by Eva M. Watson, RDH
A very smart man in the magazine business, a man who has been my writing mentor and probably didn't realize until this reading, recommended I write more serious pieces for RDH magazine. After months of brooding and being the stubborn woman I am, I realized the importance of his recommendation. The thought of briefly relinquishing the crazy git I usually am is a small act to carry out. I will grow up for a moment. And, for this, I want to thank him.
But just to get the nuttiness and immaturity out of the way, I originally wanted the title of the piece to be called, “Poetry-Slam Your Way To Success,” “Your Secret Calling for the Circus Life,” or “Work is a Big Butthead,” but I didn't want to be accused of writing such a slippery title and assume I speak for others. And that's probably for the best because I see things quite differently than most.
That last sentence is not meant to be cryptic or imply I have a special, super-hero sense of right and wrong, or black and white. In fact, the opposite side of the spectrum is more accurate; others think my opinions as “way off the mark,” “jaded,” and “ludicrous.” Others have accused me of being too liberal, not “dentist-friendly” enough to be hired, and flat-out bewildering. I can see that. My husband sees that as well. He spends a lot of time playing video games in his office.
For instance, (and please don't hunt me down and hurt me) I believe dentistry has become a get-rich-quick scheme with patient care as an annoying means for profitability and burdensome afterthought. I see the same dental offices advertising on Craigslist over and over again, month after month, continually searching for the ever-elusive hygienist that possesses the inherent abilities of successfully selling all of their dental treatment plans. I hope for those practices to close up shop and open up a homemade ice cream and gourmet hot dog stand in the hopes of embracing the idea of low overhead and yummy stuff to eat. I see hygienists, dental assistants, and office managers becoming obsessed with in-office territoriality and stomping on each other’s self-esteem just to ensure their place within the dental office that they are performing sub-par work in. Sub-par because they stopped caring about patient care when the dentist reneged on the promise of all-around, yearly raises due to voids in the schedule and daily production goals not being met ... and the dentist isn't able to afford the new high-end kitchen his wife is demanding.
These are the circumstances I've experienced in the seven years of practicing hygiene in a plethora of offices as a full-time, part-time, and temporary clinician. I've often wondered if I'm the right person for the current needs of the dental industry. Am I fast-paced enough? Do I sell enough treatment to patients? Am I charming, bubbly, and young enough for dentists not to feel intimidated by any modicum of a mature, life-experienced, and intelligent woman with opinions I present on my behalf? No, but yes. I've carried out all and more of the above skills and desirable traits that seem to be today's standard of care in many practices. However, since growing out my gray hair in my middle forties, I found the majority of dental offices do not like women with gray hair. Their idea of “bubbly” and “charming” was meant for the early-twenties, new graduates they really had in mind. Too bad. The hair stays. And I'm not sorry for that.
During those times of my lowest of career lows I've mentioned above, I've convinced myself I'm a mentally imbalanced whack job due to the way I view our monetary, “American Dream” ideals, the current, economic wants of the dental industry, and the future of the hygiene profession.
Today, at this moment, the difficult and trying circumstances of my career allows me to see myself as someone entirely different: a fanatical Madeline cookie maker; an exceptional worrier of a mother; an outstanding listener of music and squirrel chatter; and the distorted creator of “Raccoon Smasher Garden Patrol.” (Any novice gardeners should be familiar with the frustration of when these naughty, nocturnal omnivores eat your summer garden strawberries every bloody season! How am I supposed to make my strawberry-rhubarb crumble when I don't have any strawberries left, huh?)
The point I'm trying to make is the importance and seriousness of simply “being” — not being our work. I'm currently employed two days per week in an office I feel safe, comfortable, and appreciated in. It took seven years to find this practice. I am not forced to sell dentistry. The staff shares common respect for one another. I don't care if I do not get a raise in a year from now. The $36 hourly pay I earn is enough. The office manager is an outstanding baker of homemade cheesecake, and she and the dentist could care less what color my hair is.
I continually look for additional work in the hopes of putting more food on the table, but I am very grateful to be employed with my current office. However, I feel even greater comfort when I'm not working as an RDH. Perhaps it's the age I'm at that is forcing me to re-evaluate what is important in my life. I can say, definitively, if I gave up the practice of dental hygiene because of the current and negative trends I have experienced, I would be OK with that.
Dental hygiene is not my life. I am not my job and never will be. And I'm good with that.
Eva M. Watson, RDH, is a freelance writer and has been practicing dental hygiene for seven years. She is a contributing author for dentalbuzz.com and is currently developing a book of her experiences in the dental field.