Survey Results: Today’s RDH Discovers How Hygienists Define Ambition

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Many dental hygienists attempted to define “ambition” within the dental hygiene profession as part of a Today’s RDH survey, even while many admittedly struggled with career satisfaction.

Overall, 82 American dental hygienists participated in the Today’s RDH survey. Fifty-nine percent of the respondents have been practicing dental hygiene for less than 20 years.

Most hygienists (87 percent) say they feel encouraged by the dental offices employing them to fully use the training and skills obtained in dental hygiene school. The main concern among these hygienists is feeling satisfied with being a dental hygienist for the duration of their careers. Seventeen percent said they are happy with their career choice and “don’t anticipate ever feeling differently.”

A Massachusetts hygienist who has been practicing fewer than five years said, “I love my career. I have my personal ambitions on providing the best care for my patients. I’d love to become either a clinical manager or a clinical instructor as I get older. Physically, hygiene takes a toll, so I don’t plan on practicing clinically forever. I hope to become a dental therapist as well as soon as legislature passes in this state. That’s going to open new doors for me to discover.”

In contrast, 42 percent said they are “unhappy now or can envision being disenchanted.” The remaining 40 percent indicated that they “enjoy” being a dental hygienist but have accepted “the limits of the profession.”

A Minnesota dental hygienist observed, “Looking back I never thought I would be doing dental hygiene full time for over 40 years. I thought my husband would make enough for me to work part-time, but that didn’t happen. So here I am plugging away doing the same thing day after day. It’s a great starting point, but if I were 35, I’d be looking to use my skills to advance my career/income rather than being controlled by the dentist or corporation that runs the office.”

A Virginia hygienist who has been practicing for less than ten years said, “I think for a lot of clinical hygienists, there’s a point in our careers where our ambition is to stop being clinical hygienists. It’s emotionally and physically draining. That’s why so many change careers or become educators, public speakers, or content creators.”

Today’s RDH asked all respondents to consider offering a definition of ambition for the dental hygiene profession. Here is a selection of the responses:

  • Wanting to provide the best available care to patients while feeling appreciated by doing so. Being able to practice independently.
  • The willingness to challenge oneself to meet one’s goals in their hygiene career.
  • Ability to obtain positions out of the operatory. A BSDH, unfortunately, doesn’t allow for many positions in other parts of healthcare, management, or sales.
  • Not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Finding a way to make important changes in patients’ health. I will be happy with small or large changes that are recommended. Seeing a patient’s oral health change in a healthier direction is my goal.
  • My ambition is to be more respected by the dentist and my co-workers. I want more time with patients. To have 45 minutes per patient is not nearly enough time to screen for dental and medical problems. I read Facebook posts over and over again how hygienists are having their appointment times reduced but expected to do more for the patient.
  • The power to act on the venue, scope of practice, and autonomies of the profession. The insight to accomplish what I am capable and willing to do.
  • Ambition is seeing a goal and doing everything ethical to reach it. Blocking out naysayers and moving forward. This is how legislation is changed and how our careers will change as well.
  • Looking beyond the dentition to the entirety of the head and neck and oral/oropharyngeal cavity. Embracing all there is to know about not just the oral-systemic link, also the cancers of the head and neck oral and Oropharynx, and our role in each area. Taking that knowledge and making a difference in the lives of people and in dental and medical settings.
  • Ambition would be to work on legislation to advance a dental hygienist to a position like a PA. Not necessarily the dental therapist model but very close. We really don’t have anywhere else to aspire to. Educators make less money and the state does not need that many.
  • Ambition is the continued search for excellence and multiple ways to share education. I hope to always be searching for ways to improve my patient care.
  • Ambition is a desire to achieve something. In this case, I would define it as success. Now you have to define success and success is different for different people. Opportunity for growth and achieving that next step would be ambitious for me, but I don’t feel there are many avenues for that in hygiene.
  • Ambition is the continuation of advancement, whether in the continued pursuit of clinical excellence or transitioning into different aspects of patient care. Who better than an RDH to champion for the patient and OH professionals within a dental center or office? Our hygiene education, coupled with an advanced degree provides us with comprehensive knowledge of the delivery of dental care and the ability to successfully segue into management and administration.
  • My ambition is to bring the public forward in knowledge of what a dental hygienist is and start having people get healthy. Change the model of dental health from restoring and treating disease to prevention.
  • Ambition- Someone who sets goals and achieves them. I strive daily for great dental hygiene care to every patient. Also, I want to be an asset to the practice.
  • Ambition is wanting to do more and be more. Unfortunately, I think we get caught up in expected goals from our dental office. This goal is production, not prevention, not ambition.
  • Ambition: The feeling to set and reach goals, to better yourself as a whole, a way to grow with excitement.
  • A passion to be the best you can be at whatever drives you while reaching your goals one step at a time.
  • Ambition is being willing to work hard enough to set goals and actively work toward them.
  • Have the ability to advance in responsibility, production, and respect of employer and coworkers as well as compensation and benefits for a job done in an outstanding way
  • My definition of ambition in the dental hygiene profession is someone who does their best work on each and every patient. They make sure to do medical updates, x-rays, blood pressure, probing, charting, determining what type of hygiene treatment is needed, educating, answering questions, and being kind and compassionate.