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From the editor's desk: Is dental assisting a dying profession?

July 23, 2021
If you're thinking of leaving the dental assisting, please reconsider. It might not be the profession that has failed you—perhaps it's the people around you. Keep assisting alive by finding an office that appreciates your skills and passion.

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Since the onset of COVID-19, I’ve heard that assistants are leaving the profession in droves. Stressful and toxic environments, overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, and no benefits are just a few of the reasons for their departures. All I can say is—it’s all true!

The dental assisting profession is so shorthanded right now that offices are working their team members extra-long hours with no breaks, and that’s simply not acceptable. When a local retailer or fast-food place can pay workers the same salary as a dental assistant, why would we not jump ship and take the less stressful job? Why would we choose to put up with no appreciation and poor treatment?

The answer is: We don’t have to

In any work environment, there is the potential to have a grumpy boss who hates life. You can’t escape that risk no matter where you work. Some people are just miserable in their jobs. But there are some amazing dental employers out there who value and support their teams. When people say they’re getting out of dentistry, I think they simply need to leave their current office, not leave the profession altogether.

When you’re in a toxic situation, you feel beaten down. Your self-esteem bottoms out, and you feel like you’re stuck. You lose so much of yourself that you may actually believe you don’t have what it takes to work in another office. You second guess everything you do, spend your days walking on eggshells, and think the only way out is to quit all together. That’s just wrong. With our profession currently so shorthanded, this is the best time to look for a great new work home!

How to prepare a good resumé

A resumé should be only one page. Employers don’t want to sift through several pages that describe everything you’ve done; they simply aren’t interested. If you’ve held many positions, give a list and brief description of them. It’s not necessary to go into detail for each job because that can be covered in an interview.

Construct your resumé professionally and ask for help if you need it. I often hear office managers talk about poor grammar and spelling errors in resumés, so make sure you share your resumé with a few people to look over before you send it to possible employers. I’m happy to help with this as well. My contact info is below.

While the resumé addresses your work experience, the cover letter should display your personality. Make it lighthearted, short, and share a few things about who you are. The resumé should also be where you reinforce what a great asset you’d be to an office and that you’re a team player. The goal is to give a positive first impression of yourself to any potential employer. Do not overlook the importance of the cover letter. This valuable first impression can either get you in the door or close it on you completely. If an employer asks for a cover letter in their ad, don’t blow that off and think it’s OK to send your resumé without it, because it’s not. Employers want to see it.

The interview is not one-sided

Since you’ve worked in other offices, you know what qualities you want in your next employer, so have a list of questions to ask during the interview. Take a notepad and pen to make notes. Remember, they aren’t just interviewing you, you are also interviewing them! What hours do they work? Does the position involve travel to another location? Does the employer offer benefits, such as paid time off (PTO), holidays, sick days, free dental care for you and/or your family, bonuses, or uniforms? When the doctor takes time off, are the team members allowed to work or must they take PTO? Do they offer paid continuing education? Are there any areas for advancement? How long have the other team members worked there? If they’ve been there for years, this speaks volumes about how they’re treated.

What you don’t want to do is use interview time to share your grievances about your former employer with the person interviewing you. This is unprofessional, and the potential employer could care less about what you’ve been through. Keep things professional, classy, and to the point. If you’re asked to do a working interview, find out if it’s paid because it should be, and ask when you will be paid. Do this right away; don’t agree to work and then wonder whether you’ll be paid. Most of the time, the office will take out taxes, as they should. So, don’t become upset when this happens.

Here's the bottom line

If you don’t stand up for yourself, nobody will. If you’re in a toxic office, get out now! Dentistry is not just a job, it’s a career, and it’s a great one. It’s not just about making a dollar, but about changing lives, and it’s why we do what we do! You don’t get that in just any profession.

Don’t give up on dentistry; give up on the people who treat you poorly, don’t appreciate you, and suck the life out of you. It’s not the profession that has failed you, it’s the people around you. Not everyone is like them. Dental offices everywhere need you, your expertise, your passion, and your amazing people skills. Find a place that will help you love the dental assisting profession again! 

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Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, CDIA, CDSO, CDSH, MADAA, is a member and current vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master. She is the editor of Dental Assisting Digest and contributes to Dental Economics magazine. Hunter is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, a dental assisting and dental continuing education program. She is an international speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states. She can be reached at [email protected].

This article first appeared in the Dental Assisting Digest newsletter. To subscribe, visit dentistryiq.com/subscribe.