Why I quit my high paying clinical job and why my boss thanked me for it

The story of how one dental hygienist found freedom in breaking away

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Credit: Christian Mehlführer. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/deed.en

I left full-time dental hygiene three years ago to pursue a career in speaking and consulting. I struggled to find an office that understood that I wanted to work part-time and didn’t want to grow the position in more hours. A previous client asked me to join on as a dental hygienist, and despite my initial hesitation, I decided that we could make it work.

I joined the practice in September 2017 and worked one 11-hour day per week. The day was long but structured well, with one hour for lunch and one hour per patient. The communication and case presentation were fabulous, and I was proud of the care we provided. The other dental hygienist was comprehensive in her thinking, and her attention to detail made job-sharing easy.

Then one day, the three-day-a-week dental hygienist left without much notice. The team scrambled and my boss asked me to pick up another clinical day. I had ample respect for the man because he respected me like a peer. That’s what every hygienist should be looking for: an office where the doctor and team can collaborate...an office where your voice is heard and matters. I said yes to the additional hours with a mindset that they would continue to be the same one-hour blocks. The team planned on finding another hygienist within 90 days.

Finding another hygienist never happened. Instead, the office manager I adored left for another job. The one-hour blocks became 45 and then eventually 30 minutes. When patients were diagnosed with scaling and root planing, the associate dentist would see them because my schedule didn’t offer the time. The hygiene department became a prophy palace. I began settling for a job that wasn’t in alignment with how I wanted to practice clinically.

To make things worse, the owner hired another consultant, which was a huge slap in the face. He was trying to determine why the hygiene department was losing money. I thought it was simple: we don’t have the time to educate, to recommend treatment, or to provide additional services, and we had no openings in the schedule. Despite sharing my opinions, he wanted a different pair of eyes to look over the office. This “consultant” had no experience consulting but had many years of experience working as a periodontist. She quickly tore apart the periodontal programs I had worked hard to implement and informed me that I could no longer use a laser—the laser that I had personally invested thousands of dollars in education and equipment in to better serve my patients. I had case studies to demonstrate the effectiveness, but she didn’t want to collaborate. Instead she went into conflict mode.

I put my pride aside and tried to learn from her. She had more clinical experience from me, and I am always willing to improve. Instead, I was met in a hostile environment. I could feel myself losing my joy. I tried to channel my energy elsewhere. I tried to focus on all the good in the job, and how I loved my patients and coworkers. One morning, I thought of what illness I could pretend to have so that I wouldn’t have to go into work. That’s when I knew it was time to look elsewhere. When we stick in a job that we are not happy in, not only are we providing a disservice to the team, we are providing one to ourselves and our coworkers.

Around the time that I was feeling discouraged with the thoughts of what to do next, I met my friend Julie for dinner. Julie had this new level of excitement in her. I saw sparkles in her eyes as she talked about her new job. Julie had been hired as a wellness coach, where she would use her expertise as a dental hygienist to help coach dental patients with high anxiety, complex medical histories, and low dental IQ. The more she talked, the more the excitement ran through me. I felt a sense of peace and thrill at the same time, and I knew I had to meet the team. One week later, I was in the office of the director of the uniquely modeled dental office.

Through previously networking and being involved in my local dental community, I knew many of the providers. All of this meant that I was a perfect fit for the new job. The role I accepted was a part-time position with—get ready...insert a drum roll...—90 minutes per new patient to discuss their medical history, assess their current risks, and do salivary testing. I couldn’t have asked for a better position. Despite it being part-time, they offered me benefits. That is a value that I have not had since leaving full-time hygiene.

Giving notice at my current office was not easy. It never is. Even though I had pumped myself up to say bye gracefully, I felt like I was letting my team and patients down. What I realize now is that if I stayed would I have let them down.

I asked to meet with the owner, who agreed happily as he just walked in from his afternoon coffee pick up. I felt so guilty. There he was with his fresh vanilla ice coffee and I was about to ruin his moment. I started by telling him that the direction that the office was taking was not in alignment with my needs, and I couldn’t give him 100%. He looked back at me with a smirk and said, “I know, but I needed you to come to that conclusion yourself. I have watched you be disconnected and try but I could tell it’s not for you. We plan on hiring a full-time person to help us reactive the patients we lost in the transition. I want nothing but the best for you and hope to be able to work with you from a business side.” It gave me great peace that even though there were no visible actions from my initial recommendation to increase appointment time, the change would happen for the next hygienist.

My boss and I sat together and drafted a job ad. We agreed what would work best for the position and determined how I could help him with a product he is creating. That night, I received an email from him thanking me for not settling in my career goals. He thanked me for quitting and for moving onto something more challenging. The respect for one another only grew because I left before I grew to resent the office.


Amber Auger, RDH, MPH, is a practicing dental hygienist and clinical innovations implementation specialist. With 14 years' experience in the dental industry, Auger works with practices to provide customized protocols, refocus on the patient experience, and utilize systemic approaches to periodontal therapy. She is a regular contributor to RDH magazine, a featured author for DentistryIQ, and host of #AskAmberRDH on Facebook. Auger provides preventive services abroad yearly and is always willing to have dental professionals join her team. She can be reached at amberaugerrdh@gmail.com.

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