these comments, I usually just nod my head in agreement and brush them off of my shoulder.

There are some comments I hear from patients that are more bothersome.

The comments that get under my skin a little bit more are ones like, “I’m not your first guinea pig am I?” or “You have seen other patients before me since being here right?” Sometimes I just want to say, “I didn’t just go to college for four years and not practice on a single patient my entire time there!” Sometimes I honestly don’t know what is running through these patients’ heads. Do they think I am going to inadvertently cut there gingiva wide-open or cause them harm in some way? I’m pretty sure that’s not my intention nor would I have graduated hygiene school and passed boards if I wasn’t qualified.

When educating patients, I often feel like they don’t care about what I have to say because I am young. What patients don’t understand is being a new college grad, I have been taught the latest research that some of my fellow colleagues may not know because they have been out of school for several years and may not have kept up on the newest research and protocols. I will be the first to admit I do not know everything there is to know about dental hygiene or all dental products available. However, I am willing to learn. In fact, I am learning.

Any of my new fellow dental hygiene babes experiencing any of these similar types of patient interactions? I’m sure some of you are. Just take this one word of advice, BREATHE. Everything will fall into place eventually. Give it some time, and you will feel more at ease. Remember, every hygienist started somewhere. Just be sure to give it your all, continue to refine your skills, and treat patients how you would treat your own family!

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Tiana Thomas, RDH
Tiana Thomas, RDH, is a highly motivated dental hygienist from Waterville, ME. Currently, she is happily employed in a family dental practice, working Monday thru Thursday. Her desire for educating others and seeing patients improve their oral health is something she is truly passionate about. Tiana is a recent college graduate from the University of New England (UNE) and hopes to pursue a Master's degree in dental hygiene someday. During Tiana’s time at UNE, she and her classmate won the Yankee Dental Congress student poster session in Boston, MA. There were only eight finalists selected by the Congress. The two were then recognized at a dinner shortly after the event by the American Academy of Dental Science for their achievement. The poster topic was about the prevalence of osteoporosis in dental hygienists, and all of the methods hygienists can implement into their daily lives to prevent the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis. Tiana was also inducted into the Alpha Phi Sigma-National Dental Hygiene Honors Society, which is a society that senior dental hygiene students must be nominated for by program faculty based off of scholarship, service, leadership, and potential for professional growth. Outside of the dental hygiene world, Tiana is very dedicated to her overall health and wellness. She is constantly on the go, whether it be training for her next big long-distance running race, lifting weights in the gym, or tending to her precious furbaby at home.