RDH advice for grads

RDH eVillage survey asks its readers for advice that they would share with 2010 graduates of dental hygiene schools.

In its June 11, 2010, issue, Kristine Hodsdon, the director of RDH eVillage, asked her readers about advice they would share with dental hygiene school graduates. She wrote of the dental hygiene profession as being a “sharing community,” adding that the ever-evolving, unknown future of the profession “may seem daunting to graduates.”

In wishing congratulations to 2010 graduates, she asked her readers, “If you could provide a single sentence of advice for dental hygienists who are just now entering the profession, what would it be? Is there something that you wish you had been told, or, better yet, prudent enough to have understood when you graduated?”

Some of her readers’ comments below obviously consist of more than a sentence. But, more importantly, the tone of the suggestions varies widely. With that in mind, we broke the responses into a “welcome mat” category and an enter-at-your-own-risk category.

Welcome Mat

• Be humble enough to realize you don't know everything, and yet smart enough to realize there is something more to be learned each and every day.

• Continue your education, especially if you are in a program where you earned an associate’s degree. Go for a bachelor’s or master’s degree. You never know what the future holds. Be prepared.

• Keep yourself happy and curious, and use patients' lack of perfect dental hygiene as another chance for you to do your magic — dental hygiene education and disease prevention.

• The longer you are in practice the better you should strive to be. Experience is very important. Protect your hands and back. Use as much ergonomic equipment as possible.

• Your last two years of hygiene school provides a foundation on what you will now begin to build up with new experiences that will take you to great heights. Choose your contractor wisely.

• Smile more. It can't but help, and it will make sure you do not get permanent sad lines!

• Take care of your body! Make sure you are not maintaining a static position for too long. Stretch before and after every single patient, and stay fit! Be sure to get out of the office at lunch, and walk and breathe deeply. Stay kind and compassionate to your entire staff. Listen, and address any issues you might have in a prompt, honest way, without talking behind people’s backs. Enjoy your profession you've worked so hard to earn! Congratulations one and all!

• Remember that dentists are human, and they have studied long to learn. Give respect where it’s due. Learn from them. Remember it is his office. Unless illegal, improper, or immoral, if he is paying you to do what he wants, do it or move on.

• First of all, learn to accept and appreciate patients of every age, sex, and background, treating them with respect and dignity. First impressions can be totally misinterpreted, as many people are generally scared, nervous, etc in the dental office setting.

• If your first employer is not a good fit, then don't settle for less. Go out and look for the best employer for you instead of letting an unhappy employment situation sour you on the career you worked so hard to earn!

• Watch your posture, stretch throughout the day, and wear loupes for improved visual acuity.

• Every day is a day to learn and improve on your skills — both technically and, even more importantly, your people skills.

Enter at your own risk

• I wish I had been informed of the idiosyncrasies of dentists. There was no insight as to how they operate, their arrogance that runs in the profession, or the fact that we as hygienists make money for the practice (we are not "overhead"). It seems as if they go through hygiene insensitivity training. I have been treated much better as a factory worker than in this profession. I like what I do for a living so much that I volunteer in Jamaica for a week in the fall. It's a great profession, but dentists don't seem to care about us for some reason. A friend who is not in the profession said that in a way we are competing within the practice against the dentist because as much as the doctor would like to remain busy, our efforts are aimed at keeping patients out of the dentist's operatory. So, in other words, my advice to new hygiene grads is this: Get out!

• Make sure that you provide for your retirement since few dentists will offer a retirement plan. Negotiate for benefits as well as salary increases, if you plan on being long-term with a dentist. If you don’t ask, it won't be offered.

• Yes! As much as I love hygiene, I would advise them to continue their education so they have many more options than clinical hygiene. I am in my 50s, working part-time in two different offices, since many dentists have eliminated full-time positions so that they are not responsible for providing benefits. I have no insurance, no income when the doctor is on vacation, no vacation or sick time, pay my own continuing education, no pension. At this time in my life, I wish I had gone into nursing!

• I would say to new graduates: There is no perfect office and the hardest part of being a RDH is getting along with the women in the office. You only have control in your operatory to a certain extent, and remember that the real reason you are there is to make money for the dentist. In school, they tell you that you are a vital member of the dental health team and it was a real let-down for me to realize that was not the case. I have been an RDH for 35 years and still love it!

• Find a different career, because the job outlook for dental hygiene is very poor.

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