Graduation is quickly approaching for thousands of soon-to-be registered dental hygienists. The first priority is to find employment and begin applying your new skill set to patient care. I have always believed that school truly begins once you graduate, and you no longer have someone counting your errors, reviewing your health histories, or approving your treatment plans.
You must rely on your training to know where to go to find answers to the multitude of questions you will face. You will need to build self-confidence and poise to manage the dental health of your patients. You got this!
When meeting with new graduates, I reflect on elements which have defined my professional growth and have been the cornerstone of my career. What did I do right and what would I have done differently? Let’s talk about the things which can benefit your success and save those hard lessons for another issue.
1. Manage your operatoryOn the first day of clinical dental hygiene, I started tracking my production, creating an understanding of how to become more beneficial to the office. I had worked with a consulting firm for several years so there was an early appreciation of how a profitable office was managed. I created a method and started recording how many patients were treated, new patients, cancellations, daily production, and how many openings existed in the schedule. With the data, I was able to determine where I could become a greater asset to the office.
When there was a cancellation, I would ask the front desk if I could help make recare calls. When necessary, I would help with x-rays or anesthetic to keep the day moving along without a hitch. I never wanted to be the employee who felt I wasn’t part of the team, nor did I want to be perceived as the “prima donna” dental hygienist.
Over the years, the data became beneficial. I was able to provide metrics that documented the increase in production over time, the productivity of the periodontal program, or how often the hygiene department was able to assist with filling an open appointment. With documented facts, I was more confident when asking for a pay increase, payment through a commission program, or when requesting a dedicated dental assistant. The numbers supported my requests.
Years later when making the choice to apply for a corporate position, I had pertinent details which were included in my resume representing my business knowledge such as increased production percentages and significant decreases in overhead. The information was an asset when considered for the corporate opportunity.
2. Stay involved
The dental hygiene industry is constantly changing with new products, new guidelines, and new opportunities for professional career development. Stay current by reading your journals such as RDH magazine, for example. The subscriptions are complimentary, and they are offered electronically. There is benefit in not only reading the articles, but also reading the bios of the authors and knowing who the influential individuals are in the industry.
Attend a dental hygiene convention as often as possible. RDH Under One Roof and the ADHA annual session are held every summer in different locations. Here you will have the chance to participate in a continuing education course, visit the exhibit floor to learn about new products, and mostly, you can network with your colleagues, gaining knowledge about different career paths and learning more about your own interests.
Last, but not least, find a social media group that benefits your passion. There are several out there which range from transitioning out of clinical to looking at x-rays and sharing your professional opinion. If you need your resume updated, don’t hesitate to seek out Doug Perry. Many times, a dental hygienist is too humble to talk about all her/his assets, and we need someone who can read between the lines and tell us what our qualities are. Doug Perry has created a businessaround helping you find your next position.
3. Never burn a bridge
First impressions mean a lot in this industry. When networking, you may be talking to the individual who could help you find your dream job. Part of networking is when those you meet share your story with those they know.
Never burn a bridge or leave a bad opinion of yourself behind. Dentistry is a large industry, but a very tight group. You never know when you are being watched at a trade show, on Facebook, or being recruited for a possible opportunity. I will never forget the young hygienist who asked me how I got my job, yet she was so drunk she couldn’t focus and smelled like she’d just exhaled a joint.
In conclusion, congratulations, and welcome to an amazing career field. The sky truly is the limit, and many times it requires patience and understanding. The little steps are what take you to the next opportunity and leads you one step closer to your dream. Say “yes” to those opportunities that push you into your uncomfortable growth phases.
Jackie Sanders is Manager of Professional Relations & Communications for SUNSTAR. She serves as a liaison responsible for communications with professional and industry associations, educational institutions and the dental professional community. She is a recognized and active opinion leader within the dental hygiene community and associated social networking programs. She serves on the ADEA Legislative Advisory Council, is a member of ADHA IOH Advisory Committee, and serves on several Editorial Advisory Boards.