Career satisfaction survey: Staying positive, most dental hygienists remain bullish about their profession

March 9, 2017
An RDH eVillage survey of dental hygienists found that most of them are very positive over the outlook for their profession.

Slightly less than half of American dental hygienists are “somewhat positive or optimistic” about the “current state” of the dental hygiene profession, as well as the future of the profession.

“I've practiced in four states and seven communities since 1982,” a Virginia hygienist wrote. “Last week, a patient asked how long I've been in this field. We were both surprised by my answer. I'll never be rich or famous in this line of work; I remain interested and challenged on a regular basis, and grateful.”

The statistics were derived from a “career satisfaction” survey conducted by RDH eVillage during February 2017, which collected responses from 2,059 dental hygienists. The RDH eVillage survey was distributed via an email blast. If they have not done so, hygienists can still participate in the survey by clicking here, since upcoming articles will focus on how hygienists feel about their careers within several demographic settings.

This article focuses on the questions regarding dental hygienists’ “professional morale and your feelings about the current state” of the profession, as well as their optimism about the future of dental hygiene.

In regard to practicing dental hygiene in 2017:

  • 30% are very positive or optimistic about their careers.
  • 46% are somewhat positive or optimistic.
  • 19% are somewhat negative or pessimistic.
  • 5% are very negative or pessimistic about dental hygiene at the moment.

A Georgia dental hygienist commented, “The state you work in affects many things. The age of a dental professional often reflects enthusiasm; I think we all feel burned out after years in the profession.

“But I will never lose my love for the profession. The hygienist is not always treated well by the dentist as a true provider and contributor to the practice. There are always a few special ones out there who make the hygienist feel she is a contributing member of the team. So many are greedy and feel that they are a one-man show. I think humility is a dying attribute of dentists and should be revisited in their training.”

In regard to the future of the dental hygiene profession:

  • 30% are very positive and optimistic about dental hygiene’s future.
  • 43% are somewhat positive or optimistic.
  • 22% are somewhat negative or pessimistic.
  • 5% are very negative or pessimistic about the outlook for the profession.

A Michigan hygienist who said she was somewhat negative about the profession said, “I feel our profession is held back by the dentists, and we are not respected as the professionals we are.”

The charts below are not carefully calculated rankings of career satisfaction in the various states. From top to bottom, though, the states are listed to illustrate a generally higher degree of optimism diminishing to a lesser degree. Dental hygienists in Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Oregon seem to reflect the highest levels of optimism.

If one state merits further investigation, Ohio seems to be a likely candidate, since it was the only state with double-digit pessimism about the profession. Some comments from dental hygienists in Ohio appear at the end of this article.

Eastern states

Central states

Mountain states

Western states

Comments from Ohio dental hygienists

  • I always liked being a RDH until I realized I'd hit the glass ceiling in my career with my employer but I stuck with it because starting over in another office wouldn't be wise either. What's worse is that my employer knows I'm between a rock and a hard place and uses it to his advantage. I know I'm not alone among middle-aged hygienists that are wondering what's left to work toward?
  • It saddens me that our profession has not evolved with the changes in today's culture. We are all here to provide a service and give quality care. Then we go out into the workforce to deal with dentists who have other objectives and goals that are not the same as hygienists. It's sad that our profession cannot come to a common ground and have respect for each individual's contribution to the dental team.
  • I feel that dentistry is moving in the wrong direction. Many dentists feel the need to push too many unnecessary procedures on patients to increase financial gain. I realize that graduating dental students are burdened by high costs of school, but they need to remember why they chose this profession. I am fortunate to work for a dentist who is not like that, but we are seeing fewer dental offices that are for the patients’ welfare and are not just about money.
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