“Wanted: Rock Star Dental Hygienist!” Red Flag or Unicorn Office?

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The crowd goes wild, and the chanting begins; the stadium hums with electric anticipation of the show of their lives about to take them to another world for a few hours of their hum-drum day-to-day. Smoke billows from the stage and vintage guitars can be heard tuning one last time before the lead singer heroically appears and belts out a melodic narrative that the assembled fans join in on. This, my friends, is a rock concert!

Everyone wants to be a rockstar, right? Form those “horns” with the thumb and pinkie, tongue-a-waggin’ and head bangin’ to a righteous tune that has made epic radio station top-charts for generations and then some? It would be the transcendental ego boost for any real or wanna-be musician, performing at their ultimate best for the huge masses that adore you and your legendary stardom ways. To have a fan club so massive your name will be known across the world. Coveted by men and women as the go-to person for the feel-goods, knowing exactly what the fans want, need, crave! You’d outperform everyone and work yourself to the dry bone to entertain, serve, fill that life void you know everyone needs!

Comparatively, how awesome would it feel to be that special individual in the practice that bosses give high-fives to, assistants admire and appreciate, front desk gals and guys work so hard to fill the schedule for, and patients repeatedly scream praises about? Sound rock-starry to you?

For some, it sounds like a dream! They love the challenge, and it fuels them, giving them energy and a purpose to wake up in the morning and sing in the shower before heading off to work with their favorite band shirt underneath their scrubs poking through. For others, the work expected from them and the potentially over-booked schedule and loudness of a very busy practice sounds exhausting, unfulfilling, draining of body and spirit. And that’s OK! We are all different, and that’s what makes us great.

The Band behind Dental Hygienists

When we read these job postings, many dental hygienists automatically assume that we will be worked to the bone until we crash and burn and assume a fetal position by the end of our workday. We think we will be working alone, without support from the rest of the staff because that’s what would be expected of us, as a rock star, right?

Well, hold on to the mic here. Maybe, just maybe, this particular office is looking for a lead singer, but they have an awesome band to back you up and support you! That’s what a team is, after all. Would this change things for you? If your answer is yes, read on. If it’s no, well, I challenge you to read this anyway, so we can appreciate the differences in all of us and what makes us tick.

Defining Rock Star Hygienists

What do these offices that advertise for a rock star hygienist even want? Face it, the vast majority of us hate it when we read this as the headliner for a job posting. We know the underlying message, even if it wasn’t intentional (though let’s be real here, it usually is!). Let’s break it down, shall we?

Definition: “Rock star”

Noun:

  1. A famous and successful singer or performer of rock music. (i.e., a teen-idol rock star)
  2. A person treated as a celebrity, especially in inspiring fanatical admiration. (i.e., the paparazzi following said person, snapping pictures wherever they go since they are so famous)

So, let’s assume those job postings for a “hygiene rock star” probably mean something more along the lines of definition #2. Would you all agree the office probably is looking for the most perfect person for the job? While they may or may not know it, are they expressly implying they expect perfection? Are they even being realistic? Would you even apply?

Rising to the Challenge

I’d bet most of you would say “absolutely not!” But would all of you? Are there a select few who would rise to this challenge and consider it to be the absolute perfect opportunity for them to show off their mad skills and outperform everyone else because this is right up their alley?

Remember the article I wrote in the Conflict Series that addressed different conflict styles? One of those five styles is competitive. This type of job posting might best be replied to by the hygienist with this type of personality. The competitive person enjoys working very hard, is exceptionally goal-oriented, and thrives in a fast-paced environment where things like production numbers, reward systems, and team and individual challenges are often introduced. The intensity in the air is what gets them up in the morning.

It’s true; a good number of us (I’d argue, the majority of us) cannot tolerate this type of scrutiny and intensity for a long period of time before we crack. Those competitive types, however, really thrive in this environment. Without the daily challenges and setbacks, they feel they do not learn and grow, feeling unmotivated to continue on. They get bored easily and therefore need the stress of high demands to propel them forward.

These types of dental hygienists are often admired by others (and sometimes shamed by others). The ones who applaud the rock star type are often impressed with their intensity, commitment to excellence, and propensity to achieve. They wish they had the dedication, nerve, confidence, and courage it takes to be such a virtuoso.

But we aren’t all made to be rock stars. At least not the type that the makers of these particular job postings are demanding of hygienists. The vast majority of dental hygienists, especially those of us who have been at this for many years, would rather be offered a high wage for experience, loyalty, patient education, and excellent communication skills. Again, nothing wrong with that either!

