During the last four months, I have never been happier as a dental hygienist. I have also never been more challenged physically and emotionally while practicing chairside. Some days I leave the clinic so exhausted that I drive home looking like a zombie. Once home, I sit on the couch for an episode or three of Friends.
The truth is that practicing in a global pandemic is difficult; however, we have never been more needed. There is a call for all dental hygienists to fully maximize their roles. I leave work every day certain that I have made a difference. I leave work full of joy, knowing I provided the best possible care that I can.
Five years ago, I debated leaving clinical forever … not because I hated hygiene, but because I struggled to find the right environment. I felt as though every office I worked in had hired me for me, but did not know how to utilize my strengths. It resulted in my feeling shamed for traits that are my gifts. I was told I was “too motivated,” “too passionate about perio,” and that as I practice longer I would learn how to “tame it down.”
What allowed me to get past all of this was learning to be accountable for my thought life and how I communicate, and by setting clear expectations with the practice owner.
Communicate with neutrality
It can be challenging to go into a conversation that you are passionate about without coming in “hot.” As someone who is very expressive and heartfelt, this is something that I have struggled with most of my life.
As a consultant, I often work with clinicians who have avoided conversations for so long that they enter into what could be a balanced discussion leading to a respectful resolution with a full-blown emotional explosion.
The best way to enter into a conversation is with composure after you have thought about what to say and removed all negative emotions from the conversation. Express concerns using phrases such as “I am concerned about [concern] and how it affects the patient experience and care.”
I recently coached a hygienist who was told that if she provided periodontal treatment that wasn’t covered, it would come out of her bonus. We reviewed the information she was collecting to send to insurance. The insurance company had everything needed to effectively confirm the office diagnosis. We worked together to review how she would go into the conversation neutrally, referring to science and literature for the standard of care. We discussed ways to express her concerns about having her finances negatively affected by something she had no control over.
Her conversation resulted in not only a protected bonus structure but also a raise!
Get clear on expectations
One of the biggest reasons there is tension among providers and leadership is due to misaligned expectations. Dental hygiene is not a job; it is a career. We should treat it that way by having a signed offer letter and contract stating the benefits of working in the practice and the responsibilities under that role. Everything from vacation time, sick time, uniform benefits, continuing education policies, insurance coverage, parking, hours, lunch hour, to reporting manager should be listed in the contract. This will ensure that there is no miscommunication that can leave you feeling taken advantage of in the future. The contract will protect you should an employer not comply with the agreement. It also sets a foundation of respect and value for both parties.
Be accountable for your thoughts
Oprah always says, “What you believe is what you become.” When I first started in my current clinical role, I was convinced that my office manager hated me. I dreaded conversations with her because I felt like she was judging my every word. My brain went on overdrive to find every single clue that would confirm my fear that she hated me. If anything in the computer was charged out wrong, it was because she hated me. If she put scaling and root planing at the end of the day, it was because she hated me.
The truth was that I was so concerned about her hating me that I wasn’t able to stay focused and show up the way I should have. Hot-mess express is the result when you do not arrive confident to your clinical day.
You can create your dream dental hygiene job. The first step is to understand your strengths, identify your nonnegotiables, and align with your values. We are all human; therefore, there cannot be perfect practice. There can be a practice that collaborates well, respects one another, values your input, and provides elite dental care. Keeping yourself accountable for effectively communicating, defining expectations, and creating a healthy mindset will create a foundation for a successful clinical career. You deserve to love your career!
Amber Auger, MPH, RDH, is a practicing dental hygienist and clinical innovations implementation specialist. With 14 years of experience in the dental industry, Auger works with practices to provide customized protocols, to refocus on the patient experience, and to utilize systemic approaches to periodontal therapy. She is a regular contributor to RDH magazine, a featured author for DentistryIQ, and host of #AskAmberRDH. Auger also provides preventive services abroad yearly and is always willing to have dental professionals join her team. She can be reached at [email protected].