The new hygienist: Having your cake and eating it too

The world of dental hygiene is undergoing an identity change.

Girl With Chocolate Cake

By Trish De Dios
July 22, 2013

Girl With Chocolate Cake

The world of dental hygiene is undergoing an identity change. The title “dental hygienist” now encompasses more than just clinical duties. Modern hygienists are broadening their scope of expertise and becoming true advocates for a profession celebrating its centennial this year.

As a hygienist who has her hands in multiple pots, people often ask me what my “job title” is. I take great pleasure in explaining the complexity anddiversity of a modern hygienist. Although I approach each of my roles with the same vigor and commitment, I consider myself a clinical dental hygienist first, a volunteer for The Oral Cancer Foundation second, a columnist third, and, most recently, an independent consultant and product educator on behalf of Water Pik, Inc. I am often asked, “How did you get that job?” It seems hygienists are seeking positions outside of the operatory more than ever. It is my opinion that the groundwork for earning non-clinical positions starts as early as the first year of dental hygiene school. As a student, I kept mindful of my future aspirations to speak, teach, and be a key opinion leader of the field. I wanted to create a network of contacts and gain experiences immediately. Therefore, I took advantage of leadership roles within my class and began to get involved and educate myself through platforms like Amy’s RDH List and RDH magazine. I would take the time to write to authors and ask questions I had about their article or just let them know their article inspired me. Before I even realized it, I was networking!

Public health remains a part of dental hygiene career paths

Networking: Not just for extroverts
To this day, I continue to work to grow into the professional I desire to be.The golden nugget to new career opportunities is building relationships within the field. How to network and what networking is can be an article all on it its own, but don’t let the word “networking” turn you off. Networking does not mean you are the life of the party or a “type A” extrovert. It means seeking out those who are doing things great with their knowledge and skills and developing a professional relationship with them for two reasons: to learn from them and to leave them with an impression of you that you want them to remember.

Hygienists describe benefits of master's degrees

With regards to my dental hygiene journey, I cannot attest that being professionally affiliated with your professional associations absolutely opens more doors for you – but being active in them does. You will benefit from attending seminars, but remember: your journey is what you make of it. If you find yourself going through the motions and attending – but not engaging – then you are likely not going to reap the benefits you are looking for in the first place. Being involved with professional affiliations like ADHA and my local and state components have somehow always kept me surrounded by like-minded mentors and the people who keep me inspired and mentored me through career development. If you feel you need an expert in professional career development, there are many RDHs who have made it their business to help hygienists get where they want in their career.

“Opportunity is chance meeting a prepared mind.” –Unknown

No wasted opportunities
Everything you do for your career counts! Be attentive and capitalize on every opportunity you get. Don’t be disheartened if you aren’t engaged by every aspect of the hygiene world. Inspiration can come in many forms, and I cannot recommend enough attending conferences, such as Under One Roof. If even only to socialize, the benefits of enjoying a drink and a laugh with a peer may be the spark you require. What is it that you need to commit to in order to get to your desired end point? Is it completing your degree? Taking a computer class? Is it signing up for a Career Fusion conference? Whatever it is, commit to it.

If you are hungry for something, it needs to be sought after with significant effort. I don’t advise on waiting for an opportunity to come to you – instead I encourage you to engage. You need to be the cog in the wheel, you need to be your own best representative of who you are and what you can do and what you want. An RDH friend once told me, and I never forgot, “Do what you love and the money will come.” You never know what one opportunity might lead to.

Resources mentioned in this article:
Amy’s RDH List
– This was a great way for me to learn who’s who in the dental hygiene field. Many “listers” are also key opinion leaders in dental hygiene and many do more than clinical hygiene. This e-mail forum is a great resource for all your clinical or non-clinical questions and a way to network to hundreds of dental hygienists.
RDH Under One Roof Conference

Career Fusion for the RDH

Trish BorderTrish 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 hygienist.trish@gmail.com
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