Riding it Out: The Struggle One Hygienist Went Through to Find Career Happiness

© denisismagilov / Adobe Stock

I can still recall how I felt when I first graduated from hygiene school. I was pumped up and proud of myself for the new life I was creating. I wasn’t new to the dental field; I had been an assistant for four years, but my new role as a hygienist is what intrigued me. I interviewed in my hometown about 15 minutes from where I lived and was offered the job. All I had to do now, was wait for my license to arrive in the mail. I would spend the next few weeks at my new office, learning the ropes and computer programs, bonding with my new co-workers, and preparing my operatory. Seeing the names of patients they had scheduled in “Rachael’s” column, made me nervous, anxious, but most of all, excited.

It was exactly two weeks into my new job, when I had my first sign or clue, what type of office I was working for and should have gotten the heck out then. I asked, “So, when is payday…it’s been two weeks?” The response from a co-worker was, “We only get paid once a month here. They didn’t tell you that in the interview? Somehow, it’s legal.” Of course, I then look into it and discovered it is legal. I then think, well that is just rude and not right. Has anyone ever talked to them about that and how inconvenient that is for paying bills, raising a family, and trying to budget? Yup, almost everyone who has ever worked there had complained. So, I then ponder, why would they do that to their “team members?!” And the only logical reason is that they only care about themselves, plain and simple.

Years went by, twelve to be exact, and things had gotten so much worse.

When I tell the stories of all the different things that had happened over those years, it not only makes me angry but also sick to my stomach that I not only accepted it but somehow tried to justify the wrong and sometimes unlawful events that occurred. I loved being a hygienist, but not my employer. The wrongdoings consumed me, and I was miserable every day working there. When you no longer care or have any guilt about taking a box of gloves to use at home, because they “owe you,” it’s time to move on and experience something else.

I also had a very different situation, at another office, where my boss was nice, paid decently, gave a Christmas bonus and a fancy dinner, but had terrible dentistry skills. When you personally never let the doctor you work for treat you and would never recommend him to friends or family, time to move on.

I would imagine I’m not the only hygienist that has struggled in the hygiene world.

Not struggled because of anything I did or didn’t do really, I struggled with who I worked for; who paid me, my boss, who I was supposed to look up to for guidance. Almost one hundred percent of the time that person was the dentist or his wife, the office manager. We were supposed to be a team, or so I was told. But as time passes, you figure out and realize, what type of person someone really is. How long that takes and how long you stay, I think just depends on you. I had two hygiene jobs that pushed the limit of what I felt was ethical and what was not ethical. So, why did I stay working there? Why are former co-workers still there, employed by the same person or company?

Answers to those questions fall into the category of convenience. Most of the time, the only reason we stay at an office is that of the location; probably close to home. For others, it might be for the pay or the hours. It might be that hygiene positions are hard to come by in your area. No matter what the reason, it shouldn’t be that way. You shouldn’t work for or represent someone that you don’t respect, for any reason, but yet some of us do.

After a while, I began becoming attached to the patients I had treated; I built positive relationships with these patients in such a personal and vulnerable environment. I had also built bonds with my co-workers. It was very difficult to walk away from those I had treated and that placed trust in me. I felt as if I was abandoning them somehow. I would compare finding a new dentist or hygienist to finding a new gynecologist, which is not something you like to do.

As I get older and years pass, I begin to understand more and more about people.

I see a lot of greed, lack of pride, ethics, and dignity. I have learned that every phase of my life has been a lesson. The lesson is to be better, give more, be a good person, but most of all, I have learned who I don’t want to be. Once you start to lose respect for someone, as hard as it is, you should move on. If the talk at lunch with co-workers consists of bashing the doctor in any way, shape, or form, its time move on.

When you go to work without anxiety, stress, or hate, it begins to not feel like work. That feeling is indescribable! Find that feeling and chase it. I no longer had to rely on the message on the inside of my Dove dark chocolate square to get me through the day. Life is too short, to be miserable all day at work!  When I titled this article, “Ridin’ It Out,” it seemed fitting because I felt like I was just riding out each hygiene job until I found what I loved, what makes me excited every day to go to work and make a difference. When you feel unappreciated, and you care more about the practice than your employer, time to move on.

As I lost my enthusiasm and my steam for dental hygiene as a result of poor management and lack of ethics by those I had worked for, I knew at that time I had to think outside of the box.

I could not handle working for another arrogant, greedy, or incompetent human so I knew I had to become my own boss, and that is exactly what I did. I went on to design and manufacture my own manual toothbrush, the FitsBrush. The FitsBrush not only fits your mouth but also stands for “Funding In The School.” I give back to schools by providing resources and supplies they need. I couldn’t be more proud of this accomplishment. I simply wasn’t going to let another employer rob me of the passion I had for dental hygiene. Don’t let someone else define who you are or hold you back from your greatness.

I then took my hygiene career in a different direction and began working in the public school system performing prophies, sealants, fluoride treatments, and education for the kiddos that qualify under the “All Kids” state dental program. I fell in love with dental hygiene all over again. It was there I met a newly graduated hygienist who just started her first job and despises who she works for. When I listen to her stories, it takes me back to when I first started. I don’t want her to have those same feelings that consumed me all those years and somehow made me not want to be a hygienist. I can only offer her advice based on my experience.

I regret wasting so many years making someone else successful, but I have learned many valuable lessons along the way. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger and wiser. I can say that because I have seen the other side; good things happen when you take risks!  It’s never easy leaving what is comfortable; but to find your passion or purpose, you have to take a leap. Don’t get stuck because something is convenient. Discover where you belong and find your happiness.