Wanted: Unicorn Dental Office. Dental Hygienists’ Dream or Reality?

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Tingles race up and down my spine as my feather-light body levitates seemingly by its own volition, high into the cottony clouds. I feel so free, so giddy with joy, and I giggle into the sky as I ride the azure expanse. The heavens above me breathe a gentle breeze as they invite me higher to the majestic space I am now heading towards.

Greeting me by the clean glass doors of said promised land is a large sparkling sign. Displayed proudly is the name “Unicorn Dental Office,” and I know I have finally made it home! I land gently on the white marbled floor and reach for the crystal doorknob to enter. Heart racing with anticipation and a toothy smile the size of the titanic, I turn the handle … a profound ringing accompanied by a vibrating buzz is heard.

Confused, I try the knob again. Ring! Buzz! I start to lose consciousness, and confusion takes over my body. I wake in a sweaty stupor, rubbing my weary eyes and seeking clarity. Then it hits me. Hard. This pie in the sky full of deliciousness was just that … a dream. A delusion. Now I have to get ready for work for the dental hygiene position I hold at the not-so “Unicorn Dental Office.” Grieving the loss of what I thought I had finally found and had stripped away from me, I let out a howl and begin my day. Again.

Does this sound like a day in your life? Know someone else who feels this way and has given up all hope? I feel your pain. I’ve been there more than once. I’d like to give you a big hug and let you know that these Unicorn Dental Offices do exist, however! They are a rare gem, hence the name “Unicorn,” but they are out there. What does the word unicorn even mean anyways?

The definition most of us think of is a mythical white creature with a flowing mane and tail and a single spiraled horn on its forehead. It can also mean a very rare, unique, or unusual find or a business start-up valued at over one billion dollars or more.

A Wish List for a Dental Office

So, it seems to me that a unicorn dental office would be one that is rare, almost mystical in nature, and worth a lot to all team members alike. Sound about right? If so, what would make a unicorn office for one dental hygienist may not be what rips out rainbows for another. What would be on the top of your wish list if you could have it all? I’ll list a few here and see if any of these things resonate with you.

Company Culture:

  • Does the team appear to be working in unison, looking out for one another as a collective whole?
  • Is goal setting as a team a thing? Does it always focus on production, or do you do things like community outreach?
  • Does the practice welcome diversity, embrace challenges, and encourage individual thought?
    • Does it feel like a positive work environment?
    • Do you hear gossipy chatter followed by silence when you walk into the room, or are you greeted warmly and included in the conversation?
    • Do you feel respected and treated fairly?
  • Do smiles abound most days with most people or do you have a Negative Nelly (or two) that seem to sabotage the sunshine quite often?

Motivation:

  • Does the practice provide you with whatever it takes to set your engines on fire?
    • Is that a financial reward? (Let’s face it, most of us would say yes to this!)
    • Not everyone is as motivated by money, however. For some, motivation is struck by feeling involved with things like goal setting, decision-making, and performance reviews that inspire them to improve. This can be very daunting for some, but we are all different, remember.
    • Perhaps it is being provided with ongoing continuing education, new tools, learning new things?

Clear Expectations:

  • Will you have all the instruments and equipment you need provided for you to do your best work to give the best care for patients?
  • Is your operatory going to be shared with other hygienists, and is that ok with you?
  • Is the workstation set up ergonomically and, if not, is the practice owner willing to adjust a few things to help with that?
  • What day is payday, and have you agreed on a salary you are thrilled with and then some? Are there bonuses for teamwork as well as individual goals? Does this intrigue you or make you shy away?
  • Are there guaranteed hours even if a cancellation?
  • How about benefits like uniforms, PTO, medical/dental, retirement contributions, etc.?
  • Will you be supported?
    • Do you have young children who may need unexpected attention where you’ll have to leave suddenly to tend to, make daytime doctor’s appointments for? Maybe an aging parent who lives with you and may need you unexpectedly when you are at work?
    • Do you have a disability or challenge that will need accommodation?

Clinical Philosophy:

  • Does the practice encourage great work ethic, accountability, and integrity?
    • Do they advocate educating patients for the best possible outcomes? Will you be provided the necessary equipment to do so (such as an intraoral camera)?

Feeling Appreciated:

  • What makes you feel valued and recognized, and is it being conveyed loud and clear?
    • Perhaps this is a financial reward; being compensated for going the extra mile.
  • Will you be appreciated with verbal affirmation, financial reward, unexpected gifts, PTO for a job well done, new instruments of choice, gift certificates, etc.?

These are but a few examples of what one may be looking for in their Unicorn Office. The list goes on, and we all have different yearnings and aspirations. What’s considered a “break in the clouds” for one may be a nightmare for another. Our unique personalities dictate those inner desires and will steer us in that direction accordingly.

Give and Take

Remember, you can’t expect this shiny white horse with a horn to just give you everything you want without giving back. It needs to be a reciprocal relationship of trust, merit, and teamwork.

So a word of the wise to all of you dehydrated dental hygienists out there who need to quench your occupational thirst for a bigger, better workplace that loves, respects, and adores you: Keep your mind and heart open, ready to give and receive that which you know deep down you are made for.

Perhaps read my latest article titled “Wanted: Rockstar Dental Hygienist!” Red Flag or Unicorn Office? as a prequel to this article, as it may resonate with you as well.

Don’t give up your search for this mystical land filled with unicorns and rainbows. They’re out there, shining bright, but only true believers can see them, which is why they are seemingly rare.

“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.” ─ Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

Good luck and sparkle on, my friends!

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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.