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5 ways to damage your dental hygiene career

Nov. 18, 2013

By Trish De Dios, RDH
November 25, 2013

The U.S.unemployment rate is currently at 7.2%, which is an improvement since 2012, but still reflects a job market that is competitive. Be fortunate if you are employed – there are many qualified hygienists who would be ecstatic to have your job. If clinical hygiene is where you want to be, let’s make sure you keep it. If a change is what you crave, then read on to see if you are on the right track. Here are five big blunders you should be careful to avoid.

2013 Dental Hygienist Job Benefits Survey

Being defensive
Everyone makes mistakes on the job; in fact, it’s expected and usually accepted. It is how you respond to your mistakes that defines your character. The way I see it, failure is in our favor. We have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes – to build character and improve our skills. It is because of my shortcomings that someone more experienced had been able to step in to help me out. What’s not to love about that? It becomes a serious problem if you’re always justifying or denying your slip-ups. You will earn more respectby showing you are accountable for your actions and not too proud to admit any shortcomings.

Using your phone too frequently – or at all
Nowadays, many people grab their phone to check in with their social media updates automatically. Grabbing your phone to check the time can turn into a 20 minute Facebook session. Though social media has its place for professionals (it’s important to stay connected through social media as part of your career development), there is a time and place for everything. Surfing the Internet, texting, and browsing social newsfeeds can be big time wasters at work. Don’t risk your employer or co-workers thinking for a minute that you are unproductive during schedule lulls or disinterested about what else might be going on in the office. If you find that you are frequently having the time to play on your phone at work, then take a look at why. Are you too comfortable in your position and see no need to do more? Are you avoiding needing to help out the assistants or other hygienists in the office? Do you feel it’s okay to have “me” time when your schedule isn’t filled with patients? These are questions that can shed light on possibly a bigger issue at hand, like job dissatisfaction. If that’s the case, I recommend instigating a change.

Saying no to scary (but big) opportunities
One of my favorite questions I come across on career blogs is, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” The unfamiliar, the unknown, and the uncertain: yes, all very scary – but potentially very rewarding. If you allow your self-doubt to get the best of you, your career development will surely suffer.

When I was asked to be a regional coordinator for The Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF), I remember my e-mail response to the offer was written with doubt, uncertainty and pretty much an explanation of how I felt unqualified. I doubted myself so much I probably made them regret ever asking me. I don’t even think I told them yes or no! At the time, I was obviously insecure about my ability to take on such a big commitment, and even though I thought I was being humble and fair by expressing my concerns, there was no need to be so dramatic in response. Taking on that role with OCF has been incredible for me and, like any position, requires continuous learning. Next time something comes along for you, think it through, express your position and willingness to learn, and then do it. If you don’t bite at the next big opportunity, someone else will.

Staying too long at one office
I know of hygienists who are not happy working where they are, yet they aren’t trying to change anything. If you are not happy and don’t see the chance of things improving where you work, then why not move on? If you think that biting your tongue and going through the motions will eventually “pay off” when you get that raise or the office finally starts producing more, well, you could be right, but you could also be completely burned out, resentful, and unmotivated by then. Kathy Caprino of Forbes Magazine bluntly asks her readers, “Can you please just accept that if you want something different in your life, there is no better time than now to bring that into being, despite how ‘ready’ you feel?” My friends in this position are so deserving of a work environment that is rewarding and progressive – but the decision is theirs to settle! Settling for a job that doesn’t make you happy anymore can be toxic. When you settle and begin simply working for that paycheck, it leaves little motivation for you to improve or update your skills, making you at risk to become a dental hygiene dinosaur.

Not having a plan
It is okay to be in a position you don’t love right now. It is even okay to feel like you aren’t sure what the future holds for you. As long as you develop career plans for where you want to be, you will achieve your goals. Career planning helps define purpose and passion and leads to personal fulfillment. Waiting and wishing for your big break is poor planning. Where do you want to go from here? Are you on the path you want to be?

Trish De Dios, RDH, graduated as president of her dental hygiene class in 2008. She currently works full-time clinically and is also a regional coordinator for The Oral Cancer Foundation and a product educator for Water Pik. She can be contacted at [email protected].