Dear RDH eVillage:
As a fellow hygienist for over 14 years and in three states, I can certainly identify with T's concerns about our mutual profession not being what we feel it once was. It isn't that our clinical duties or patient care have changed, but the environment that supported our delivery of these same services most certainly has. I practice three to four days a week in a general, private practice, and have no intentions whatsoever to leave my clinical practice, even with the deleterious changes we have seen affect it over the last several years.
I agree that hygiene programs, especially for-profit ones, are churning out new hygienists like popcorn into already saturated markets, and it ultimately devalues our wage, but would argue that this devalues ME as a hygienist. I also think that it is the responsibility of the student of any discipline to research their own employment options, opportunities, and career viability before making their decision to enroll, and not expect job placement to be the responsibility of the educational institution.
Dental hygiene is an incredible profession to be a member of, and even though I am now only 10 weeks away from the completion of my master’s degree, I absolutely agree with the statement that hygiene is one of the "best paying" jobs without a bachelor's degree, most certainly within the professions of allied health. I would not hesitate for a moment to make my choice to enter dental hygiene all over again.
It hasn't always been rosy for me either. In 1998 when I graduated, I had two full-time job offers six months before I was even licensed. A divorce, two cross-country moves, and a decade later, I entered the saturated Southern California job market in 2009 to discover that only the bad offices needed hygienists, and you know why. These dentists ripped through RDHs like they did diamond burs, and it didn't matter because (and I quote a favorite line of my first DDS employer here in California): "I've got a stack of resumes on my desk right now, so don't ever think of yourself as irreplaceable." Nice, huh?
Talk about not feeling important, or valued. However I was valued by the patients I cared for. I never forgot that as I moved from office to office looking for the dental home I found a year ago. Widespread are the feelings of job insecurity and diminished job satisfaction during our national economic struggle — it isn't just our profession. The physical issues that you've named are an unfortunate part of spending years chairside and come with the territory, as do other physical issues associated with other professions. Talk to an occupational therapist about what they see on a day to day basis.
In your four, short paragraphs of response to a salary survey, you've quite swiftly painted a very grim picture of what your work environment is like today. You are sided against the front-office because they are squeezing in patients "to make themselves look good" at your expense, and you've sided yourself against your employers. You are resentful of their personal lifestyle, as you have opined their ability to purchase real estate in a down market has been facilitated by cuts in pay and benefits once paid to you.
You're stressed out, your body aches, and you see no improvement on the horizon at all. I get everything you are feeling, because I've been there too. But I am saddened to distill from your feedback that even after 20 years in our profession that it is very clear that money is the most important job-satisfaction criteria to you. With all other aspects of professional fulfillment aside, in a recession, this is where most American workers are being hit the hardest and our profession is a new ball game.
The days of the RDH commanding a nondescript exclusivity or insulation to the bottom line of a dental practice are long over. We as a hygienists are not exempt from feeling the economic pressures of cancellations or no-shows. We are easy targets to trim; we make more than the assistants, and usually more than the front office. So other than their own heads, where else do you think budgets are going to be cut?
I would challenge you to be productive even in the down time, if you don't like those squeezed-in appointments (those ones that upset you, and anger the patients) then I would suggest you consider making some phone calls yourself to unscheduled patients and scheduling them where they should be scheduled with you, not a work-in, even if this means (I hope you are sitting down) working off the clock to improve the hours you are working on the clock. If you've already taken your kids to daycare, and are on your way in, go ahead and go in, it could be a positive experience for you to work with the front office on managing a productive, well scheduled day for you, rather then blaming them for when it isn't.
What a fun group of RDH you and your 20+ must be to hang around. Moaning about your vacation time being frozen, having to take CPR and CE on your own instead of having it handed to you on engraved stationary, casting nasty glances at co-workers any time someone sneezes because they are going to spread the plague to you, growling at the front office because it is their fault your schedule is too full, or not full enough, quietly seething at your dentists for spending their personal income, and lauding about the “good-old days” when the shoe was on the other foot and you could have told your employer that you had a list of dentists waiting to hire you. I think I'd rather chew my arm off then be attending a (self-funded) CE course with a group of RDHs like that, ones that resent their decision to enter hygiene and are waiting for us all to "hit bottom." Wow.
Look "T," I can tell you that your office sniffles aren't the only thing that’s nasty, infectious, counterproductive, and stressful in your career ... your attitude is as well.
"Pity is one of the noblest emotions available to human beings; self-pity is possibly the most ignoble . . ." Eugene H. Peterson