The Good “Rock Star” Job Description

Here are a few tips for appreciating the lingo that might be associated with good vs. bad dental office employers if each were to use the “Wanted: A Rock Star Hygienist” in their job ad’s headline.

Is it written respectfully? Does it sound like the office would appreciate you and not treat you like trash if you don’t measure up? For example, if the advertisement reads, “Don’t even apply if you aren’t ready to work hard, stay late, work through lunch and crush the competition.” Or, does it read more like, “Looking for that outstanding hygienist to join our awesome team that has excellent clinical skills with a personality to match and enjoys striving to do his/her best and knows he/she deserves to be compensated well for it”?

See the difference? As you can clearly see, there is a huge difference between an office that’s looking for a lead singer with a great band and one that is looking to hire again another prophy-mill production employee who is unappreciated.

Is there a big financial reward offered for hard work? Some clues would be bonuses on top of salary, PTO, benefits, extras that many offices may not dare to offer, and guaranteed minimum hourly/daily wage that is competitive in today’s market. Does this even appeal to you? If it makes you nauseous to think of applying to this type of environment, leave it well alone. You don’t need that kind of torment in your life.

However, if it sounds right up your alley and you’re interested to know more, then, by all means, apply!

Questions for the “Rock Star” Interview

Is there a high turnover rate at that office and, if so, why? Maybe it’s not that the office is bad, but that the applicant had unrealistic expectations of what “rock star” actually meant. If it is the office, find out what went wrong and if they have done anything to fix it.

How happy are the patients? Any recent and long-term reviews you can read? How is their reputation?

Are the instruments, equipment, etc., needed for high production in place, and can you order as needed? Can you view the operatory you would work in and see if it is set up ergonomically for you?

Is there a sterilization assistant and/or dental assistant to help you turn your room over, take radiographs, help with charting, make appointments, etc., so that you can be as productive as possible without wasted time and burnout?

Ask the hiring manager directly about what they meant by “rock star hygienist” to see if it’s really what you expected or want before signing on the dotted line. For instance, are they looking for someone who will start early and stay late without clocking in the extra time? Do they expect you to work out of three operatories without pause or time to eat in order to produce the most in the least amount of time? Do they expect you to work overtime and take no time off when you’re sick because “that’s just what’s expected of a Rockstar’? I mean, the show must go on, right? Hopefully, that’s not want they want – red flag!

Instead, wouldn’t it be the ideal place for that special dental hygienist who enjoys a fast pace and challenges to be expected to work hard and play hard? To be rewarded accordingly and appreciated for all of their expertise and efforts? Unicorn office?! Now, this sounds a lot more like what should be expected of a Rockstar hygienist to me. Wouldn’t you agree?  Just because you showed up for the interview doesn’t mean they should expect you to take the job if it’s offered to you. Remember, you are also interviewing them!

Unique Personalities Flourish

While rock stars are known to be artists with high stress and an unsustainable lifestyle that screams burnout early on in their careers, not all performers are created equal. Many professionals manage to create for themselves an alluring lifestyle and have sustained their well-being into their golden years, with admirers and fans swooning over them constantly. Work-life balance is very important here.

John Wooden, who was a masterful college basketball coach, teacher, and author of success stories, once said, “No one is an overachiever. How can you rise above your level of competency? Everyone is an underachiever to different degrees. The harder you work, the more luck you will have.”

We are all made differently. What drives one dental hygienist might be things nightmares are made of for another. What’s important is we all respect our unique personality types, conflict styles, and what makes us all grateful and happy as an individual and employees. This is how we learn to respect and value one another and how each dental practice can be equally as unique in their approach to finding their personal rock star hygienist.

My opinion here might not be very popular, and I am all right with that. Seeing and appreciating both sides of the coin is something I think more of us need to do, and I often emphasize this in my articles.

Until next time, my friends and colleagues, rock on!

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Corina Hartley, RDH, is a Canadian, Registered Dental Hygienist who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, which lies beside the North Saskatchewan River, the longest stretch of connected urban parkland in North America. She is supported and loved by her husband, four children, three grandchildren, and two fur babies. Graduating from Durham College in Oshawa, Ontario, in 2006, she has experienced the challenges of commuting to big cities, working in more remote areas, and also temping at various offices with differing ethnic backgrounds. While her family will always be her first love, the dental world is certainly the field she is passionate about, and writing about it brings her immense joy. Corina has a unique ability to relax the most phobic patient and calm an irate one with a smile, understanding attitude, and a special sense of humour. She enjoys really getting to the heart of the matter with everything she does in life, and this is demonstrated with her witty writing abilities as well. Corina’s biggest desire is to share life with as many people as possible through close-up experiences, story-telling, and simply just being present.