My grandmother was a denturist in the US Army, so I grew up surrounded by the dental field. Even though I was positive I wanted to go into dental hygiene, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted my career path to look like. After graduating with my hygiene degree, I spent several years temping for multiple doctors and experiencing different specialties, including orthodontics, general dentistry, and oral surgery.
When my temp agency placed me with an Aspen Dental practice, I knew I’d found my dental home. I applied to work there that very same day, and I’ve now been with Aspen Dental for five years. I love the career I’ve built there, but I wish I’d found my perfect fit sooner.
Here’s my career planning advice to help you quickly find your dental home, whether you’re a new graduate or a seasoned pro looking for a change.
Figure out what matters most to you
As I was exploring my options in dental hygiene, I constantly evaluated what mattered most to me. I wanted to make sure that whatever path I chose, I would have schedule flexibility so I could maintain a healthy work/life balance.
I would say that you need to make sure you’re being honest with yourself when you think about your future. What matters most to you? Schedule flexibility? Autonomy? Great office culture? Work/life balance? Training and continuing education? Clear advancement opportunities? The answers can only come from experience, but it’s important to think about your answers now. Remember, you have to figure out what you want before you can know how to ask for it.
You might also want to read: Grit and resilience in your career and life
Take advantage of all available resources
Dental graduates, be sure to seek out all the resources you can. Listen to your advisors because they can help you understand your strengths and they’ll guide you toward the right path. When you find that path, job shadow as much as you can. Clinical experience is second to none when it comes to helping you get a feel for an actual day in the life of a hygienist. If you shadow in many different types of offices, you can gain exposure to the wide variety of specialties, doctors, and clinic types.
The value of job shadowing lies not only in finding what you like, but also in finding what you don’t like, which you can only understand through practical experience. Exploring different types of offices through temping allowed me to see how perfect the DSO model fit me. At Aspen, I have autonomy, I can focus solely on patient care without worrying about administrative tasks, I can provide better access to care through financing plans, I can take advantage of continuing education and hands-on training, and I have access to the newest and most innovative dental technology.
Don’t wait until graduation to explore your options. Focus on all the resources available to you, including job shadowing, as soon as possible so you can hit the ground running when you get your degree.
Put yourself out there and network
Networking is something I wish I’d done earlier in my career. By finding a way to connect to your profession, whether that’s through joining an organization such as the American Dental Hygiene Association, attending conferences, volunteering in your community, or establishing a social media presence, you will gain valuable insight and grow in your dental hygiene expertise.
Start building your community now. That can be as easy as talking to working hygienists and really listening to their answers. Start by asking them what they like and dislike about their jobs, what their schedules look like, and how they achieve their ideal work/life balance. By connecting with different types of professionals, you’ll naturally grow and develop your proficiency.
At Aspen, I have a nationwide network of thousands of hygienists I can call on when I have questions, need help, or just want to connect. That sort of community is invaluable, so start building yours now.
Trust your instincts
For hygienists just starting their careers and seasoned professionals looking for a career change, trust your instincts. If you’re not as happy in your career as I am, that’s your sign to make a change. Take the leap of faith and trust in yourself.
Ultimately, career planning is all about making use of the resources available to you. Lean on your advisors, shadow professionals, talk to hygienists, build your community, network, and let all that experience and growth lead to the best possible career path for you.